Project, Program and Portfolio – What is the difference?

There have been few discussions in my recent workshops as what is the difference between project, program and portfolio.
Lets start from the term which is most clear to all:


A project is a temporary endeavorundertaken to create a unique product, service, or result
A project could be:
  • Creating a website,  
  • Creating a building, 
  • Organising a rally/party


A group of related projects, subprograms, and program activities that are managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually.
Programs may include operations and support activities..

The program could be :
  • Rolling out 3G  network across india.
  • Creating and Implementing a new policy organisation wide 
  • Election campaign for presidential elections across country


A portfolio is a component collection of programs, projects, or operations managed as a group to achieve strategicobjectives. The portfolio components may not necessarily be interdependent or have related objectives.

An organization may have more than one portfolio, each addressing unique organizational strategies and objectives. Proposed initiatives are structured as portfolios and components are identified, evaluated, selected, and authorised. 

A portfolio could be an 
  • e-commerce company starting to sell babies product.
  • A telcom centric company starting to venture into retail outlets
  • Mahindra stating to build aeroplanes 

You got the hint??

Relationship – Portfolio, Program and Project
A portfolio aligns with organisation strategy and can have programs and projects under it. These could be un-related but more structured to look at what makes sense for the organisation in current and future circumstances. A portfolio typically does not period defined to it i.e. its ongoing, it may change its shape, cut unnecessary component, may merge but is planned to exist for company to make profit eventually. 

A program is related projects which are combined together to get cumulative benefits. A program ends. The program may have projects and operations component as well.

A project is temporary in nature and could cease to exist once achieve the object.

Handy Points:

A portfolio manager would have authority to close a project(component) if he/she feels that the component is not relevant in current strategic goals.

A program manager would not have authority to close the project, however he/she would be able to move the resources based on priority of each component.

Please do let me know if this was helpful :)

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