Project Portfolio, Program and Multi-project Management

Project Portfolio, Program and Multi-project Management

The evolution of Project Management software normally occurs in parallel with the evolution of the Project Management discipline, which in turn considers the needs of many organizations. In this article, we will examine the historical perspective based on general trends, conscious that each organization may experience with different evolutionary paths.

Project Management in the ’90s

At the outset and until the early ’90s, project management mainly referred to managing individual projects, and project management software was used to plan and monitor a few strategic projects. At that time the norm was client configuration, but given the typical aforementioned need it was not a big issue. By the mid-90s competition in many sectors had risen greatly, and as a result organizations had to start a growing number of projects. Unfortunately, competition did not mean the number of resources could be proportionally increased (the motto “doing more with less” started to become an imperative). As a result, human resources began to become a constraint for many projects and, due to poor integration between projects, the unavailability of critical resources was discovered too late causing some projects to underperform and leading to conflicts between project managers and functional managers. This led to the emergence of a new, intense requirement: while improving the performance of individual projects was still important (and still is), functional/departmental managers and Project Management offices needed to optimize resource usage across the different projects. In order to do so, it was fundamental to have an overview of resource allocation and availability. Unfortunately, as project software was able to deal with just one project at a time this was not straightforward. A typical solution was to create huge files containing all the projects of a department, but the management and updating of such files was (is) a nightmare.

How did Project Management software vendors react to these changes?

The project management software market reacted in two ways:

  • the first was to enhance project management software by adding functionalities that permitted the aggregation of different projects. Unfortunately, being tools, the result was not the best. In fact, while it is pretty easy to obtain an aggregated view of a project schedule (Gantt chart for the most part), integrating the resources is not easy at all. Imagine this situation: a department runs 5 projects in parallel, each assigned to different project managers. Imagine that Andrew is involved in all the projects and his name is present in all 5 project plans. For client software, the 5 Andrews are different people (and sometimes the project managers will also write Andrew in different ways: name, surname, initials etc.). Thus, simply putting together project plans is not enough.
  • the second was to create a completely new generation of project management software: multi-project management solutions. These solutions store resources in a central database and single projects use those resources. In this way, resource usage and availability are transparent to all the decision makers who are thus able to identify any resource constraints before they actually represent a problem.

Management of the multi-project environment has been greatly improved, but this is not the end of the story. Single-project and multi-project management (and supporting software) are still focused on performing each project in the best possible way. More recently, many companies have come to the conclusion that while it is a good idea to perform each project as effectively as possible, sometimes the coordinated management of projects can generate benefits that would not be obtainable by managing them individually. This is called program management. For example, a company may decide to launch 5 existing products on a new market. While the company can manage them independently, meta-coordination may create additional benefits in terms of marketing effectiveness and negotiation power with some suppliers. Project Management software capable of dealing with programs is the evolution of multi-project management software. For example, in addition to putting projects together and visualizing the resource allocation and availability, it should also be able to assign the program manager role and give him/her the correct permissions and authorizations, as well as create reports at program level.

Arithmos Project Portfolio Management

Finally, many companies have an additional consideration: single-project, multi-project and program management are focused on performing one or more projects to the highest level, but are we doing the right projects? Answering this question means not only dealing with project/program planning and control but also, and above all, with project selection. This is what is known as Project Portfolio Management. The PMBOK® Guide defines a portfolio as: projects, programs, sub-portfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives. In practice, it means defining strategic objectives and using them as a basis to propose, identify, select, authorize, plan, manage and control projects (or programs or sub-portfolios) able to achieve those strategic objectives. Since Project Portfolio Management is quite different from single-project, multi-project and program management, some software vendors developed solutions focused only on

Since Project Portfolio Management is quite different from single-project, multi-project and program management, some software vendors developed solutions focused only on the management of the project portfolio. The problem is that effective project portfolio management also requires project data, and for this reason seeking integration between the different layers can be considered good practice.

arithmos - life science solutions and business management it solutionsArithmos, Information Technology company, has launched SYNClevy: Extended Project & Portfolio Management system created to support project-oriented small medium firms and R&D  departments in planning, managing and monitoring project’s activities and costs. Contact us for a free DEMO at

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