What is P3 Management?

Project, programme and portfolio management

Project, programme and portfolio (P3) management is concerned with managing discrete packages of work to achieve objectives. The way the work is managed depends upon a wide variety of factors.

The scale, significance and complexity of the work are obvious factors: relocating a small office and organising the Olympics share many basic principles but offer very different managerial challenges.

Scale and complexity are not the only factors. Managing a major infrastructure development for delivery to a client will need a different approach to internally managing the merger of two banking organisations.

A good distinguishing factor is often to look at the nature of the objectives. Objectives may be expressed in terms of outputs (such as a new HQ building), outcomes (such as staff being relocated from multiple locations to the new HQ), benefits (such as reduced travel and facilities management costs) or strategic objectives (such as doubling the organisation’s share price in three years).

Commonly, work of a lesser scale and complexity, leading to an output, is referred to as a project. Work that combines projects with change management to deliver benefits is considered to be a programme, while a collection of projects and programmes designed to achieve strategic objectives is called a portfolio.

However, some undertakings that only deliver outputs may be very large and complex, while some work that delivers benefits and encompasses the management of change may be relatively small and straightforward. Small organisations will have strategic portfolios that are nowhere near as complex and expensive as, say, a large government IT project.

Although projects, programmes and portfolios are often spoken of as being mutually exclusive approaches, they are actually just convenient combinations of managerial tools and techniques used to describe typical sets of circumstances.

The concept of projects, programmes and portfolios should be thought of as just points on a gradual scale of managing effort to deliver objectives.

Project, programme and portfolio management
Figure i: Scale of managing effort

Where appropriate, this Body of Knowledge looks at each topic from the perspective of the three domains: project, programme and portfolio. These are considered in the context of their ‘typical’ applications.

Someone who is new to these concepts will find it useful to be able to label undertakings as one or the other of the three levels. However, an experienced manager, working in a mature organisation, should be able to select different levels of tools and techniques from different topics to address the managerial needs of each package of work.

Mixing project-level scheduling with programme-level benefits management, for instance, may be entirely appropriate. Conceivably a single programme may constitute an entire portfolio.

This body of knowledge provides a flexible toolkit from which to select the most appropriate management approaches for any piece of work within the P3 domain.


Join APM

Sign up to the APM Newsletter.