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


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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
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson

Recent Posts

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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

Want to Start a PMO? Make Sure You Answer These Questions First

by Mario Trentim


In my previous post, I discussed “Frequently Avoided Questions About PMOs.” Now it’s time to successfully define a PMO using the Business Model Generation.

To do this, your organization must ask a number of questions before the PMO is created so that it can achieve its planned benefits. To help you get started, below are questions in nine categories, plus example answers for most.

Figure 1 – Business Model Canvas (Osterwalder, 2010)

1. Value proposition

What differentiates the PMO from existing organizational structures? How will the PMO create value for its customers? What products and services should the PMO offer, and how should they be offered?

The answer to these questions can be in the form of a mission statement, such as: “The Strategic PMO will be responsible for selecting, prioritizing and authorizing strategic projects, coordinating funds from functional areas and suppliers, negotiating with internal and external customer projects, and centralizing information to senior management.”

2. Customers

Who will the PMO’s customers be, and what are their needs and preferences?

Example answers: Functional managers will need information and reports about ongoing projects, plus a centralized system of planning and resource availability.

Project managers will need support in processes, methodology and templates. They’ll also need mentoring and coaching, historical information, lessons learned and documentation.

Project team members will need training, information, infrastructure and help with resource allocation.

Suppliers and contractors will need contracts and procurement management. They’ll also need project information and change request control.

Senior management will need consolidated information, metrics, dashboards and decision-making support.

3. Channels

How can PMO customers access the PMO’s functions? Where and how are the PMO's products and services going to be available?

Example answer: The PMO will offer its functions through in-person and online support, meetings and training sessions, coaching and mentoring, administrative support, enterprise project management, a contract management system, and phone or e-mail support.

4. Relationship

What type of relationship do customers expect to have with the PMO? How will the PMO interact with customers?

Example answer: The PMO will interact via feedback (meetings, suggestion box or email), an ombudsman, workshops and seminars, benchmarking, and monitoring the use of tools and infrastructure.

5. Revenue streams

What are the PMO’s potential sources of income? Will business units pay for PMO services? Does your PMO have an impact report or benefits realization plan to justify the resources needed to keep it running? What are the key success indicators of the PMO?

6. Partnerships

Which people or groups can help the PMO fulfill its mission? Should any functional area, such as human resources, partner with the PMO? Are there external organizations that may help your PMO?

Example answer: Consulting companies will provide training, the HR department will help define career paths, the IT department will help with infrastructure like computers and the network, and associations such as PMI or PMI chapters will promote joint workshops and seminars.

7. Key activities

What processes, procedures and activities must be performed within the PMO so that it materializes its value proposition and delivers it to customers?

Example answer: The PMO will select and prioritize projects, provide training, develop policies, methodology and templates, and provide IT software and infrastructure.

8. Key resources

What resources (people, equipment, infrastructure, money) are necessary for the functioning of the PMO and the realization of its activities?

9. Cost structure

What is the operating cost of the PMO, considering its activities, necessary resources and partnerships?

Example answer: The PMO will require funds for wages, infrastructure, software, books and publications, and consulting and training services.

Do you have any ideas on how to better define a PMO? Is there any way we could improve PMO implementation (or reshape existing PMOs) by using the Business Model Canvas? Please comment below!

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

Posted by Mario Trentim on: January 06, 2016 07:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Are You Managing For The Right Outcomes?

by Dave Wakeman

Last month I wrote about measuring your project’s ROI. Part of that discussion included the idea that in the end, your projects need to be measured according to the outcomes they produce and not the actions that are taken.

So I wanted to take a few minutes to go back over the concept of outcomes and how outcomes, execution and strategy play together to deliver successful projects.

1. Outcomes are all that matter: Every project has deliverables and actions that are meant to drive the project forward and give stakeholders an understanding of where things are and what is happening. The fact is, things like schedules, a work breakdown structure and risk assessments are just tactics that are meant to move your project closer to its end goal: the outcome!

In every project the only relevant measurements of success are the outcomes. Outcomes mean things like a fully functioning product or service, a project delivered on time and schedule, and one that meets the goals of the client and stakeholders.

So try to frame your project conversations in terms of the outcomes and the tasks important to those outcomes. Instead of an activity, think about how these activities play into timelines and budgets or into the overall success of the project.

2. Outcomes aren’t always obvious to everyone: It can be very easy to take a black-and-white view on outcomes. But the truth is that depending on where you are in a project and the role you play, the outcomes may not always be obvious to you.

Why? It’s pretty simple, really. In any situation, we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the actions and activities that are most important to us. So when we look at projects, it can be easy to just think about the tasks we need to do to clear out our schedule or to move onto the next task on our checklist.

Most of this isn’t intentional, so you may have to spend some time relating to team members how activities play into the desired outcomes or even spending time communicating the vision of how the project will play out in the organization.

3. Always be prepared to change: We spend a lot of time talking about risks and change in projects, but I think that in many instances these two skills aren’t applied with as much success and consistency as desired.

But the process of implementing your strategy and optimizing execution comes with the basic jumping-off point of needing to understand, prepare for and embrace change as a constant within all projects.

To better prepare yourself for change, develop this mindset: you are going to communicate consistently with your stakeholders and proactively manage where your project stays within the marketplace, the desired outcomes that the project will produce, and changes in the circumstances of resources and other internal factors.

The simplest way to think about a project is as a set of activities that can be checked off on the way to completion. In fact, a lot of projects are managed that way.

But to be the best project manager and a partner to your organization’s success, you have to make the effort to keep strategy top of mind while executing for the right outcomes. I think these three tips will get you started.

What do you think? 

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: December 08, 2015 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

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 (14)

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)

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