Projects, Programs, Portfolios – What Do They Really Mean?

In the beginning … scratch that you don’t have time, let’s get straight to the point and figure out what these terms actually mean.

A PROJECT is an activity aimed at delivering a single outcome, which cannot be achieve in the normal course of business. Preferably it will have a unique outcome and be aiming to achieve something important.

It may involve one or more domains and can have lots of people working on it, some dedicated and some shared. Everything is part of the one initiative and working towards the one outcome.


A PROGRAM is a project that has at least two sub-projects each needing to be delivered in order to achieve the higher single outcome.
Calling an initiative a program doesn’t indicate complexity, criticality, or difficulty.


A PORTFOLIO describes a collection of projects, programs and sometimes ongoing business activity that roll up to the very highest level of an organisation.
A portfolio provides an integrated overview of all the activity being undertaken within an organisation.


If you need help deciding which yours is or which it should be I’m happy to help. The reason it matters? Some bigger projects and programs need larger skill sets than the smaller ones and one of the pillars of success is having the right person running it.