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.

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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
Cecilia Wong
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy

Recent Posts

It All Starts With Strategic Clarity, Say Symposium Speakers

Symposium Experts Offer Tips for Winning the Talent War

Organizational Strategic Alignment in Action

PMO of the Year Award Winner Helps Drive Rapid Growth

Influence Without Authority

It All Starts With Strategic Clarity, Say Symposium Speakers

Every project or program should express an organization’s strategy. It’s a fundamental truth, yet many executives misunderstand strategy, or fail to communicate it throughout the organization, said author Michael E. Porter, PhD, a keynoter at PMO Symposium 2014.

A strategy is distinct from a mission statement or goals; it defines an organization’s competitive edge, he explained.

“You aren’t competing to be the best. You’re competing to be unique. That’s where, ultimately, sustainable advantage comes from,” Dr. Porter said. “Every good strategy has a unique value proposition for the customer that you’re seeking to serve.”

Project portfolio choices are all about strategy in action — allocating the organization’s resources to achieve a distinct competitive position. And when project and program managers crystallize the connection between strategy and the portfolio, it has “a big impact on the ultimate power of whatever it is that you’re running,” he said.

So if the strategy is opaque, project practitioners must seek clarity. “If we don’t have a clear sense of the overall strategy, then it’s hard to connect a project or a program to what’s going on in the overall organization,” Dr. Porter said.

To maximize their value and deliver meaningful results, project and program practitioners must keep the big picture front and center.

“We talk all the time about project managers and program managers. But what organizations are really saying is that they want project leaders and program leaders,” said Mark A. Langley, PMI president and CEO. “Don’t just be a PMO manager — be a PMO leader.”

Closing keynote speaker Jason Young, author of The Culturetopia Effect, encouraged attendees to be servant leaders who foster an ideal work culture of high fulfillment and high performance.

“Our job is to get out of the way so people can do their best work,” Mr. Young said. “We want to create opportunities to help people inspire each other.”

He outlined six leadership best practices that drive high performance:

  1. Clearly define expectations
  2. Provide tools and training to ensure success
  3. Get people to use their talents and strengths
  4. Give frequent recognition and praise
  5. Show care and concern for all employees
  6. Encourage continuous learning and development

Symposium wasn’t all keynote speeches, though. Attendees also saw project and program management in action at local hotspots, including Marlins Park, Port of Miami and Jungle Island.

Feeling like you missed something? PMO Symposium 2015 will be 8-11 November in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Put it on your calendar today.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 21, 2014 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Symposium Experts Offer Tips for Winning the Talent War

The war for project talent rages around the globe — and many organizations are paying a heavy price because they can’t execute strategy.

Talent deficiencies hamper 40 percent of all strategy implementation efforts, according to the latest installment of PMI’s Thought Leadership Series, Talent Management: Powering Strategic Initiatives in the PMO. Unveiled at the PMO Symposium 2014, the series features surveys conducted with The Economist Intelligence Unit, PwC and Human Systems International.

“We know that organizations cannot find the right qualified people. … There’s a capacity issue, and then there’s a capability issue,” PMI president and CEO Mark A. Langley said during the symposium’s opening session.

According to the series, more than 70 percent of executives recognize talent management as a driver of strategy, but just 41 percent of organizations have a clear approach to strategic talent development.,

And this is where PMOs have a key role to play.

Yet as PMOs shift from a “run the business” model to a “change the business” model, talent sources must shift as well, Anthony Gayter, vice present of global program portfolio management at HP, said during the opening panel discussion on talent management.

PMOs have typically been run by former project managers, but many organizations are now also looking to business schools to find strategic talent. But there’s a problem: Although programs and projects are at the center of most organizations, traditional business school curricula don’t train students in project management.

Business schools have “to realize that project management isn’t just a series of project charts — it’s a strategic part of business going forward,” Mr. Gayter said.

During his keynote address, NASA chief knowledge officer Edward Hoffman, PhD, outlined what he called the “4 As” of talent management

  • Ability: Establish governance to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to growth and development.
  • Attitude: Create a knowledge-sharing environment by providing access to senior leaders.
  • Assignments: Leverage projects to increase experience.
  • Alliances: Build internal networks to facilitate communication and collaboration.

Just because someone has valuable skills doesn’t mean they’ll be motivated to advance in an organization, Dr. Hoffman said. Organizations must cultivate talent by offering meaningful work and offering opportunities for them to grow and develop.

“Most successful people have had assignments that are increasingly challenging and complex, and that give them the courage to move forward,” Dr. Hoffman said.

During another panel discussion on Tuesday, David Perna of PwC said the CEO mood shift from survival to growth is spurring questions about capabilities, such as:

  • Can you attract and develop leadership and project management capability globally?
  • Does your enterprise have the agility to recognize and respond quickly to new opportunities for innovation and growth?
  • Do you have enough people to lead and manage your strategic initiatives?
  • Does your employee culture foster commitment from top performers and innovators?

To win the talent war, organizations must rethink their approach, said Mary Lyons of PwC during the panel discussion. And that will require broad leadership support, commitment to cultural change and a solid business case to sustain momentum.

Executives and human resources leaders must also join forces and govern the talent improvement effort together.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 20, 2014 11:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Organizational Strategic Alignment in Action

By Conrado Morlan

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a project management symposium in which government and for profit organizations shared their successes in aligning projects with organizational strategy. The takeaways of the sessions are listed below:

Takeaway: Develop partnerships. The city of Frisco, Texas, USA, shared its experience of working in a collaborative environment on public-private partnerships. Frisco has been named “The Best Place to Raise an Athlete,” and to keep achieving that vision, it has run several projects partnering with the U.S.’s major sports leagues and teams to create a thriving sports-related market. The most recent project that will enable Frisco to achieve its strategy is a new partnership with the Dallas Cowboys American football team, which includes the development of the team’s new training facility.

During the execution of the strategy, organizations need to secure the right capabilities and implement them in the right place at the right time. If those capabilities are not available inside the organization, partnering with external sources that share the organization's vision is the solution.

Takeaway: Understand how projects impact the business.The CIO of 7-Eleven explained that he had held several leadership positions at the U.S.-based convenience store company — from logistics and merchandising to operations divisions. With that deep knowledge of the business, he was able to reorganize the IT department from a business perspective. The new focus became selecting and strategically structuring priorities that align the IT function and projects with business needs to gain full support from stakeholders, and to execute and prioritize business initiatives through innovative technology.

The 7-Eleven example confirms that strategic and business acumen are part of the next generation of project management skills — or the “talent triangle”— that will assist organizations to effectively and efficiently achieve alignment of projects with strategy.

Takeaway: Set the framework from the start and at every level. Southwest Airlines described how its five strategic initiatives were determined through portfolio management, program management and project management, which set the foundation for the airline’s growth in international markets.


Organizations are finding their employees know what they need to do to perform well in their current jobs, but very few are clear about what is required over the long-term. Therefore, employees need to be familiar with the organization's strategy to understand their role and responsibility and how their contributions will benefit the organization.


While none of the keynote speakers referred formally to Organizational Project Management (OPM) — the strategy execution framework used to align and customize project, program and portfolio management processes to consistently and predictable deliver corporate strategy to produce better results and sustainable competitive advantage— the steps their organizations followed are ones suggested in PMI’s Implementing Organizational Project Management: A Practice Guide.


With the guide, project management practitioners and cross-functional team members can learn how an effective project management methodology and globally accepted best practices integrate with business-specific processes and techniques. In addition, they can learn about tools to help the organization develop a living and evolving methodology that enables the assessment and refinement of its practices.


Has your organization started any effort to elevate the project management discipline to a strategic level? If so, how is it achieving this goal?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 20, 2014 05:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

PMO of the Year Award Winner Helps Drive Rapid Growth

Project management offices (PMOs) must prove their value by transforming strategy into business results, said PMI president and CEO Mark A. Langley as he kicked off PMO Symposium 2014 in Miami, Florida, USA.

“It’s essential that PMOs take on a role in the organization that enables change in the organization,” Mr. Langley said.

Illustrating Mr. Langley’s point, this year’s PMO of the Year finalists provided 600 attendees with exemplary case studies showcasing how PMOs can deliver on strategy execution and drive organizational change.

WellPoint Inc. took home the coveted award for meeting its most aggressive growth goals ever — even as the U.S. healthcare industry underwent a massive overhaul.

After establishing a scalable, repeatable framework based on PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), the PMO implemented Medicaid contracts around the country. And those contracts helped deliver 40 percent annual revenue growth in both 2012 and 2013. WellPoint’s PMO’s project portfolio also included major change initiatives, including the large-scale integration of a competitor following a high-profile acquisition deal.

WellPoint now ranks as the largest Medicaid managed-care company in the United States. And as WellPoint grew, so did the PMO — a direct reflection of its strategic value. Since 2010, the PMO has grown from 17 to 58 practitioners, and its portfolio from 9 to 38 projects.

In accepting the award, Sarina Arcari, PMP, staff vice president for business solutions in the government business division, challenged audience members to raise their PMO to the next level. “The power to elevate our profession lies squarely in your hands,” she said.

The other two finalists for this prestigious award were the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic and DTE Energy.

  • The Central Bank of the Dominican Republic chartered the PMO to standardize project processes across the organization and drive execution to the next level. Since 2009, the portion of projects in sync with the bank’s strategy jumped from 43 percent to 89 percent. Through those projects, the organization has been able to deliver on its mission of securing financial stability for the country’s businesses and 10 million residents.
  • DTE Entergy, a Michigan, USA-based power company, launched its PMO in 2006 to make the right project investments in Detroit and surrounding areas. Since then, DTE’s project performance has dramatically improved schedule and budget management — saving more than US$100 million on one project alone. The team also credits the PMO with allowing the organization to respond with increased agility to an evolving regulatory landscape.

For more on these three extraordinary PMOs, check out video case studies of all the finalists on PMI’s YouTube channel and extended inside looks in upcoming issues of PM Network®.

Sarina Arcari (far left) accepts the PMO of the Year award on behalf of the WellPoint team.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 18, 2014 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Influence Without Authority

Many project professionals find themselves in a position where they need to influence the decisions or actions of others, but lack the authority to impose an outcome. The ability to influence others is particularly important when managing teams in a matrix organization or when working as a consultant or expert advising line management or project management.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Editionincludes influencing in its list of key interpersonal skills and provides a brief outline in Appendix X3.5. Here are some practical options for building and using influence to benefit a project.

One of the standard references defining the problem and offering practical solutions is Influence Without Authorityby U.S. professors Dr. Allan Cohen and Dr. David Bradford. This book introduces the Cohen-Bradford Influence Without Authority (IWA) model that describes how to influence others through a give-and-take exchange. The model consists of six steps, starting with “Assume all are potential allies.” Then it moves upward with:

·        “Clarify your goals and priorities”

·        “Diagnose the world of the other person”

·        “Identify relevant currencies, theirs and yours”

·        “Dealing with relationships”, and

·        Finally at the top, “Influence through give-and-take”

The IWA model is based on creating something of value to “trade” and then obtaining the best return from your investment. It is subtly different to the transactional approach of What’s in it for Me (WIFM).

WIFM focuses on finding a value proposition that provides a direct benefit to the stakeholders you want help from. It is a simple “trade” — if they help you achieve your project outcomes, they benefit from the success. WIFM is effective in situations where a senior stakeholder (e.g., the sponsor) can directly benefit from helping you succeed.

IWA is more effective when there is no direct benefit for the stakeholder you need help from and is based on “trading favors” or, more simply, the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” approach. We can and often do intuitively understand the give-and-take in a transaction for small things, such as sharing the effort to pick up the morning coffee. However, for large complex transactions, we need to be more methodical and think through our processes, goals and interests, those of our allies and those of the stakeholders we need to influence.

For starters, project managers who use IWA effectively know they get work done by working well within their peer network. If someone does something for the project manager, there’s a good chance the project manager will do something for him or her in return. It’s a two-way trade that benefits everyone. But even so, influencing without authority isn’t an easy task. The key to IWA is creating and banking “organizational currency” in advance of the time you need to use it.

Organizational currency comes in many formats:

·         The ability to highlight and publicize good performance

·         The ability to make useful connections for the person

·         Useful or valuable information (for the stakeholder)

·         Developing a good relationship that both people value

·         Providing help or assistance needed by the other person

·         Personal support, coaching or mentoring 

Keep in mind you need to invest your time and effort to earn organizational currency with your stakeholders before you can “spend” it. Time isn’t a luxury many project managers can afford, but investing in relationship-building will ultimately help you to be more productive and generate quicker consensus with project team members, peers in the organization and senior managers.

The two key takeways for successful IWA? First, recognize that “give” comes before “take” in “give-and-take,” and second, make sure what you give is of value to the people you are engaging within their world. You need to understand what is important or useful to them.

What’s your number-one tip for influencing without authority?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: November 18, 2014 02:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer."

- Robert Frost