Project, Program and Portfolio Management – FUN with Animated EXAMPLES

Program, Portfolio, Project… Wait, nope..
Portfolio, Project, Program… Hm.
Do you know which one is bigger and what are the components of those instances? Let’s define how this nested doll works.

Project VS. Sub-Project

To start it off, let’s recall what a project is. A project is a temporary endeavor to deliver a unique product, service or result.

The key criteria here are uniqueness, temporary duration and a value we are getting in the end. What is more, I am going to tell you that all these 3 criteria relate to project, program and portfolio as well.

Let’s imagine, our project is an e-commerce platform that allows customers to order food from the restaurant. It has a web version accessible from the desktop and a mobile application to order food on the go. And the whole system is our project.

project program portfolio

Thinking from the technical perspective we will need skills to deliver web version and mobile application. Simply as these are different programming languages. That is why we will need different people, or even different teams to deliver them. However, both web and mobile applications are the parts of the whole system, aka project.

How could we logically separate them, and keep together at the same time? Easily. These are going to be out sub-projects. Sub-projects are smaller parts of a bigger project. Here is out big project, the restaurant’s ordering system. And here are its sub-projects: web solution and mobile application. Good, but still not clear where Portfolio and Program go..

Project VS. Program

To define where to put Program and Portfolio we need to think strategically.
Let’s imagine we want to have a profitable solution that is available on several global markets. Now we need the steps to hit this goal.

We have a project which is a restaurant’s ordering system which we need to deliver to the market. Thus, we need to develop a marketing delivery strategy. It will also include several activities, like analysis, SEO optimization, marketing campaigns, lead generation strategy, and so on. The majority of these activities could be executed only after our restaurants ordering system is live.

As you know, marketing activities are executed by a completely different team. The restaurant’s ordering system was created by a development team; and the marketing strategy will be executed by the marketing team. Marketing usually comes after the development team has completed their work. Do you see how it fits our product journey?

Now, when the solution is live, when it’s available for the customers, when it’s bringing money to the company what could happen next? I would assume that the company would like to scale the solution, to engage investors and to distribute this solution to other global markets. Sounds great, isn’t it? The scaling to other global markets is going to be another project in out product roadmap.

Do you see the journey? These are all different projects, but all of them are related to the single product and to the single goal: to have a profitable solution that is available on several global markets. What I am going to tell you that the product road map is out Program. In other simple words, Program is a pack of simultaneous projects that lead us to the single goal. We can clearly see this in the steps we have just discussed. Now we see that a Program is bigger than a Project. A Project could be part of a Program.

Project VS. Program VS. Portfolio

But where Portfolio goes?

Imagine, we have several Programs that are related to different products which are focused on common goals. Do you remember our restaurants ordering system? Now let’s imaging this restaurant we have developed an ordering system for is located in the supermarket. This supermarket belongs to the same company. Now imagine this supermarket wants to sell products to customers online. It is going to be another, separate development project which will have separate marketing delivery and scaling strategies. Another Program. 

What is more, we don’t wanna stop here. Based on our restaurant and supermarket we have opened the cooking courses. These courses is an absolutely separate project with its own marketing and scaling strategies. Third Program.

Now we have several Programs that are focused on a common goal. Voila, Portfolio comes in. Portfolio is more about business management. To make it clear, first comes a Project, next we have a Program, which is a collection of simultaneous Projects focused on common goals; and on the top of that we have Portfolio which leads the whole system to the single global target.

Another analogy could be that Program relates to product management, and Portfolio is about business management. Now you know how these 3 instances differ and what goes after what. Literally, first we have a Project, which is the smallest one; then we have a Program and on the top of that goes Portfolio.