Project Portfolio Management Vs. Project Management

You’ve got one or more projects and you’re focused on keeping everything on track, on budget, on focus, and successful. You’re busy managing resources, time, money, people, deliverables, customer demands, and management. Suffice it to say, you’re thriving and enjoying your job – you’re busy but you enjoy it.

Project Portfolio Management Vs. Project Management

Then one day a colleague walks into your office and asks you an innocent question: “are you in charge of project portfolio management or project management?”. You’re stopped in your tracks. You hear yourself stuttering. To be honest, you don’t have the answer to this question. You just know that you’re busy and you’ve got a lot of people to answer to. Does it really matter if what you’re doing is project portfolio management or project management?

On one hand – it is just semantics. You’re doing the job and getting results – this is what matters. However, from a career growth and future possibilities outlook, it does matter how you define your role. In this blog, we look at the differences and subtle similarities of project portfolio management and project management.

What is a Project?

According to the Project Management Institute, a project is defined as: temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. This project is unique because it is not a regularly scheduled or occurring event.

The project is narrow and focused on a very specific task – in order for the project to be successful, scope-creep must be minimized and ultimately prevented.

While every organization works differently, often people who typically don’t work together are brought under one umbrella with the sole focus of accomplishing the project goals. These people are often people who can all bring unique but aligned perspectives to the project and possess defined skillsets that ensure all critical aspects of the project are accomplished.

Some examples of a project include: the construction of an underground light rail transit system, developing a new mobile app, or renovating a new home. A project works towards a singular focused outcome that requires a unique collection of skills, knowledge, and operations.

What is a Portfolio? 

In relation to projects and management, a portfolio is a collection or set of similar projects that are grouped and managed together. This portfolio can be multi-layered, containing sub-projects and even sub-portfolios.

Typically, project portfolios are used within an organization to align business focus. When projects are organized within portfolios, organization are better able to see areas for growth, risk, and future opportunities. From a management perspective, project portfolios allow managers to more easily schedule, plan, troubleshoot, and budget for the work required to accomplish organizational goals.

It’s key that attention is paid to how projects are grouped into portfolios. For large multi-focus organizations such as consulting companies, for example, it’s important that similar projects are grouped together. This allows for better resource management, focus shifting, and alignment of key personnel to accomplish the goals of the projects and overall portfolio.

Examples of project portfolios include: improving city transportation (including projects such as construction of an underground light rail transit system), creating a new omnichannel sales solution (including projects such as developing a new mobile app), or revitalizing a local neighborhood (including projects such as renovating a home).

Understanding Project Management 

Just as a project has a clearly defined focus, project management requires you to be focused on the success of this one project. Working within a defined timeframe and budget, the project manager is responsible for seeing the success and realization of the project. Accomplishing this is easier when the project is very clearly defined and has a narrow focus.

Project management typically involves the following:

  • Management of the project team to ensure continual daily progress.
  • Tracking and monitoring resource and budget requirements.
  • Keeping the project team on track, ensuring the timeframe limits can be realized.
  • Updating management with overall project progress.
  • Assessing areas for risk and quickly taking steps to stop/minimize this risk.
  • Clearly detailing the project goal and the objectives required to accomplish this goal.

Understanding Project Portfolio Management

Real project portfolio management is the management of all projects that have a similar focus or goal. The project portfolio manager is essentially the hub or go-to person for the entire project portfolio.

You’re responsible for project prioritization, project management, portfolio management, budgeting, resource planning, and risk analysis for the entire portfolio of projects. This requires a deep understanding of the goals of the organization and how the portfolios (and projects therein) align with organization goals.

When done correctly, project portfolio management keeps people focused and successful. With clearly defined objectives and working with like-minded people to accomplish common goals, success and satisfaction are more likely to occur. Of course, this does depend on the project portfolio manager having the tools, software, and soft skills that make it possible to manage budgets, timelines, resources, people, and risk.

Project portfolio management typically involves the following:

  • Strategic prioritization and analysis of all projects within the portfolio.
  • Ensuring that the overall portfolio is aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives.
  • Sound practice of recognized project management strategies such as agile or scrum.
  • Resource execution, including the management of people, time, budgets, software, skills, and timelines.
  • Knowing how project progress within a given portfolio impacts that of another project.
  • Being the liaison between management and your project managers and individual team members – making sure everyone is up-to-date with changes in focus, new customer demands, and deliverables.

Is It Project Management or Project Portfolio Management?

How do these descriptions align with your day-to-day? Think about what you do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis – one project or multiple? Are you working on a series of disparate projects that really aren’t aligned? How are you managing your project or projects? What kind of tools, software, and management approaches are you using?

Whether you’re a project manager or project portfolio manager, it’s critical that you have the trust of your colleagues and the tools that give you the project insight you need to maintain this trust. Your company is moving fast and you want to stay ahead-of-the-pack – make sure you know what your role is and that you equip yourself with the software and tools that allow you to succeed.

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