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An introduction to 3P management

While we commonly talk about project management, many of the skills and concepts can actually refer to more than just a standalone project.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) states that a project might be managed in ‘three separate scenarios: as a stand alone project… within a program, or within a portfolio’. (PMI 2017: 13)

The table below (taken from the PMBOK) offers a definition of projects, programs and portfolios and compares the 3Ps across key elements of project management.

  Projects Programs Portfolios
Definition A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. A program is a group of related projects, subsidiary programs and activities, coordinated to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually. A portfolio is a collection of projects, programs, subsidiary portfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives.
Scope Projects have defined objectives. Scope is progressively elaborated throughout the project life cycle. A program’s scope encompasses those of all its project components. Programs benefit an organisation by ensuring that the outputs and outcomes of its components are delivered in a coordinated and complementary way. Portfolios have an organisational scope that changes with the strategic objectives of the organisation.
Change Project managers expect change and implement processes to keep change managed and controlled. Programs are managed in a way that adapts to change to optimise the delivery of benefits as their components deliver outcomes and/or outputs. Portfolio managers continuously monitor changes in the broader internal and external environments.
Planning Project managers progressively elaborate high-level information into detailed plans throughout the project life cycle. Programs are managed using high-level plans that track the interdependencies and progress of the components. Program plans are also used to guide planning at the component level. Portfolio managers create and maintain necessary processes and communication relative to the aggregate portfolio.
Management Project managers manage the project team to meet the project objectives. Program managers ensure that program benefits are delivered as expected, by coordinating the activities of a programs components. Portfolio managers may manage or coordinate portfolio management staff, or program and project staff that may have reporting responsibilities into the aggregate portfolio.
Monitoring Project managers monitor and control the work of producing the products, service, or results that the project was undertaken to produce. Program managers monitor the progress of program components to ensure the overall goals, schedules, budget and benefits of the program will be met. Portfolio managers monitor strategic changes and aggregate resource allocation, performance results, and risk of the portfolio.
Success Success is measured by product and project quality, timeliness, budget compliance, and degree of customer satisfaction. A program’s success is measured by its ability to deliver intended benefits to an organisation, and by the program’s efficiency and effectiveness in delivering those benefits. Success is measured in terms of the aggregate investment performance and benefit realisation of the portfolio.

Adapted from PMI (2017: 13)

Your task

Can you give an example of a project, a program and a portfolio from your own experience? Post them in the comments.


Project Management Institute (2017) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK Guide. 6th edn. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute

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This article is from the free online course:

Project Initiation

Coventry University