Published here September 2016

Introduction | What is Program Management? | GAPPS Program Typology
Distinctive Attributes of Projects, Programs, Portfolios
Is it a Program or a Project? | Summary and Conclusions

Distinctive Attributes of Projects, Programs, Portfolios

If we have now established that Program Management is a distinct discipline in its own right, we can go further and seek the distinguishing features between Projects, Programs and Portfolios. In May 2016 we reviewed author Michel Thiry's book Program Management. In his book, Michel provides an excellent table that answers our question exactly. Here it is, see Figure 2, reprinted with the author's permission.






Scope Set limited scope with clearly defined deliverables.

Broad scope with flexible boundaries to meet medium-term expected business benefits.

Organizational scope adapted to corporate goals.


Change should be avoided; baseline is key.

Change is first seen as an opportunity.

Monitor environmental changes that affect the corporate strategy.


Measured through respect of cost, time, quality preset parameters.

Measured in financial terms, value creation and benefits realization.

Measured in terms of overall portfolio performance: maximum results, minimal resources.


Transactional leadership, authority-based directive style, management of subalterns, conflict resolution.
Rational decision-making.

Facilitating style, management of powerful stakeholders, conflict resolution.
Intuitive decision-making.

Administrative style focused on adding value, power results from allocating resources.
Rational decision-making.


Task and parameters management; product (project output) delivery.

Pacing and interfacing of projects; benefits delivery.

Resource management across portfolio; deliver value to corporate stakeholders.


Project output delivery to parameters; reporting performance-based focus.

Strategic decision implementation, develop opportunistic emergent strategies.

Align portfolio with corporate strategy, adjust portfolio with regard to changes in organizational environment.

Main Tasks

Negotiate scope, define WBS, minimize adverse risks, and manage delivery of the product of the project. Maintain project team stamina and motivation, monitor and control external team.

Coordinate component project resources and key deliverables; market program and build business case on a regular basis; develop and maintain project managers' team spirit and contribution to program.

Allocate resources to portfolio components, reassess portfolio on an ongoing basis; collect and use program and project data to make decisions.


Monitor and control tasks and project parameters retrospectively against baseline;
Report to project sponsor.

Appraise component project deliverables and resource usages prospectively against expected benefits;
Report to business stakeholders.

Measure aggregate value of portfolio retrospectively against preset corporate performance indicators;
Report to corporate stakeholders.

© Michel Thiry

Figure 2: Detailed comparison between Projects, Programs and Portfolios[10]

Notwithstanding this tabulation, the positioning or determination of a particular initiative is not always so clear-cut. Michel offers a further suggestion.

GAPPS Program Typology  GAPPS Program Typology

10. From the book: Program Management by Michel Thiry, Gower, 2015, pp32-33. Copyright © Michel Thiry. Reproduced with the author's permission, R. Max Wideman, July 8, 2016.
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