Steven Fahrenkrog, ISO 21504 Project Leader, explains the difference between projects, portfolios and programmes:
"A project is perhaps the most common of the three. It refers to work with a defined beginning and end that results in a clear deliverable, anything from a new house or software to an upgrade, like increasing the ability to produce more cars on an assembly line.
"Programmes are groups of projects, and related work, that are managed together. The programme’s benefits are delivered by all the projects under its scope and tied to one or more of the organization's objectives.
"Portfolios are a collection of projects, programmes and related work, which are tied to a group of organizational objectives or strategic objectives."
"Usually,"explains Steven, "we would expect all of an organization’s work to be accounted for within one or more portfolio."
So why an ISO standard? “We need an International Standard to draw attention to global best practice," says Miles Shepherd, Chair of ISO/TC 258, the committee that developed the standard. "ISO brings together subject matter experts from countries around the world, so that they can agree and put together the best guidance. ISO standards give both credibility and confidence."
If you feel that your organization is struggling to manage and coordinate all its work; or if you simply need help to account for everything your organization is doing and see whether it contributes to meeting its objectives, then ISO 21504 is for you.
"In too many organizations, not all work is tied to objectives, which means that an organization could potentially be wasting resources. ISO 21504 can be used to evaluate and optimize the use of resources towards an organization’s objectives," says Steven.
What’s unique about the standard is that it will help you make sure that you are ready to implement a portfolio, as well as manage it.
"This makes the standard stand out from other existing guidance, which usually offers a much lower level of detail and advice," explains Steven. "This standard is therefore a great standalone document, as well as a useful complement to other existing advice. Moreover, its principled-based approach (as opposed to process-based) provides added flexibility so that organizations of all types and sizes can easily use it."
ISO 21504 is part of a wider family of standards for project, programme and portfolio managers, including ISO 21500 on project management and ISO 21503 on programme management.
The ISO/TC 258 secretariat is managed by the ISO member for the USA, ANSI. ISO 21504 can be bought from your national ISO member or through the ISO Store.