7 min read
Jul 23, 2018

Project management vs. project portfolio management: Which software should your small business buy?

With so many types of project management software to choose from, it's tough to know which one your small business needs. GetApp's infographic shares the difference between project management vs. project portfolio management.

Lauren MaffeoContent Analyst

There’s an overwhelming amount of project management software. To give you an idea of how many tools exist, GetApp has 18 separate directories under the project management umbrella. Even when you’re shopping for specific software (for example, tools to manage Agile projects), it’s still overwhelming for small business owners to choose which software is the best fit for their needs.

So, it won’t seem helpful if we introduce another tool: Project portfolio management (PPM) software. With so many project management software options, why add PPM to the crowded ring of contenders?

It’s because knowing the difference between project management vs. project portfolio management will save you substantial time and money. When a Chicago-based nonprofit started using project management software to automate more manual tasks, it reported saving up to $25,000 annually.

But not every business is so lucky. The average company wastes 37 percent of its software spend. In the U.S. alone, that equals $30 billion in IT spending-enough to end world hunger.

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Know what you need from project management software

These results reinforce why small businesses should find the right tools early on: Successful teams will have an easier time scaling and will waste less money as their businesses grow.

Research from GetApp found that most project management software shoppers are willing to pay $60 per user per month. We also found that time tracking and scheduling were the main features shoppers needed from their project management software.

Having a clear picture of what you can spend on new software and what you need it to do are the first steps that any shopper should take.

If you’re clear on the differences between project management vs. project portfolio management, you’ll have a stronger understanding of what each type of software does. That clarity can keep you from spending too much on software that has a ton of features you won’t use.

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Project management vs. project portfolio management

To start, let’s define the difference between project management vs. project portfolio management:


is a temporary venture with clearly defined start and end dates.


uses the same resources to manage an ongoing group of current and planned projects. In this case, you're practicing project management on several projects rather than one project in isolation.

Project management is temporary, while project portfolio management is continuous.

Although modern project management claims its roots in software development, small businesses of all stripes practice project management.

From incorporating AI into small business to managing creative projects in ad agencies, a rising number of businesses see the value in using a more structured project management methodology. The key characteristic that these diverse projects share is their temporary, date-bound status.

This is also a key difference between project management vs. product management. A product will likely have several simultaneous projects underneath it. However, each of those projects is temporary. By contrast, the product will hopefully stick around and have an ongoing lifecycle.

In this sense, product management is more similar to project portfolio management. If you manage a collection of projects that aim to achieve your business goals, then you practice project portfolio management.

That’s because (like product management) project portfolio management is an ongoing practice. PPM also provides a high-level view of every project across a business, division, or department. To quote Bob Buttrick:

"Directing the individual project correctly will ensure it is done right. Directing 'all the projects' successfully will ensure we are doing the right projects."

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Which software should your small business buy?

Once you know the key distinction between project management vs. project portfolio management, it becomes easier to distinguish these types of software.

Project management software lets you track and communicate project details. These details include each project’s tasks, budgets, timelines, and deliverables. You should also be able to see which team members own which tasks.

Project portfolio management (PPM) software handles a portfolio of work (both existing and planned projects) that pull from the same resource pool. It helps teams prioritize projects, manage risks, allocate resources, and share reports with stakeholders.

We should clarify that the features of each software type are not mutually exclusive. For example, PPM software should have many features of standard project management software, such as collaboration and task management. Likewise, many project management software tools include hallmark PPM features, such as dashboards.

The key distinction comes down to intent. Does your small business need software to manage distinct projects and the tasks/communication that they demand? If so, project management software will likely do the job.

By contrast, if you have several business projects that share the same resources, you should consider project portfolio management software.

You’ll need a tool to tell you:

  • How well your team executives projects

  • How you might be able to re-allocate resources

  • Whether your small business is benefitting from these projects

To help start your search, GetApp’s infographic shares some key distinctions between project management vs. project portfolio management. Feel free to download and have it on hand as you search for your own solution!

Have more questions?

Read these articles to learn more about the differences between project management and project portfolio management:

  • Most popular project management software: Do location and business size affect app choices? (GetApp report)

  • 3 project management software evaluation criteria to help your business go the distance

  • How to Choose Project Portfolio Management Software: A Handy Checklist

  • 8 Alternatives to Microsoft Project for Project Portfolio Management

View GetApp's Category Leaders rankings for project management and project portfolio management software:

  • Project management

  • Project portfolio management

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Ready to start shopping?

Use GetApp’s scorecard to find the best project management software for your team.

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