Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson

Recent Posts

Portfolio Management Predictions for 2016

How to Spot a Top-Shelf Project Manager

3 Lessons From My First Project Manager Job

3 Strategic Resolutions For The New Year

Knowledge Management: More Than Simply Learning Lessons

Portfolio Management Predictions for 2016

Categories: Portfolio Management

By Wanda Curlee

Compared to project or program management, “portfolio management” is in its infancy. I suspect many still think of investment or financial portfolio managers when they hear the phrase.

Portfolio management—I don’t usually put “project” before these words—will certainly change significantly during the next decade. Think how much project management has changed in the last 10 years.

But instead of looking into a crystal ball to imagine the state of portfolio management in 2026, let’s just think about 2016. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for three things this year.

1) C-Suite recognition.

I expect many more people in the C-Suite to recognize that implementing strategy is doing the hard work. Someone needs to be the push between executives and senior management on one hand, and program and project managers on the other.

Some would say that this is the PMO manager’s position, but that misses the point. The portfolio manager sits above the PMO and does the hard work for the C-Suite. He or she has the ear of the C-Suite and makes tough recommendations to the governance team. This is primarily done by looking at the strategic objectives, aligning the projects and programs to them, and ensuring that the appropriate resources are available for execution.

2) New tools.

What else will we see? Tools! To date, there is no one tool that truly meets the need of the portfolio manager. Yes, some come close. But there is nothing that appears to have the input of a seasoned portfolio manager.

I hope some enterprising software company will retain an experienced portfolio manager to help design a brilliant tool. Because when the end user is asked to help design the software, a much better product happens.

3) Virtual abilities.

Along with the right tools, a portfolio manager needs to be able to work in a virtual environment. With clients, project managers, vendors and leaders in different parts of the world, many companies are now operating in a virtual environment. That means it’s increasingly important that portfolio managers have the ability to deal with time zone and cultural differences.

It’s hard to say exactly how working in a cloud-based environment could impact the world of portfolio management. It could conceivably provide greater transparency to an organization’s leaders, for example.

What do you expect to see as portfolio management matures in 2016 and beyond?

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: February 09, 2016 05:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to Spot a Top-Shelf Project Manager

By Christian Bisson

The number of years a project manager has been working certainly gives you a clue about his or her ability. But this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the only information you can use to spot a project manager who is a cut above the rest.

Below are a few tips to help you assess if someone really knows their stuff. Just as you’d adapt your expectations of junior project managers to their experience, use these tips to get a sense of how “experienced” or “senior” someone really is. I’ve recently put them to good use when a project manager was temporarily hired to take my place while I was out on paternity leave.

Ready to Ask Questions

The first sign is simple. A project manager who aims to do the job correctly will proactively ask questions when planning a project, instead of delivering an asset that is incorrect. Or, the project manager will deliver the assets but will clearly state he or she was missing some information and did what he or she could as best as possible.

If you receive an asset that is supposed to be ready and yet you need to revise multiple times, you’re probably working with an inexperienced project manager.

Organized and Responsive

Being organized is a typical quality used to describe a project manager, and it’s something that should also develop throughout the years. Assuming the project manager’s workload is reasonable, here are a few clues to help spot if the person really is organized:

  • If he or she is managing multiple projects, are projects being prioritized properly?
  • Are emails sent to the project manager acted on in a timely manner, or do you have to follow up on most of them?
  • If simple, straightforward information is discussed, has it been noted or used properly, or has it been forgotten (for instance, a delivery date discussed that should be added to a schedule)?

Can Cope With Change

Change is part of project management, whether because of client requests or other issues that arise. An experienced project manager is able to adapt accordingly and drive the project forward. Ask yourself these questions about your project manager:

  • Is the team properly made aware of the changes?
  • Does the project manager remain calm at the prospect of change?
  • Are issues met with a solution-oriented approach?

Past Jobs

This is the only tip that could help assess a project manager’s experience prior to working with him or her. Although it’s a vague indication, spotting the extremes can help.

  • If project mangers worked at only one place all their career, it might indicate that they are used to the routine of that place and are inexperienced in anything else.
  • On the other hand, project managers who seem to change jobs every few months might not be well-suited for this line of work.
  • Also note that where someone worked means little; what really matters is what he or she did.

Have additional tips for judging a project manager’s abilities? Please don’t hesitate to share.

Posted by Christian Bisson on: January 26, 2016 08:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

3 Lessons From My First Project Manager Job

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Fifteen years ago, I transitioned from being an IT manager to a project manager for the first time. With this month’s theme at projectmanagement.com being “new practitioner PM,” here are three key lessons I learned while managing my first projects.

When I was an IT manager, I always had projects that were assigned to my department. I loved being part of large projects so much I realized I wanted to do it full-time. So I made a conscious decision to transition to being a dedicated project manager.

Managing a project is truly like being a CEO of your own company—you have authority over budget, resource and key decision-making responsibilities. However, it’s an art, and mastery takes time. These are the three fundamental lessons I learned:

1) Communication is about simplifying and personalizing.

Although we may hear that 90 percent of a project manager’s job is to communicate, the best communication is one that doesn’t contain acronyms, special terminology or techno-speak.

Remember that key stakeholders are often involved in multiple projects. To get their attention, you need to make your communications concise and personal while clearly specifying the action desired.

Avoid lengthy mass emails, and tailor the frequency and channel according to the person. One sponsor told me she gets so many emails that I should schedule a meeting if it’s important. Another sponsor told me he works best with instant messaging if I needed something immediately.

The key is to know your audience and adapt accordingly. My first sponsor meeting always includes finding out how and when he or she would like to be communicated with.

2) Project management is about knowing which tools to use when.

Yes, project management is about processes, knowledge areas and ITTOs (inputs, tools and techniques, outputs), according to the PMBOK Guide. But, most importantly, it’s a menu of available options.

Trying to do everything by the book or insisting on adherence to every single template and tool is setting yourself up for disaster. Assess the needs of the project, and don’t ignore the culture of the organization. You can’t go from zero processes to textbook processes overnight. You may need to start slow by introducing concepts and build from there.

3) Build relationships.

Trust is key. When you’re starting out as a project manager, you’re an unknown, so you need to work extra hard to establish the relationships. It’s important to come across as professional, yet approachable and flexible in order to build confidence with your team, and most importantly, your sponsors and key stakeholders. Regular, relaxed one-on-one meetings, such as getting coffee or grabbing lunch, help to build cohesive partnerships that will pay dividends when the going gets tough on the project.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 23, 2016 07:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

3 Strategic Resolutions For The New Year

by Dave Wakeman


The new year is a good time for every project manager to take a moment to pause and reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t worked during the last 12 months. Many of my blog posts last year (like this one, and this one) focused on the intersection of strategy and project management. So I thought it could be valuable to suggest three ways you can propel yourself, your projects and your organization forward in 2016.

1. Set clear goals and objectives. As a project manager, you’re usually like the CEO of your project. So even if you’re in an environment where most determinants of success and failure are laid out by others, you still have the opportunity to set goals and objectives that will set your team up for success.

Imagine a project that is stuck. If you’re in the middle of this situation, it’s a good time to sit down and look at the project holistically and try to define some goals and objectives to get the project moving again.

This might require more than just saying what you hope to achieve over the next month, quarter or year—it could involve ways that you can give your team some short-term wins to create new forward momentum. The important thing is to take the opportunity to stop, think carefully, and decide with intention which way you want to move.

2. Simplify communications and decision-making. One of the supreme challenges for all project managers is the constant need to juggle information and communicate to various stakeholders effectively. Being the filter for most communications can hamper and complicate the communication process. As a strategic-minded practitioner, you’re going to have to simplify processes to avoid becoming a bottleneck.

You may find it easy to streamline your communications and decision-making processes by taking the following three steps:

First, set clear expectations for communication.

Second, empower your teams to use their best judgment and to take action within certain well-defined parameters.

Third, regularly review these processes to reinforce what’s working and change things that aren’t working.

3. Always return to the outcomes you need to produce. I’m guilty of belaboring this point, because it’s essential. The end results are what you need to be working toward. You have to be clear on expected outcomes and what you are trying to achieve. This will inform every action, tactic and process you roll out in your projects.

Get started by clarifying the desired results of your project, and then break them down by each piece of work that you need to produce to make them reality.

If you do this in combination with the items in #2, you’re on your way to becoming even more of a strategic partner in your organization’s success. 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 15, 2016 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Knowledge Management: More Than Simply Learning Lessons

By Lynda Bourne

Organizations tend to struggle with knowledge management. Far too many treat it as an exercise in capturing and disseminating lessons learned. Because of this, organizations often fail to develop the social framework needed to allow the full richness of knowledge to be available to their teams.

In fact, knowledge management involves more than lessons learned. At best, lessons learned are explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge can be readily articulated, codified, stored, accessed and transmitted to others. But the process of transforming the lessons recorded by a project team into explicit knowledge requires:

  • The lesson to be recorded by the team
  • The data in the lesson to be validated by subject matter experts
  • Information to be codified against an understood taxonomy and stored in a retrieval system with appropriate cross-referencing and indexing

This process is time-consuming and difficult, particularly given the lack of a defined taxonomy of project management terms. For example, terms such as PERT are used and misused in a variety of ways (see this PDF.):


A Four-Stage Learning Journey

Assuming all of the above is done well by an organization, all it will have is a knowledge repository that may be used. None of the knowledge has been transferred to people who need to know, and if those people don’t know they need to know, they are unlikely to look or learn! 

This is because unskilled human beings tend to overestimate their knowledge. This is known as the Dunning–Kruger effect, a cognitive bias where unskilled individuals mistakenly rate their ability much higher than is accurate. Conversely, experts tend to underplay their expertise.

Therefore, the learning journey can be described as:

  1. Don’t know you don’t know (ignorance is bliss)
  2. Know you don’t know (seeking knowledge)
  3. Know that you know (marginally competent practitioner)
  4. Don’t know that you know (tacit expertise)

But the relatively simple chart above is complicated by four additional factors:

  • Personal bias and prejudice
  • Errors in existing knowledge
  • Taboos that forbid or prevent the seeking of specific new knowledge
  • Denial of new knowledge, because it threatens deeply held beliefs

Therefore, effective knowledge management requires three factors:

  1. The availability of usable knowledge
  2. Ways to trigger learning activity before problems occur
  3. Ways to ensure tacit expertise is available to know what knowledge needs to be adapted for use in the current situation

Without the last two elements, organizations are left with burgeoning lessons-learned databases and hundreds of end-of-project reports, but their people have no idea what to do differently to improve performance.

The problem is the tacit knowledge needed to recognize the need and adapt the knowledge to the current situation resides in people’s minds and is contextual. Consequently, it’s difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it.

Improving organizational performance needs personal interaction. First, subject matter experts need help to translate their tacit know-how gathered over years into usable explicit knowledge. This is very often a difficult process—the experts literally don’t know all of the factors they use in formulating a course of action; much of their intuitive processing is subconscious.

Second, less expert people need a friendly adviser overseeing their work to provide effective early warning of impending issues. The less experienced need to be made aware that they need to learn something new. “Trigger events” don’t have to be painful if the right advice is heeded at the right time.

Third, learning is rarely accomplished simply by reading about a lesson learned. Access to effective coaching and mentoring is important to ensure the full complexity and subtleties of the lesson are passed on and the learning is adapted to the circumstances. Every project is unique and consequently every lesson learned will need to be nuanced or adapted to work optimally in the new situation.

In addition, some aspects of knowing can only be learned by doing. This requires trust and encouraging people to form relationships and networks so they will share knowledge and help each other learn.

How effective is knowledge sharing in your organization? 

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: January 12, 2016 12:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.

- Frank Leahy