The Best Breakdown Ever +

The Top 3 Most Common Questions Asked By Our Clients.

There is a simple punchline, with a complex explanation. So let’s begin with the most essential points that our experts would like to drive home. We are deeming this the single best breakdown of these three practice areas that we’ve ever come across:


PROJECT Management = the active, centralized management & facilitation of progress towards a fixed end point or state – via finite, operational level activity.

PROGRAM Management = the active, centralized management & facilitation of progress towards a strategic goal influencing a desired future state, via finite, operational level activity AND tactical synergy.

PORTFOLIO Management = the active, centralized management & facilitation of progress towards bottom line growth, via the strategic evaluation of key performance indicators (KPIs) and subsequent manipulation of input variables that directly influence those KPIs.


That’s it. That’s the all-encompassing, yet surprisingly succinct explanation of the difference between Project, Program, and Portfolio Management.

Now, as we move forward in this article, let’s take a closer look at the three most common questions we are asked by our clients and colleagues, in an effort to try and further help you to be able distinguish and understand each one:

  • How are they the same?

  • How are they different?

  • How does one succeed, in each?


Above all, it is extremely important to know and accept that Project / Program / Portfolio Management is both a science and an art form. It is also important to note that Program and Portfolio Management are, by and large, derivative practice areas of Project Management.

As of today, there are over 740,000 certified project managers, worldwide. Seven Hundred And Forty THOUSAND. That is more than any other industry / professional certification, by far. And, for a discipline that is generally recognized as being relatively new (by comparison), this fact alone compels employers across all industries to try and crack the code of exactly what Project Management is and how exactly they can leverage the benefits of its successful execution to obtain a competitive advantage in their respective marketplace.

As such, obtaining a fundamental understanding of the primary intangibles at play – outside the standard operating methodologies and categorical knowledge areas, themselves – is absolutely paramount to mastery.

Our clients and our internal subject matter experts completely agree that one of if not the most significant differentiating factor, separating the good from the great in this arena, is HOW they are able to deliver against the requirements and goals of the initiative being managed – – – from both a strategic AND human perspective.

That said, here are the answers…

Q – How Are Project, Program, and Portfolio Management The Same?

A1The Phases Of Work To Be Completed


The PMBOK Guide (which is essentially the foremost publication on Earth, regarding the subject of Project Management) makes a note of five Process Groups, four of which very commonly serve as project phases:

  • Initiation

  • Planning

  • Execution

  • Monitoring & Controlling

  • Closeout


INITIATION, in all three disciplines, refers to the work executed to define, charter, and launch a project, program, or portfolio.

PLANNING, in all three disciplines, refers to the processes required to: establish the scope, refine the objectives, and define the course of action required to reach the strategic, tactical, and/or operational goals that the project, program, or portfolio was designed to achieve.

EXECUTION, in all three disciplines, refers to the processes performed to complete the actual work required to satisfy the specific objectives of the project, program, or portfolio.

MONITORING & CONTROLLING, in all three disciplines, refers to the processes required to track, review, and manage the progress and performance of the project, program, or portfolio.

CLOSEOUT, in all three disciplines, refers to the act of finalizing all activities across each of the Process Groups, to formally end the project, program, or portfolio.

The combination of these phases serves as the singular pathway through which all projects, programs, and portfolios must move, in order to get from point A to point Z. Whether that takes five days or five years. And, in spite of any phase revisitation throughout the course of project, program, or portfolio completion.


Q – How Are Project, Program, and Portfolio Management The Same?

A2The Standard Day-To-Day Activities


In addition to the work phases being the same across function, the standard activities carried out to complete the work product of a project, program, and portfolio manager are essentially the same. This is not to say that the following encompasses everything that each individual would have to do, yet, we would venture to assert that (to various degrees of difficulty, depending on what level to which you are managing) the following four work categories account for at least 80% of the man hours devoted for managing various initiatives from start to finish.

  • Resource Coordination

  • Meeting Facilitation

  • Tracking, Analysis, & Reporting

  • Relationship Management


ALL the work of project managers, program managers, and portfolio managers revolves around one simple thing – the comprehensive organization and flow of information upward, downward, and across. This is the foundation upon which all strategic, tactical, and operational decisions are made, by ALL stakeholders, for the initiative(s) that is/are being managed.

As such, each of the four above mentioned day-to-day activities are categorical derivatives spawned from the essential need for information flow.

Resource Coordination = Who Is Doing What?…When? And, How?

Tracking, Analysis, & Reporting = Where Are We?

Meeting Facilitation = Questions? Risks? Issues? Requests? Callouts?

Relationship Management = How Can I Help You?

Now, it is important to note here that although we are explaining these concepts down into their simplest form, they are NOT simple tasks. At all. Exceptional organizational, presentation, and influencing skills are absolutely crucial to the success of a project manager, program manager, or a portfolio manager. Especially as the scope and scale of the initiative and the organization expands.

Furthermore, the degree of which you are engaged in each of the above activities shifts as you graduate upwards from the management of projects to programs to project portfolios.

Q – How Are Project, Program, and Portfolio Management Different?

A – The Focal Point Of Progress


In our initial breakdown of the individual functions of project managers, program managers, and project portfolio managers, you may have noticed that all three human resources deliver the active, centralized management & facilitation of progress towards “something.” Here is where we explore those “somethings” which are each very different from one another.


To The PROJECT Manager . . .


Progress = the culmination of completed deliverables resulting in a final product, event, or state.

Almost every task that the project manager executes is meant to develop or manage against a tactical project plan that traces the work of project resources from beginning to end. Their world is that construct.


To The PROGRAM Manager . . .


Progress = the culmination of completed projects resulting in an end state that measurably moves the enterprise forward toward a defined strategic goal.

Program managers have a bit of an enhanced responsibility to not only develop and manage against tactical project plans, but also to ensure that resources are effectively synergized, such as to maximize the benefit of collaboration and ensure that activities are all uniquely contributing to the push toward the strategic goal of the overall program.


To The PORTFOLIO Manager . . .


Progress = bottom line growth that directly results from the management of a group of programs and projects that measurably moves the enterprise forward toward a future state that fosters the achievement of a set of defined strategic goals.

Portfolio managers’ focus is even more different from the other two, in that they are meant to objectively manipulate program and project elements, as they are being delivered, in an effort to continuously improve the company’s bottom line –and– the key performance indicators (KPIs) of the portfolio as a singular entity.

Q – How Do Project Managers Succeed In Their Operating Space?

A – Diligence


Yes, diligence. We love this word. The definition of this word perfectly embodies the biggest critical success factor for any and all project managers, regardless of industry, function, or managerial level: careful and persistent work or effort. Genius.

If you are already operating in this space then you already know, but if you don’t then you may not…that project managers ALMOST NEVER have direct authority over the individuals (employee and third party stakeholders) from whom they must obtain work product. It is the “funniest” thing ever.

You –                                            “Hey, I need this from you, ASAP.”

Them (to you) –                         “. . . *side eye* . . . Sure.”

You (to yourself) –                    “ . . . Why? Every single time.”

Them (to their peers) –            “Who does this guy/gal think he/she is?” . . . *chomps potato chips*

This paradox is the bane of most project managers’ existence. And it is precisely for this reason that we assert that diligence is the single most powerful skill that a project manager can develop and tool that a project manager can use. Here’s why:

CAREFUL – Ensuring you take care that any and all information and work product that comes from your desk is both complete and accurate goes an extremely long way to building rapport…which in turn adds value to your social stock amongst working colleagues…which in turn significantly increases your ability to wield influence, in spite of the fact that you have no direct authority over those from whom you need things.

PERSISTENT – In general, people don’t like doing things they don’t want to do. As a result of that, often times they will experience the subconsciously conscious response of procrastination – pushing it away.

Knowing this means that it is incumbent upon YOU (not them) to account for this natural cognitive response by structurally rendering it implausible for them to do so. And this is accomplished by keeping it on their radar. The more frequently you have touch points with a stakeholder (phone calls, emails, meetings, etc.), the further towards the front of their mind you’ll be. It’s simple math.   And so, the possibility of procrastination is difficult, simply because they cannot hide. And, if they tried, it would grow exhausting, very quickly…because you’re always there.

That said, there is a fine line between persistent and annoying, though, so be careful not to become the latter. You’ll need to feel it out. It is not always a personal insult when people don’t do the things that you want or need them to do.


Q – How Do Program Managers Succeed In Their Operating Space?

A – Critical Thinking


Program Management bridges the gap between strategy and implementation. It is about forming and walking down a pathway toward a specific, yet unrealized strategic goal. This is accomplished by reshaping the current operating landscape, which is achieved by executing a series of pointed initiatives (projects) which are meant to serve as deliberate points of connection between your overall current state, and your desired future state.

If that doesn’t scream critical thinking ability, we don’t know what does. The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

Now, in the context of our discussion here, we can take that to mean something very simple – figuring out, strategically, how to get the company from intangible point A to intangible point B, using the both the tangible and intangible knowledge and tools that you have access to.


Q – How Do Portfolio Managers Succeed In Their Operating Space?

A – Insight


The Project Management Institute (PMI) states, “Portfolio Management ensures that an organization can leverage its project selection and execution success. It refers to the centralized management of one or more project portfolios to achieve strategic objectives.“

Portfolio Management is about making objective management decisions, based on three things: data, interpretive analysis, and strategic insight.

We are assuming that the funnel of data and information that is consistently fed to portfolio managers is both sound and a given. From there, all other factors being equal, this individual’s ability to see through the numbers and connect them with patterns and or trends that reveal true meaning outside of their face value is what makes the best portfolio managers the best.

Unlike diligence and critical thinking, which are both skills that can be taught, insight is an ability, which can only truly be honed. This is why great project and program managers don’t always necessarily make the best portfolio managers. It is not a 1:1 ratio. That being said, the development of the former two skills (among others, as well), over time, can absolutely help one to develop their ability to “see inside.”

JD PALLAS Consulting houses experts in each one of these similar, yet very distinct spaces.  The relevant deliverables for this overall discipline, from a management consulting service perspective (all of which revolve around Project Management as an overarching tool and methodology) are as follows:

Integration Management

Scope Management

Time Management

Cost Management

Quality Management

Human Resource Management

Communications Management

Risk Management

Procurement Management

Stakeholder Management


And the subsequent deliverables commonly produced in with the execution of these services include, but are not limited to:


Project Charters & Scope Documentation

Project Plans

Project Budgets & Sensitivity Models

Resource Allocation Documents

Process & Milestone Maps

Risk, Issue, and Action Item Tracking Mechanisms

Status Reporting (Quantitative & Qualitative)

Meeting Management

Closeout Documentation

Lessons Learned Documents


At the end of the day, there is one question that every single C-suite executive, functional manager, operational coordinator, and team leader will ask at some point (if not several points) throughout their tenure: How Do We Get This Done?

That simple yet extremely open-ended question is the very reason why Project Management, as a professional industry discipline, exists in its current form, today. And, even more to the point, it’s why our clients (of all sizes, across all industries) hold our consulting experts in such high regard. We have mastered both the science and the art form of this discipline – specifically – to help you answer that very question. So, give us a call. And together, we’ll get this done.