I’ve been working with a couple of clients around PMO’s and the thorny space of Portfolio and Program Management.  Not coincidentally, this continues to prove to be an area of great leverage for organizations trying to drive up their business-IT maturity (and with that, increase the business value delivered through IT investments, assets and capabilities.)  It also continues to be among the most popular topics on which I blog.

Each client quickly found the need to get themselves aligned around the terminology, and asked me to create a simple Glossary that would help them differentiate and standardize on the various terms that are central to IT Portfolio Management.

To that end, I offer here a “starting point” for such a glossary.  Of course, in our industry, where terminology is used inconsistently, and where opinions about meanings tend to differ widely, I realize that this exercise is fraught with danger.  However, I offer this as an initial point of reference.  I’d be delighted to hear any major issues with my use of these terms, and suggestion for modification and for extension to this list.

An IT Portfolio Management Glossary of Terms

(Note:  * Source is Wikipedia)




Project Management Project Management is the discipline of planning, organizing and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives.* Project Management is typically focused on deliverables, budgets and timelines to meet specific objectives.
Project Management Office Project Management Office (PMO) is the department or group that defines and maintains the project management standards and processes within the organization. The PMO strives to standardize and introduce economies of repetition in the execution of projects. The PMO is the source of documentation, guidance and metrics on the practice of project management and execution.* Project Management Office models vary from organizational entities that define the process and standards for others to follow, to those that actually manage projects for the organization.  Considerations as to type of Project Management Office model will include organizational experience and maturity with project management, organizational goals in terms of consistency, commonality and control, and preferences for centralization versus decentralization.

PMO’s are sometimes responsible for Project, Program, and in some cases, Portfolio Management.  In such cases, the acronym may be extended to PPM or even PPPM.

Project  Manager Project Manager is a professional management role typically vested with the responsibility for the planning, execution, and closing of any project. Some organizations insist on certification (such as by the Project Management Institute) for IT professionals who will manage projects above a certain size or criticality.  Sometimes, Project Managers are physically grouped into a Project or Program Management Office (PMO); other times they are virtually networked into a Project or Program Management Community of Practice, and sometimes they are simply expected (or at least, encouraged) to follow the processes, standards and methods laid down by the PMO without being part of the PMO organization or community.
Program Management Program (or Programme) Management is the process of managing multiple interdependent projects that lead towards an improvement in an organization’s performance.* Projects deliver outputs; programs create outcomes. A project might deliver a new factory, hospital or IT system. By combining these projects with other deliverables and changes, their programs might deliver increased income from a new product, shorter waiting lists at the hospital or reduced operating costs due to improved technology.  Program management is concerned with doing the right projects, whereas project management is about doing projects right. Successful projects deliver on time, to budget and to specification. An organization should select the group of programs that most take it towards its strategic aims whilst remaining within its capacity to deliver the changes*

Many enterprise IT organizations tackle large, complex efforts that combine the delivery of software elements, new and changed business models, and overall changes to organizational structure and capabilities. Typically these efforts involve several parallel projects, and managers find that “traditional” project management approaches fall short for such undertakings. Consequently, many IT professionals are turning to the substantial body of experience, and the smaller body of documentation, that supports the discipline of program management. This discipline describes principles, strategies, and desirable results for managing large-scale efforts comprising parallel projects. (Source: IBM White Paper: Program Management – Different from Project Management)

Program Management Office A Program Management Office is the department or group that strives to standardize and introduce economies of repetition in the execution of projects and programs. The PMO is the source of documentation, guidance and metrics on the practice of project and program management and execution. The term PMO sometimes refers only to Project Management, other times to both Project and Program Management, and in some cases extends to Portfolio Management. .  In such cases, the acronym may be extended to PPM or even PPPM.
Program Manager A Program Manager is a professional management role typically vested with the responsibility of coordinating multiple interdependent projects that lead towards an improvement in an organization’s performance. Program Managers have ultimate responsibility for the organizational performance outcomes. Program Managers are highly qualified and experience Project Managers who have also mastered the disciplines associated with managing complex, inter-dependant groups of projects that collectively lead to improvements in an organization’s performance.  In addition to project management excellence, they are highly proficient in organizational change management, managing up as well as down through the organization.
IT Portfolio Management IT portfolio management is the application of systematic management to large classes of items managed by enterprise Information Technology (IT) capabilities. Examples of IT portfolios would be planned initiatives, projects, and ongoing IT services (such as application support). The promise of IT portfolio management is the quantification of previously mysterious IT efforts, enabling measurement and objective evaluation of investment scenarios.* IT Portfolio Management is founded on Modern Portfolio Theory which proposes how rational investors will use diversification to optimize their portfolios.  When applied to IT, Portfolio Management proposes how the organization (assuming it is acting in a rational way towards its investments) uses diversification to optimize its IT investments.  In this case, optimization may include balancing:

  • Short term and long term investments.
  • Low risk, low return against high risk, potentially higher return initiatives.
  • Common and shared (i.e., IT infrastructure) against business unit specific investments.
  • Investments by major business process.
  • Creating new capability versus maintaining existing capability.
  • Investing in IT process and capabilities (i.e., improving the “business of IT”) versus investing in IT capability for the business.

IT portfolio management is the primary means to elevate IT decision making and investment prioritization to a business issue.  In this context, IT portfolio management includes a top down decision making framework, implying that:

  • Senior executives have debated, considered and reached consensus about their IT investment portfolio strategy.
  • This, in turn, implies that senior executives have considered and agreed to a business-IT strategy.
  • They have wrestled with the thorny questions about “level of optimization” of IT investments – whether this should be a business unit or function (implying a conglomerate or holding company model) or the enterprise (implying a more integrated business model.
  • If they balance by business process, that the major business processes have been defined, and their importance to business strategy execution determined.
  • * They are able to monitor the gaps between their actual IT investments by portfolio category, against their target, or “model” portfolio, and can make adjustments as necessary.
Portfolio Management Office See Program Management Office IT Portfolio Management Offices are rare.  Rather, Portfolio Management is seen as a responsibility of business-IT governance, and the highest levels of business-IT investment decision-making.  As such, disciplines and groups such as PMO’s (or PPMO’s) are invaluable tools in support of effective IT Portfolio Management.