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

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The Customer Is Always Digital—So Make the Experience Right

Reality Check: Stop Being So Optimistic

PMO of the Year Winner Calls Out Executive Support

PMO FAQs: Frequently Avoided Questions About PMOs

Categories: Best Practices, PMOs, Strategy

Organizations exist in all shapes and sizes, which means there is a wide range of project management needs to be fulfilled by standards, processes and best practices. In order to cope with that challenge, some organizations implement project management offices (PMOs).

PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: PMO Frameworks describes types of PMOs and their characteristics. Moreover, there are plenty of books and research on this topic (see Brian Hobbs and Peter Taylor, for example). However, despite PMO’s good references, detailed implementation and well-intentioned frameworks, organizations continue to question the value of these offices.

I recently came across four multinational organizations that killed their PMOs entirely. Although I believe these decisions did more harm than good, it is unquestionable that PMOs have to reinvent themselves. That’s why I compiled a list Frequently Avoided Questions that should be answered with honesty right from the start:

  1. Does your organization really need a PMO?
  2. What is the unique value proposition of your PMO?
  3. Do you have a business model for your PMO?
  4. Who are the clients of your PMO?
  5. How are you going to measure the impact of your PMO?

Answering these questions is not an easy task. In order to answer, “Yes, we need a PMO,” you have to understand organizational strategy, structure and culture. 

  • Strategy
  • Structure
    • Project-oriented organizations are more suitable to PMOs because support functions are designed to improve projects’ performance. Matrix organizations pose different challenges to PMOs because there is a need to balance operations and projects. Functional organizations are not PMO-friendly due to silos and specialization.
  • Culture
    • Change management is critical in PMO implementations. Some organizational cultures would simply target a PMO as an “anomalous cell” to be purged. If that’s the case, don’t even try to implement a PMO.

If you understand the organizational contexts of strategy, structure and culture and your answer is still, “Yes, we need a PMO,” it is time to define what type of PMO (questions 2, 3 and 4) to create. Performance measurements and KPIs are part of answering question 5. After working through those questions, we can finally craft and execute a plan.

But I get ahead of myself: I’ll address these topics in my next few blog posts. Don’t miss them! And please, leave your comments and suggestions below.

And by the way: Visit PMI’s Knowledge Shelf to learn more about PMOs.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: October 26, 2015 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

5 Things Unsuccessful Portfolio Managers Do

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

I am amazed that so many projects and programs (and by extension, portfolios) are still so challenged. Forty-four percent of projects are unsuccessful, and we waste $109 million for each $1 billion in project expenditures, according to the 2015 edition of PMI’s Pulse of the Profession.

One solution that the report identifies is mature portfolio management processes. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of five things that unsuccessful portfolio managers do—and what they should focus on doing instead.

1.  Worry about things they can’t change.

Unsuccessful portfolio managers worry about the past or dwell on problems outside their immediate influence. Successful portfolio managers learn from the past and move on. Sometimes, failures turn into lessons that create the foundation for future growth and opportunity.

Portfolio managers should stay focused on what can we influence, negotiate and communicate, as well as what we can start, stop and sustain. Every month or quarter, assess the processes, programs and projects in your span of control. Decide which to start, stop and sustain, and develop action plans around those decisions (including dates, resources required and collaborators).

2.  Give up when things get too hard.

It may be easy to throw in the towel when conditions become challenging. But the hallmark of a good portfolio manager is the ability to find solutions.

Sometimes, our immediate reaction to a proposal is to think the timeframes or goals are not possible. However, when we get the team together to focus on what can be done, we come up with creative solutions. It’s necessary to gather the facts and do the analysis instead of jumping to conclusions.

3.  Set unattainable goals.

There’s a difference between a stretch goal and an impossible one. Sometimes, projects or programs don’t start off as unattainable (see #2 above) or undoable, but they become so.

Although we may be good at starting projects or programs, there’s not enough emphasis on stopping them. The environment (internal or external) may have changed, key resources may no longer be available, organizational priorities may have shifted, or the business buy-in might take too long. Rather than calling attention to the situation and recommending a “no go,” unsuccessful portfolio managers tend to press on with blinders. This wastes time and resources.

Once I was managing a $500 million portfolio of international expansion programs and projects. The portfolio sponsor told me, “I want to know if we’re falling off the cliff.” Although we hope our programs or projects never get to that point, his words did clearly specify the role I was supposed to play.

4.  Stay in your comfort zone.

It’s easy to create a portfolio in which the potential for risk and failure is low. But that means we may be missing out on opportunities for innovation or great returns. Advocating change in your portfolio requires taking calculated risks that you can learn from or will pay off in the longer term. The successful portfolio manager will advocate taking good risks (aka opportunities) instead of blindly going forward with bad risks.

Taking advantage of opportunities is the key to transformation and reinvention. It’s essential to any organization that wants to survive long-term. For example, who could’ve predicted just a few years ago that Amazon, Netflix and even YouTube would become rivals to TV and movie studios in providing original entertainment? This required calculated risk taking.

5.  Forget about balance.

Balance is important, whether it’s balancing your portfolio or balancing your work and your life. If you’re not performing your best because you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s going to affect your portfolio. Especially with technology blending our work and personal time, it’s sometimes hard to think about balance. One survey showed that we’re checking our phones up to 150 times per day. But remember the basics: eat well, exercise, take time to de-stress, and set aside time for yourself, family and friends. 

What do you notice unsuccessful portfolio managers do, and what would you recommend instead? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: October 10, 2015 11:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

The 3 Things That Transcend All Project Approaches

by Dave Wakeman

Recently I had the chance to engage with Microsoft’s social media team about some of the issues I have been covering here. Their team brought up a question you may have asked as well: How do you differentiate between “digital” project management and project management?

It’s an interesting question, because I firmly believe all projects should be delivered within a very similar framework. The framework enables you to make wise decisions and understand the project’s goals and objectives.

I understand that there are many types of project management philosophies: waterfall, agile, etc. Each of these methods has pros and cons. Of course, you should use the method you are most comfortable with and that gives you the greatest likelihood of success.

But regardless of which project management approach you employ, there are three things all practitioners should remember at the outset of every project to move forward with confidence.

Every project needs a clear objective. Even if you aren’t 100-percent certain what the “completed” project is going to look like, you can still have an idea of what you want the project’s initial iteration to achieve. This allows you to begin work with a direction and not just a group of tasks.

So, even if you only have one potential outcome you want to achieve, starting there is better than just saying, “Let’s do these activities and hope something comes out of it.”

Frameworks enable valuable conversations. I love talking about decision-making frameworks for both organizations and teams. They’re valuable not because they limit thought processes, but because they enable you to make decisions based on what you’re attempting to achieve.

Instead of looking at the framework as a checklist, think of it as a conversation you’re having with your project and your team. This conversation enables you to keep moving your project toward its goal.

During the execution phase, it can give you the chance to check the deliverable against your original goals and the current state of the project within the organization. Just never allow the framework to put you in a position where you feel like you absolutely have to do something that doesn’t make sense.

Strong communication is the bedrock. To go back to the question from Microsoft’s social media team about digital vs. regular project management: the key concept isn’t the field or areas that a project takes place in.

No matter what kind of project you’re working on and in which sector you’re in, the critical skill for project success is your ability to communicate effectively with all the project stakeholders.

This skill transcends any specific industry. As many of us have learned, it may constitute about 90 percent of a project manager’s job. You can put this into practice in any project by taking a moment to write down your key stakeholders and the information you need to get across to them. Then put time in your calendar to help make sure you are effective in delivering your communications.

In the end, I don’t think there should be much differentiation between “digital” projects or any other kind of projects. All projects benefit from having a set of goals and ideas that guide them. By trying to distinguish between different project classifications, we lose sight of the real key to success in project management: teamwork and communication.

What do you think? 

By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 30, 2015 09:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

2025 Vision: The Future of PMOs

By Kevin Korterud


To mark the new year, I decided to make a rather ambitious resolution: envision the future of project management offices (PMOs). Specifically,  what PMOs will be like in the year 2025.

In retrospect, a New Year’s resolution to exercise more or take up a new hobby might have been easier. But here goes.

In 2015, PMOs of all types face a growing number of challenges. These include larger and more complex programs, workforces spread across different locations, time zones and cultures, integration needs and a shortage of skilled technologists. All of these trends will likely intensify in the next 10 years.

While there have been significant advances in the area of program delivery with agile methods, work planning tools and other enhancements, we need to rethink the function of the PMO with regard to its readiness to deal with a constantly changing and challenging business environment.

Here’s how I think PMOs could — and should — be functioning in 2025:


1. Mega PMO. Today all sorts of PMOs are spread across an organization: enterprise, business, program and transformation PMOs. Organizationally, these PMOs are typically fragmented across multiple business functions and governance structures. In addition, each PMO can operate independently of each other.

Given the complexity and scale of contemporary programs, this scenario has inherent risk from a delivery integration and coordination standpoint. For effective and safe delivery in the future, all PMOs need to be brought into a single organization and centralized command structure responsible for the oversight of all delivery programs.

This “Mega PMO” would go beyond the strategic roles played by Enterprise PMOs (EPMOs)—like portfolio management and benefits realization—to encompass tactical and operational services as well.  

The level of integration on today’s delivery programs compels a move to this new PMO operating model.    


2. Mega-PMO Partitioning. We must also address the strategic, tactical and operational needs of contemporary program delivery. This can come about by structuring the PMO of the future into functions that provide services and direction at all three of these levels.

For example, portfolio management, benefits realization and strategic planning would reside in a function that is staffed with highly skilled resources. Administrative and operational activities such as work plan updates, status report production and financial tracking would be in a service center function using resources with matching skills.


3. Unified Program Managers. It’s common today to have program managers embedded in various parts of an organization. While this results in program manager specialization, it does little to harmonize program management approaches and activities.

Just as program oversight would be brought into a single organization, so should the program managers overseeing program delivery. This would ensure both existing and new program managers collaborate and execute in a coordinated manner.

In addition, the centralization of program managers would also enable the development of program managers’ skills in ways that typically wouldn’t happen while embedded in a business function.    


4. A Master Control Room. In a prior article, I mentioned the need for and benefits of a program control room. The creation of a single PMO compels the need for a centralized control venue to enable effective delivery oversight.

To manage the quantity, complexity and scale of future programs, this PMO master control room would need to resemble a control room in a manufacturing environment. This would include display screens, consistent representation of status, incident resolution rooms and other enabling technologies that drive effective program delivery.    


This vision of the future aligns with the trends and trajectories of delivery programs. Not unlike how manufacturing, supply chain and other core business processes moved from craft to industrialized systems, the design and operation of PMOs need to change to support the delivery programs of tomorrow.    

What do you think the future will hold for PMOs? I welcome your reactions!

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: January 16, 2015 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

8 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Project Portfolio

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

As you reflect on 2014 and prepare for the New Year, consider these eight resolutions for your project portfolio in 2015.

1.     Be a portfolio leader. Don’t just manage the portfolio — lead it by thinking in terms of profits and losses. In that sense, how does it compare to other portfolios or business units? What was your 2014 return on investment, and what is your 2015 estimated return? Is this within your organization’s expectations? What projects/programs were a drag and should be stopped? What projects/programs have the potential to generate the most returns and can be a calculated risk? (A calculated risk has a reasonable probability of generating a return; of course, what is “reasonable” depends on your organization’s risk appetite and threshold.)  If you were an investor, would you invest in your portfolio? Asking these questions may help you decide what to do differently in 2015.

2.     Accelerate the business. Ensure strategic alignment by thinking about your portfolio as dynamic and agile — an accelerator to business goals and objectives. How can you free up resources to innovate rather than just keep the lights on?

3.     Sell your portfolio’s value by understanding your audience. Speak the organization’s language while remembering the 5 C’s: clear, concise, credible, creative and compelling:

Clear— Frame the discussion in terms the other party can easily relate to and understand.

Concise— Long decks and presentations will lose your audience. Think elevator speeches: If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s probably too complicated to understand. And if it’s too complicated, then you will not have the opportunity to influence, let alone reach agreement.

Credible— Know what you’re talking about and be prepared. This means doing your homework before coming to the table.

Creative— Look beyond the obvious to find the solution.

Compelling— Always know what’s important to the other party and what will drive them to action. Tease out the underlying need instead of only the stated desire. Understand what your bottom line is, and theirs.

4.     Establish a culture of innovation. Do this, and you can deliver long-term as well as quick wins. 

5.     Make data-driven decisions.Look at the facts to drive decisions, not emotions. Don’t get attached to pet projects.

6.     Engage with the world.Go beyond stakeholder engagement at work. Don’t forget about yourself, your home and your community.

7.     Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That little voice is an early indicator — listen to it. Sometimes when we forge ahead against our instincts, we find out later that it would have been better to take another course.

8.     Find meaning in your portfolio. Your portfolio delivers the impossible — innovative projects and programs that have not been done before. What achievements in the past year were key to the organization, in terms of values, culture and feeding creative juices? How can you do more of that in 2015?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 06, 2015 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils."

- Berlioz