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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Selling Your Idea

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

A portfolio manager’s key responsibility is to sell your idea — whether it’s to incorporate innovations into the portfolio, to advocate for portfolio management processes or to champion the establishment of a portfolio. And one of the most powerful ways to sell is to have great presentation skills. The next time you have to present your portfolio strategy to executives or conduct a meeting, think about the simple acronym that can ensure SUCCESS:

Simple     

I always think in terms of the outcome of my presentation or meeting first: what is the one thing you want to people to remember, do, think or feel differently as a result of your presentation.

·       Now, work this core message until it’s clear and concise.  As portfolio managers, we need to be experts at distilling a tremendous amount of information into the “critical few” points — think bullet points rather than paragraphs.  

·       Be aware that too much detail will cloud the message, cause confusion, and delay buy-in. Strip away the unnecessary elements and leave your audience with the essence. 

·       Don’t add jargon, industry-specific terms (i.e., technology or project management), or try to be too trendy. Spell out acronyms, and try to stay away from anything that requires a dictionary to interpret. I once had a project manager refer to a “wheelhouse,” and I had to look it up to see what it meant. For the record, it refers to “an area of expertise.” But ultimately, ask yourself: Do you want people to wonder what your message is? Or do you want them to quickly grasp it?

Unexpected      

·       Instead of just jumping into facts, keep the audience’s attention by opening and closing gaps in their knowledge. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself, “What do they know, and what don’t they know?” Open with something they don’t know to grab their attention.

·       Then, try to highlight a few ‘a-ha’s” and lead them to the desired outcome. Is your audience interested in the process, or just your portfolio inventory of the programs and projects? Highlight a few programs and projects with interesting facts rather than reviewing the entire list of programs and projects.

·       Create curiosity, interest or concern in what you are going to tell them before you tell them. For example, you might say that it’s commonly thought that there are 100 critical projects within the portfolio, but your analysis show that it’s actually 10 critical projects. This way, you are also selling your value as a portfolio manager — anyone can come up with a list of projects, but only you can analyze and bring recommendations.

 

Concrete  

·       Remove abstract language or ideas from your message, and replace them with concrete language or ideas (tied to a tangible/physical item that people can relate to).

·       Use sensory language to paint a mental picture. Give an example.

·       When selling a new portfolio management process, say “good portfolio management is like having a well-balanced 401k.”

 

Credible   

Use “good statistics” — ones that aid a decision or shape an opinion and humanize your statistics by bringing them closer to people’s day-to-day experience.

Make the statistics or examples relevant by placing them into the frame of everyday life. For example: “I compare the portfolio roadmap to having a detailed guide for a trip from NY to LA so that every major stop can be accounted for.”

Emotional         

·       Don’t rely solely on logic to sell your presentation.

·       Create empathy for specific individuals affected by what you are trying to sell. Say things such as: “Given that it currently takes five people two weeks to manually put together the reports needed, my new portfolio management process will now free up three people and reduce the time to five days.”

·       Show that your ideas are associated with things people already care about. Within a large company, that may be increasing efficiency, increasing shareholder value, meeting compliance and regulatory demands and increasing employee satisfaction.

 

Stories     

·       Use stories so your message relates to the audience and reflects your core message. Use specific examples, preferably yours, of why it’s worked (i.e., “When I worked at our competitor’s and implemented this portfolio management process, it resulted in an increased ROI from 50 percent to 85 percent within six months.”). Another thing that works well: A brief acknowledgement that your method is a best practice within the industry, based on your extensive research.

·       Finally, don’t forget that the story should have emotional elements and draw from the other SUCCESS principles.

What are your tips for successfully presenting portfolio management to stakeholders?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: November 13, 2014 10:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Finding Innovation Through Design Thinking

Categories: Innovation

Recently, I came across a concept presented by U.S. businessman and author Tim Ogilvie centered on "design thinking" -- how to turn abstract ideas into practical applications to maximize business growth. Since the core of portfolio management centers on identifying the right opportunities through strategic alignment, innovation and transformation, this concept seems to apply to our job as portfolio managers.

Of course, this is easier said than done, and although innovation is typically defined as a "breakthrough," it is actually accomplished through trial-and-error experimentation and old-fashioned hard work and perseverance. I think of innovation as "fail fast, fail often," but more accurately as "recover even quicker." 

Mr. Ogilvie asks some key questions, to which I've added my own thoughts on how they apply to portfolio management in identifying the right innovative projects or programs in a systematic way:

  • What IS? This covers more than the current state -- it assesses what's happening with competitors, the industry, adjacent industries and opportunities. What ideas exist? What new products or markets can be created?  
  • What IF? What are key possibilities? If something could change, what would that be? Through deep consumer insight, voice of the customer and a systematic process, options can be identified, assessed and prioritized. Careful oversight is needed at this stage, since viable options don't happen by accident.
  • What WOWS? What is fundamentally different than what's been done before? How is it better? Sometimes, an innovation is not necessarily something new, but something that brings an idea together perfectly. For example, the iPhone was not the first smartphone, but many have adopted it as the best. Innovation can be combining or recombining capabilities at a different level than before, not necessarily introducing new capabilities.  
  • What WORKS? Ideas may look good on paper or in a presentation but may work differently when translated into a market test or actual use. Through small experiments and investments, the "fail fast, fail often" mantra should prove what's viable. Failing doesn't mean the end. Experiments that fail are sometimes the precursors to a breakthrough, if learnings are applied.

Innovation Model Canvas

The Innovation Canvas and its eight key components is another way to find and sell innovation. You can easily put this on a one-page document or even the back of the napkin to concisely describe to executive sponsors why a project or program changes the way the organization does business. If you can only partially fill out the grid, then the project may require more development. You may even want to do two versions -- one for the current state and another for the future state:

Voices_Jen_framework1.png
Voices_Jen_framework2.png

What methods do you use to spot innovation in your projects and programs? 

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: August 21, 2014 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Project Management: The Vessel for Innovation

Categories: Innovation

Innovation seems to be the new mantra for companies -- even though it has affected and shaped all aspects of our lives. And innovation covers not only the creation of a product, but also includes the process to produce it, how it's delivered to customers and even how value is generated, both for the company and the customer.

Some argue that processes and policies are barriers to innovation. These people confuse innovation with creativity and believe that trying to implement a well-thought-out, standardized process to manage innovation will constrain the results. But the opposite is true: A method for innovation sets the ground for achieving success in an efficient way. After all, creativity is only a part of a more complex innovation process, driven by project management -- and as such, you could say that project management is the vessel for innovation. That's because the best way to guarantee your organization's innovation efforts are well-managed, successful and deriving true value is through the use of program and project management tools. In addition, portfolio management can help define where to invest innovation dollars.

The problem is that those in the innovation field do not necessarily see project management as a useful tool, and those in project management do not feel that what they do is so beneficial to the innovation process. But let me give you seven processes to break down those perceptions for the sake of fostering innovation:

  1. Innovation happens in a company or a project team when leadership sets up a culture and environment for it. Senior management should first define why innovation is important, how success is going to be measured and how it will be rewarded.
  2. Define a standardized innovation project life cycle. This definition should include a description of the interim products that are expected at the end of each of the major phases.
  3. Innovation is a social process: It's about the people in the process. Creativity and new ideas always come from different sources. Therefore, flexibility, constant team interactions and empowerment of team members should be embedded in the process. 
  4. Innovation is all about failure. Enough room to fail fosters creativity and eliminates barriers that could seriously limit our ability to change. But knowing when to stop a failed project is also important. Leave bad ideas quickly.
  5. Always pilot-test what you are proposing before taking it to a full scale. Gain enough data to either modify what was defined initially or to definitely cancel it, if the product or service developed is not successful.
  6. Innovation doesn't have to mean new product development. Manufacturing processes, delivery, distribution, customer experience and financing are all fertile grounds for innovation. 
  7. Project management itself needs to be innovative. Adapt the tools and techniques to the type of projects that you have. If you think, for example, that agile or lean tools can be beneficial, test them and use them.

For organizations that compete on a global scale -- that is, most companies -- innovation can be their most important competitive advantage and the factor that guarantees long-term success. Innovation might sound like the flavor of the month, but in the future, success will be on the side of organizations that know how to do it and excel at it.

How does project management foster innovation at your organization?
Posted by Roberto Toledo on: August 14, 2014 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Answer the Call for Innovation

Categories: Innovation

A decade of planning came down to seven tense minutes aimed at answering the age-old question: Is there life on Mars?

With that intriguing set up, John Grotzinger, PhD, pulled in a captive audience at PMI® Global Congress 2013 -- North America as he outlined the 2012 project that sent a car-sized robot, called Curiosity, to Mars. 

First, the team had to figure out how to land a spacecraft safely on the red planet. Mars doesn't have enough atmosphere to slow a craft for landing. So the project team devised what it dubbed Sky Crane. After a parachute slowed the spacecraft considerably, rockets prevented it from crashing, and then Sky Crane lowered Curiosity by a rope. It was an innovative "out-of-the-box idea," but U.S. government sponsors agreed to give it the go-ahead.

Not all projects are quite so high profile, of course, but Dr. Grotzinger offered lessons learned for practitioners of projects large and small:

  1. Bold questions lead to grand challenges. Create a grand vision that will both inspire innovation and motivate the team to the finish line. For Dr. Grotzinger's team, it was the quest for extraterrestrial life forms that led to Sky Crane.
  2. Fly as you test, test as you fly. The team didn't fly anything it hadn't tested.
  3. If at first you fail, don't try again. Instead, uncover the root cause of failure and fix it. The "darkest day of the mission," he said, occurred when the US$2.5 billion project was delayed by two years so the team could fine-tune the first-of-its-kind landing technology.
  4. Early returns keep sponsors happy. Not far into Curiosity's exploration, it found evidence that water flowed across Mars almost 4 billion years ago -- an early indication of the project's breakthroughs to come.

Dr. Grotzinger closed with a case for innovative thinking and perseverance: "Great works and great folly may be indistinguishable at the outset," he said. The first time his team presented Sky Crane to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), they said it was crazy -- but after tweaking the idea, they eventually accepted the pitch.

The final congress keynote speaker, author and consultant Gina Schreck, covered a different type of uncharted territory, at least for some: social media. She broke people into two groups: digital natives, who feel at ease with the technology, and digital immigrants, who don't. But with Twitter, Facebook and other social tools officially an ingrained part of the business world, immigrants need to become natives fast. 

Ms. Schreck offered several tips to stand out on the social scene:

  1. Keep relevant. Track all the latest tools in the digital world and follow best practices. Twitter, for example, can be frivolous or vital: "Who you are connected with determines whether it's useful." She suggested finding good project management content through #PMI.
  2. Stay thirsty for learning. Try learning about social from digital natives as you share your own experiences and knowledge.
  3. Build your network -- before you need it. Don't wait until you're job hunting to put relevant content on your LinkedIn profile, delete outdated skills and endorse people.
Ms. Schreck urged digital immigrants to embrace social media and innovation for survival. "If you don't make today's you obsolete, someone else will," she said.

What are your tips for fostering innovation? Share with us in the Comments box below.

Couldn't make it to New Orleans? Read more from congress.
Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 01, 2013 02:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Customer Mindset Is Always Right

Categories: Innovation, Leadership

In most cases, project managers are assigned to projects after the development of strategic initiatives and project charters. Seemingly, we have little to do with strategic planning and more to do with operational implementation. Although I agree that the latter is an important element of our profession, it is also a reactive one. Our value proposition is not fully used in the strategic planning needs of the organization. 

I increasingly expect project management to go beyond being a reactive role and become proactive. And one method of doing so is becoming customer-service-oriented. Now, I am not referring to the traditional definition of "customer," but rather defining the organization itself as the project manager's single true customer.

Thus, becoming customer-service-oriented enables project managers to evolve into business leaders by:

  1. Reinforcing the new value proposition based on broad business acumen
  2. Expanding services with the goal of developing key approaches
  3. Aligning the customer to identify true organizational needs
The diagram below illustrates the concept of increasing the customer approach to project management. The project manager gains experiences and increased value by being customer-service-oriented. The repetitive experiences add up to knowledge that project managers need to, over time, drive customers to better outcomes and experiences.

Voices_Peter_changingrolePM_V2.png

The focus on customer service ensures project managers are aligned with the interests of a project and an organization's purpose. 

According to the research of Dr. Jay Kandampully and Dr. David Solnet, a "service vision" improves an organization's overall performance. They illustrate two case studies, Dell and Southwest Airlines, of companies that used service orientation to create a competitive differentiator in their industries. 

Project managers can do the same for the profession. Once they harness a customer-serviced-oriented mindset, they can put it into practice to proactively interpret organizations strategy, align leadership and rationalize organizations' critical projects. 

The first steps toward redefining the profession as proactive instead of reactive are to offer services with this approach in mind, such as:

  • Advisory: Become empowered by understanding the business and its needs to advise customers in aligning projects to meet objectives.
  • Facilitation: Engage senior executives in highly productive conversations.
  • Effective presentation: Establish qualitative and quantitative methods to deliver highly defined business cases.
In my own experiences in leading the business transformations of multiple organizations, I have noted they tend to begin with an initial reactive approach of a cost reduction effort. They then mature to designing a service culture to offer global end-to-end processes, with service-level agreements that ultimately enable it to achieve its strategic growth plans.

What other approaches do project managers need to redefine their role from being reactive to proactive?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: March 11, 2013 04:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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