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

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4 Tips for Selecting the Right Projects and Programs for your Portfolio

A True Story of a Bad Sponsor

4 Tips for Selecting the Right Projects and Programs for your Portfolio

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Organizations struggle with selecting the right projects or programs for their portfolios. We see this in project success rates that haven’t increased much beyond 64 percent during the last four years, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® 2015 report). We also see this in the companies that have faded from relevance or been obliterated by the pace of innovation and change—remember Blockbuster, Meryvn’s, RadioShack and BlackBerry?

The challenge is to select the right projects or programs for the right growth, placing the right bets that will pay off in the future. Here are four tips to help you do this.

1. Choose Projects and Programs You Can Sustain.

Know your organization’s current strengths and weaknesses; don’t be overly optimistic. It’s great to have stretch goals, but remember that the benefits of your project have to last.

Don’t forget about culture. Sometimes the primary reason a new project or program result doesn’t stick is that the organization’s culture wasn’t there to support it.

Organizational change management, including a defined communications and stakeholder engagement strategy, is crucial on large-scale projects and programs where hundreds if not thousands of processes may be changing in a short amount of time.

In addition, establishing a culture of project management with engaged sponsors, mature project and program management practices, and strategically aligned portfolios helps sustain projects and increase success rates.

2. Know Your Portfolio’s Upper Limit

Don’t only focus on a portfolio goal such as, “Achieve US$100 million in portfolio ROI in 2015.” Also focus on the portfolio’s upper capability.

The upper limit of your portfolio may be defined by budget, capabilities (skills or knowledge), capacity (which can be stretched through new hires or contractors) or culture (existing processes, organizational agility and appetite for change).

Define your portfolio’s upper limit and the highest resource consumption period and plan for it, rather than the initial ramp. Taking a typical adoption curve for a new project or program, your portfolio upper limit may look something like this:

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Mistakes—and Fix Them Quickly

When we initiate projects and programs, and they’re not performing as expected, how quickly do we course correct, and if necessary, pull the plug? Having shorter weekly or monthly milestones and project durations is better than longer ones.

But are you equipped to act quickly when those weekly milestones are missed? How many weeks do you let a failing project go on, hoping it will get back on its feet, before ending it?

I have seen projects and programs that are not yielding the expected value being allowed to continue. Often, the sponsors still believe in the value of the project, even in the absence of metrics showing financial results. This is why setting clear financial performance metrics and monitoring them throughout development and delivery is so important: they can help project practitioners kill a project quickly if needed.

I once worked for a company that was experiencing 25 percent year-over-year growth for its products. It was a frenetic time of hiring new people, building new plants, and initiating billions of dollars in investment for new projects and programs.

However, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required a new warning on one of the company’s flagship products, its sales dropped 25 percent (US$2 billion annually) almost overnight. Projects and programs in flight were asked to take a 10 percent, and then 20 percent, reduction in their spending while still delivering the planned results. Planned projects and programs were suspended.

While it was difficult, the organization passed the test with flying colors. In part, this was because it didn’t spend time lamenting environmental factors but instead worked to address them—quickly.

4. Measure Your Averages

It’s not about the one big project or program success, but the successes and failures averaged over a period of time (say, three to five years). Don’t just focus on the big bets; sometimes slow and steady wins the day. 

How do you pick the right projects and programs for your portfolio?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: April 21, 2015 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Unleash Your Creativity to Ensure Portfolio Success

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Portfolio management is in large part about enabling innovation. And innovation starts with creativity. What’s the difference between innovation and creativity? As economist and Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt once said, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”

Because projects and programs are the vehicles for implementing new ideas, creating new products or services and transforming current state, portfolio management enables innovation.

Creativity is not enough (this is the title of an article Professor Levitt wrote in 1963). Put another way, “Ideas are useless unless used” (another Levitt quote). Good ideas must be realized to mean something.

Since project and program management are all about executing a vision, value creation and benefits realization, they provide the natural vehicle for translating ideas into reality. 

Portfolio management translates the right ideas into reality within the confines of organizations. It’s about order, process, structure and ROI.

Change Your Vantage Point

Of course, there’s always a danger of too much order and process stifling creativity. So how do we unleash creativity? Sometimes we’re our own obstacle to becoming more creative.

I believe the key to unlocking creativity is to increase our vantage points. A vantage point is just a way of observing our surroundings, facts and other information in order to create our reality.

When faced with a challenge, sometimes our tendency is to trick ourselves to view it as something we’ve seen before. Our brain does this in order to save us time. But this tendency to go on autopilot inhibits new ways of thinking and solving problems.

To see what I mean, get a piece of paper and draw a coffee cup. Did you draw the cup like this?

Most people do, since it’s how coffee cups are usually depicted. Now imagine the same coffee cup viewed from the top down.

 

Your vantage point matters—it frames the problem, which in turn impacts the solutions you can brainstorm.

Here’s another way of thinking about vantage points. In 2014, there were more than 108 billion business emails sent and received each day. (This doesn’t include instant messages, personal emails, social media messages and other electronic communications.)

We’re all inundated with data, information and images—your brain receives 11 million pieces of information every second from your environment. Yet it can only process 40 pieces of data per second. Which means it has to choose which tiny percentage to focus on, and which huge chunk to ignore.

How you see your reality is a choice. 

What you choose to focus on shapes how you perceive and interpret your world. Your ability to train your brain to see other vantage points is critical to innovation and creativity, and ultimately your portfolio success.

Seeing your problems, your business, your team and yourself from different vantage points increases your creativity and innovation and accelerates results. Just like any other skill, creativity is something you can develop over time. Why not start now?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: March 30, 2015 02:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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)

The Legendary Ming Hua Yuan: A Mix of Traditional Performing Arts and Modern Management

With an 85-year history, Ming Hua Yan Arts and Cultural Group is one of Taiwan’s artistic treasures.

But in recent decades, the Taiwanese opera group has faced a big challenge: how to modernize a traditional folk art and introduce it to a modern audience. Since project managers often struggle to bring innovation to historic industries, Ming Hua Yuan provides a successful roadmap to follow.

  

Blending Innovation With Tradition

Chen Sheng-Fu, who oversees the family-owned organization, said its success began with committing to building on its reputation; the group needed larger audiences if its art and way of life was to survive. Taiwanese opera is marked by an emphasis on stylized singing and posture, showcased through simple, slowly paced stories. This is antithetical to modern audience expectations, so over the past 30 years, Chen and the organization have been working around this fundamental problem. He has introduced the director system from the movie industry, and extensively applied the elements of modern theater to the production of traditional repertoires.

For the modernization of the form itself, Ming Hua Yuan has been adopting more complex stories. They usually consist of multiple storylines juxtaposing the past and present on the same stage.  Ming Hua Yuan also introduced contemporary stage design such as lighting and sound effects, acrobatics and 3-D background panoramas, which are more typical in large-scale live concerts. In addition, more contemporary language was incorporated into the performance.

Ming Hua Yan's Stage Effect

Using Process Analysis and Cycle Time Application

As a program manager overseeing this modernization, Chen relied heavily on process analysis. He strives to ensure each performer, prop or stage design can fulfill multiple tasks. For instance, quick scene changes are made possible through costumes and set pieces that can be easily changed or modified between scenes, and that can conceal the smaller props and costumes. For example, a tree trunk can be part of a forest for one scene, then turned around to reveal an imperial throne in the next scene.

This allows on-stage performers to be as responsible for scene changes as stagehands and technicians. If 20 performers each spend eight seconds to complete the tasks, then nearly three minutes of work can be accomplished, with the audience experiencing only a brief musical interlude with dramatic lighting. Such a cunning application of “cycle time” enables Ming Hua Yuan to change scenes without dimming the lights and bringing down the curtain.

The challenge of running a traditional performing art group is no easier than running any modern business. But with modern techniques and professional management, Ming Hua Yuan has successfully reformed itself—and introduced a traditional art form to a global audience. 

Posted by Lung-Hung Chou on: December 24, 2014 06:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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)
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