A Roadmap to Project, Program, and Portfolio Management

business professional leading a meeting

As businesses continue to evolve and utilize project management practices to become more efficient, it becomes increasingly important to have an understanding of the processes and operations of project flow through an organization. It is not uncommon to refer to project, program, and portfolio management (PPPM) terminologies interchangeably in the workplace (Deskander, 2015). While PPPM focuses on how to accomplish business objectives in the most effective and efficient manner, their definitions and scope vary dramatically from one another.

Project Management

Projects are temporary endeavors undertaken to create a unique product or service (PMI, 2013). Projects used to be tactical in nature. A project manager remained focused on managing the budget, schedule, and resources (Deskander, 2015), but this perception has significantly changed due to increased complexity of technology and a more competitive marketplace. Today, a project manager needs to align projects with the organization’s business strategy, possess domain-specific technical knowledge, exhibit leadership qualities, and display business management expertise (PMI, 2017).

Program Management

Program management can be viewed as an extension of project management because a program consists of multiple related projects (Waddell, 2005). PMI (2013) views program management as a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually. That is, programs bring to light unique findings made possible by coordinating projects together, instead of individually. All the projects inside a program are related to one another because they share common goals.

Portfolio Management

Portfolio management is yet another extension of project management and is more about philosophy when compared to the project management process. In portfolio management, projects are managed like an investment portfolio. The process of building a portfolio involves analyzing the viability of running projects, calculating potential returns, assessing and mitigating risks, analyzing resource requirements, and prioritizing execution (Leankit.com, 2017). Implementing portfolio management allows organizations to execute multiple projects while leveraging shared resources which provides increased oversight, consistency, and quality, and thus eliminates inefficiencies.

Project Management Education

Today, enterprises are typically involved in large-scale and long-term projects to accomplish their strategic goals. These companies realize the importance of a project manager who understands the organizational processes, best practices, and governance framework. A project manager is involved in every aspect of a project—from creating the project plan to communicating with stakeholders, and from motivating the project team to negotiating with vendors. Project managers can acquire many of these skills by attending online educational programs.

Many universities offer both undergraduate and graduate programs in several areas of project management, and utilize various modalities.

6 Components of a Successful PM Education Program

  1. Include the university’s commitment to pursue project management framework internally
  2. Employ credentialed faculty with significant hands-on experience
  3. Provide student access to the latest project management software applications
  4. Offer an in-depth curriculum with access to recent and real-life case studies
  5. Facilitate networking and internship opportunities for students
  6. Help students obtain industry certification such as Project Management Professional (PMP)®

Formal project management education can teach an individual how to plan, manage, communicate, and react in various situations. Specific to program and portfolio management (PPM), a study by Symons in 2009 indicated that implementing PPM processes and tools inside an organization led up to a 255% increase in overall returns. On the other hand, a recent PMI study indicated that 61% of organizations struggle to implement PPM structures (PMI, 2015). Universities who offer a well-designed program and portfolio management degree program can prepare students for these emerging opportunities.



Written by Neeraj Parikh, Assistant Professor in the Forbes School of Business & Technology™.


Deskander (2015). The difference between project, portfolio and program management. Retrieved from https://www.geniusproject.com/blog/about/the-difference-between-project-portfolio-and-program-management/

Leankit.com (2017). What is project portfolio management? Retrieved from https://leankit.com/learn/kanban/project-portfolio-management/

PMI (2015). PMI® Thought Leadership Series Implementing the Project Portfolio: A Vital C-Suite Focus. Retrieved from http://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/implement-project-portfolio-c-suite.pdf

Project Management Institute. (2015). Project management salary survey. Retrieved from https://www.pmi.org/learning/careers/project-management-salary-survey

Project Management Institute. (2017). Talent triangle. Retrieved from https://www.pmi.org/learning/training-development/talent-triangle

Symons, C. (2009). The ROI Of Project Portfolio Management Tools. Retrieved from http://fosterfirst.com/Attachments/The_ROI_of_PPM_Tools.pdf.

Waddell, D. (2005). Program Management: The next step in the evolution of project management. Problems and Perspectives in Management, 3(3).

PMP is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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