What Are Portfolios, Programs and Projects & How do they fit together?

A FREE course putting Pfs, Pgs & Pjs in context with business and operations

Clarifying the muddle: Portfolio, Program, Project

The culture and character of organisations has evolved fater than the textbook held back by exam syllabi. What we read today in 'best practice' guides is a meme grown from the 'Scientific Management' movement of Fredrick Winslow Taylor and Henri Fayol. In there pioneering days engineers built stuff and that needed scheduling in a way different from routine operations. Only a fraction of their workforce was educated beyond basic arithmetic and reading and the world was sufficiently unconnected that ripples of change died-out before affecting much around them.

Step on 100+ years and much 'classic' written management guidance struggles to throw off thinking with the same trajectory as the past. But now the world is so connected that change in one place ripples everywhere, combining the influences of change from all those other everywheres. Now the workforce is universally educated and specialised. So now 'managers' are no longer the experts using command and control. Now they are ignorant of the work-force's expertise.

"Project" is a word loaded with unhelpful baggage given it by people who wrote about it with a supplier's perspective. Writing in the 80s from formative experiences gained in the 60s and 70s soon showed itself deficient. The word "Program" became adopted as a way of expressing needs not covered by project. Then portfolio extended the trend and is only slowly coming to wide understanding with a 'correct' (useful in the real world) definition.

Recent buzz such as the evolution of the agile movement recognises the old use of the terms is not well aligned to today's reality - Businesses react to change and pursue stable, beneficial operating models. In total their resource usage is a portfolio. That portfolio is split between RtO - Run the Organisation and CtO Change the Organisation. All CtO has to exist withing steps from evaluation through delivery to embedding and benefits start-up and ramp-up. A span of change activity that is best suited to the word 'program' because.... lets go see whats in the course! - Scroll down to 'Curriculum' and select the lesson.

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Your Instructor

Simon Harris
Simon Harris


I'm Simon, I've been using Complex Adaptive Systems and Agile concepts in IT and non-IT settings for a decade or more, doing projects for 30+ years and teaching project management for 20-plus.

I live in Edinburgh Scotland with my wife and two adult kids

Im a member of the Outcome Delivery Network sharing new, holistic thinking on achieving project success. I run an AXELOS "Accredited Training Organisation" which means I can book you onto their PRINCE2 and PRINCE2Agile exams for @Home exams anytime - Exam Booking details

Frequently Asked Questions

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Other provider's "Money back" guarantees are a way of appearing to reducing 'purchasing risk' by seemingg to to transfer the impact from you to them BUT...

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P.S. maybe you'd like to do our risk management masterclass companion to our Fast-Track risk course. (Both are included in our £5 bundle subscription.) I'm confident no-one else's project risk management has the content ours does. Others pretend risk is impact times probability of a single event single outcome chain. Niave in the extreme but common in text books.


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