The Three Ps of Project Management

William Delaney

What are the Three P’s?

Project management is the broad term used to describe the organization of anything from basic projects all the way up to the most complex and intricate undertaking. But to those more involved in this subsection of business, we may split these definitions into three separate characterizations; Project Management, Portfolio Management and Programme Management.  

A project is generally referring to the undertaking of a temporary action by an establishment to create an end product or result. A programme refers to a number of interdependent projects that need to be coordinated with precision as a group. Finally you’ve got the portfolio, which is a larger group of projects that may or may not be interlinked, that are managed independently and monitored for future planning.  

Now let’s get a little more precise. When we talk about a project, what exactly is it? Many project management professionals will have their own spin on this, but in layman’s terms a project is a temporary activity that needs to be carried out by an organization to create a unique product or service.  

This term doesn’t necessarily indicate the size of the project and can be used for a simplistic task or a massive undertaking. The term is utilized in pretty much every industry imaginable. Regardless of the size, projects are usually managed and coordinated by a relevant project manager assigned to take on the endeavour.

The Project Manager

The project manager – or project lead depending on where you’re from – plays a fundamental role. One of the key objectives of this professional is to plan the successful compilation of objectives (commonly known as deliverables). This is achieved through strategic planning based on the available resources, identifying risks from the offset and monitoring the budget, whilst also liaising with teams to ensure the completion of assigned tasks.    

Project management came from a simplistic idea of coordination to ensure goals were met and has now turned into a billion-dollar industry with numerous additional techniques being added, new methodologies coming to a forefront and new tools being developed to help drive its success. Project managers need to stay updated on the industry standards and latest technologies to boost their career and results.  

So, what happens when you’ve got a number of projects all relying heavily on each other? To a project management expert, it’s commonly known as a program.

The Program Manager

As companies excel, generally teams grow and separate, and specialities become more apparent. Often, projects will be created that have dependencies on each other. For the successful completion of deliverables these projects need to be coordinated with great care in a simultaneous manner. This collection of projects becomes known as a program. That’s where a program manager comes in!  

Program management can be a midfield, even for the savviest of project management professionals. The job itself is highly strategic and requires a combination of excellent organisation skill, mixed with a managerial outlook.  

The role is often seen in a misleading light, as a form of micromanagement – however this couldn’t be further from the truth! A program manager’s value is in ensuring all tasks are being handled and that complex parts are moving smoothly between projects.  

The program manager has a slightly different outlook to that of the project manager; focusing less on the project deliverables and more of the business benefit and broader company goals being achieved.

Program managers will be in direct contact with the project leads and managers to ensure the project success and to attribute importance based on the overall end-goal validation. Areas that are not of priority often end up being removed or replaced to facilitate the essentials.  

When a program manager has formed a strategy ensuring interdependent projects are achievable, they will then structure out the plan to accomplish this. We noted that the program manager pays a little more attention to the business needs  when planning, should these needs or requirements need changing or adapting it’s up to the program manager to structure this in a way that is most beneficial and easy to achieve.  

The Portfolio Manager

Just like an art portfolio, a project portfolio is a collection of projects being run within an organisation. This encompasses all of the projects and programs being managed. It should be noted that often larger organisation might create a number of project portfolios. This is generally to make the management, future planning and investment easier to analyse. Often portfolios have the area of operations added in granting a view on the company’s overall capacities.  

The professional who monitors this collection of projects is known as a portfolio manager. Portfolio managers are generally higher up the food chain. They work closely with centralized management and strategize based on the organisations monthly, yearly or longer-term objectives.    

The portfolio manager needs to oversee the core areas of the business, paying particular interest to resources and capacities required, be that man power or infrastructure. Often they need to make executive decisions on the prioritization of current and future projects and to ensure business objectives are achievable.  

When portfolio managers are reviewing the company’s ongoing work, they look at it as a whole, rather than separating it out like project or program managers. They do this to safeguard the company goals, based on the alignment of projects.  

Planning as a portfolio manager is where their expertise needs to really shine through. They need to know their organisations strengths and weaknesses in order to be able to review capacities to see the availability for new projects, but to also know that projects being onboarded are within the scope of their expertise  

Working together to create project management magic

Success is never easy, but to make intelligent decisions and create a positive outcome, it’s vital that project, program and portfolio managers all work and communicate with each-other openly, honestly and effectively.  

These professionals need to understand and empathise with each other, yet remain focused on their own specific goals, be that quality, quantity or business objectives.  

If miscommunication, resentment or confusion pop into this flow, it can have significantly damaging effects that could potentially delay a project or worse.  

Now you have a basic idea of what each of these promising career paths can offer, make sure you choose the one that best fits you, or if you’re trying to understand project management and how vital it’s role is, these professionals are the go to people to find out more.