What’s the difference between a project, a program and a portfolio?

This is the first in a series of answers to the questions I’m asked all the time. If you have a question not covered please contact me and I’ll do my best.

Every day someone asks me this question.

There are lots of ways each of these are described and many go to extraordinary lengths to explain them in detail.

But it’s not that complicated.

Here’s the simplest explanation I have.

  • Project – single outcome – e.g. a software upgrade
  • Program – integrated outcome – e.g. software upgrade and introduction of new processes and procedures
  • Portfolio – collection of projects and programs – they don’t have to be integrated

The most important thing is that within each organisation there’s a clear definition everyone can understand.

If you prefer a visual here’s one I find myself drawing – a lot.

Hope this helps and please let me know of any questions relating to getting things done in organisations.