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Portfolios, Programs, and Projects—what’s the difference?

Posted by Chris Adams

Article Rating // 21080 Views // 4 Additional Answers & Comments

Categories: Business Analysis, Project Management


The term portfolio is used to refer to a collection of programs and projects.  These programs and projects are initiated, prioritized, and managed by a company to meet the goals of the business.   The term program is used to refer to a single strategic business initiative and groups of one or more related projects that support the business initiative.  So one or many related projects can make up a program and one or many programs can comprise a portfolio.  There are times when there is no need for all three levels - an organization's list of unrelated projects could simply be called the organization's portfolio.

As a business analyst, understanding each of these three concepts (portfolio, program, and project) and how your project fits into the greater program and ultimately portfolio of projects can help you understand many of the decision made by executives.  If you know that your project has a high priority within the portfolio, your requests for additional resources have a much higher likelihood of being approved compared to a request from a low priority project.  Similarly, if your project has a low priority, resources could be pulled to support higher priority projects or your project may be cancelled altogether, even if it was on track and on budget.

Understanding other projects in the portfolio and their relation to your own can also help the business analyst make better decisions.  Instead of making decisions based strictly on a myopic view of your own project, a good business analyst will consider the pros and cons that each decision may have on other projects belonging to the same program.  In this way, the business analyst is ensuring that they are delivering the optimum solution for the project and the company as a whole.

Portfolios vs. Programs vs.  Projects



Vasu posted on Friday, April 3, 2009 4:48 AM
This is a great answer. It is very essential for a Business Analyst to have the "Big Picture" via an indepth understanding of the "strategic" programs and initiatives and connect the dots between his/her project and the overall program/portfolio.

This was evident in my last project with a large Fortune 100 client. Understanding their strategic portfolio was very helpful while I went about explaining how our project fit in the overall scheme of things to our Development/Test teams. This in turn, helped them appreciate the importance of our project and helped them focus towards the success of the overall business initiative/impact.
SUBHENBOSE posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 12:54 PM
I understand that porfolio is a collection of programs or projects. Is a program a collection of related projects and portfolio a collection of programs ? Or are programs and projects at the same level of granularity ?
Anonymous User posted on Thursday, July 16, 2009 7:15 AM
No, programs and Projects are not at the same level.

Portfolios consists of the programs
and Programs consists of projects.

Projects are at the granular level.
The success or failure of these programs depends on the success of the critical projects in the program.

Anonymous User
goutham posted on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 11:31 PM
i understand
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Do your homework prior to the business analysis interview!

Having an idea of the type of questions you might be asked during a business analyst interview will not only give you confidence but it will also help you to formulate your thoughts and to be better prepared to answer the interview questions you might get during the interview for a business analyst position.  Of course, just memorizing a list of business analyst interview questions will not make you a great business analyst but it might just help you get that next job.



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