Portfolios, programmes and projects in context


Advances in Project Management Series


By Robert Buttrick

United Kingdom

The purpose of this paper

The purpose of this paper is to examine portfolio, programme and project management in context and investigate their differences and similarities.

Managing horizontally

A major problem faced by many organizations is being unable to achieve all they want because of a lack of funds and resources, whilst wasting those same resources and funds because of an inability to co-ordinate their current work. At the same time, demands for new work continue to arrive, adding to the pressure on scarce resources and finance.

This problem may be solved by adopting a different management perspective.  Rather than managing the organization through its traditional departmental structure and controlling work through cost centres (vertical management), a value or benefit-based perspective needs to be taken. This means directing and managing work across the departments (horizontal management), where each work item is aimed at achieving specific business objectives in support of the organization’s strategy. This requires harnessing the true power of matrix management and applying it in a common sense and practical way.

All but the very simplest of organizations operate in two main areas:

  • managing day-to-day operations, providing the products or services that are the basis of what the organizations offers;
  • changing (and hopefully improving!) the current way ‘business as usual’ works, such as creating and delivering new and better products or services, leading to more efficient and effective ways of doing business.

Projects are increasingly being used to manage ‘change’ activities, but business is rarely so simple that a single project can achieve what is needed to direct and manage all the necessary changes. This often requires a large number of projects to be undertaken, each aimed at delivering a required outcome to realize the benefits the organization needs. The most important questions in this respect are:

  • why is this project needed?
  • what business objective and outcomes need to be achieved?
  • what benefits need to be realized?

These three questions focus on the purpose of undertaking the project, not on what the solution might be. Unless the overall business objectives and aims are understood first, a suitable solution cannot be defined. Too often, people ‘jump to solutions’ rather than taking time to understand the business issue or opportunity. Having understood the objective, different options should be explored and, only then, a solution devised to meet the need.


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Routledge worldwide. Their contributions to the PMWJ are coordinated by series editor, Prof Darren Dalcher, Lancaster University Management School, UK.

How to cite this paper: How to cite this paper: Buttrick, R. (2021). Portfolios, programmes and projects in context, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue XI, November. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/pmwj111-Nov2021-Buttrick-projects-programmes-portfolios-in-context.pdf

About the Author

Robert Buttrick

United Kingdom


Robert Buttrick is an independent advisor on portfolio, programme and project management, specialising in business-driven methods, processes and standards. Recent clients include the UK’s Cabinet Office, Network Rail, and AXELOS.  He  is and a Visiting Teaching Fellow at the University of Warwick, a member of the British Standards Institute’s committee MS2 for project management and is a UK Principal Expert on the equivalent ISO technical committee, TC258 (dealing with international standards on portfolio, programme and project management.)

As well as being the author of “The Programme and Portfolio Workout” and the “The Project Workout”, Robert has worked in one of the world’s most turbulent and challenging industrial sectors, telecommunications, where he has been accountable for creating and running project-based frameworks for managing change, involving the direction of portfolios of over 2500 projects, totalling £4bn spend per year. Before this, Robert was with PA Consulting Group, a management and technology consultancy. There, he specialised in business-led project management, advising clients such as TSB Bank, National Rivers Authority, Property Services Agency, Avon Industrial Polymers, National Westminster Bank and RHM.

After graduating from the University of Liverpool with a first class honours degree, he joined Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners (now Jacobs) who provided consulting, design and management services for infrastructure, working in countries as diverse as Kenya, Mauritius, Yemen, Senegal and Sudan. He has also worked with the World Bank, in Washington DC on investment appraisals for major development projects.

Robert is a Master of Business Administration (Henley Management College), a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Chartered Engineer and a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. In 2010, Robert received a Distinguished Service Certificate from the BSI for services to national and international project management standards, and in 2013 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management.