What is the difference between a Project, Portfolio and a Programme?

Posted by Kevin Brady on Thu 18th September 2008 at 03:04 PM, Filed in Programme ManagementProject Management

Having been involved every month for a year interviewing programme managers for a major Indian consultancy it is surprising how many people with excellent CV’s seem unable to answer the above question (please see my project /programme management recruitment questionnaire) correctly.
So what is the correct answer to this seemingly elementary query?

Project
A project is a one-off temporary organisation initiated and coordinated in such a way as to deliver through an assigned pool of resource a range of designated outcomes and benefits to a definable set of customer/s in accordance with a specific business case. All products will be typically delivered in accordance with well defined set of project drivers such as Quality, Time, Cost and Scope. With respect to time a project is likely to have a lifespan with a typical duration of less than 12 months.

Programme
A programme is defined as a temporary and flexible organisation created to coordinate the initiation of an agreed group of projects and their associated resource in order to deliver a range of designated outcomes and benefits to a definable set of customer/s in accordance with the projects individual business cases and the strategic objectives of the organisation the programme is serving. Projects in a programme as against a portfolio are distinguished by the fact that cross dependencies exist between projects. A programme is likely to have a life span but unlike a project is likely to have a duration of several years.

Portfolio
A portfolio is generally a collection of unrelated programmes and or projects (no cross dependencies) which are initiated and coordinate with their associated pools of resource in order to deliver a range of designated outcomes and benefits to an organisation as a whole in accordance with that organisations overall strategic objectives. A portfolio does not necessarily have to have a lifespan. As programmes and projects complete new ones may be added potentially extending it lifespan indefinitely.
So next time you’re interviewed for a project /programme management job, remember to get these definitions clear in your mind before attending the interview.

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