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

Can We Use the Principles of Newspeak for Good?

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

Less Really Is More When It Comes to Yogurt — and Project Portfolios

The Customer Is Always Digital—So Make the Experience Right

By Peter Tarhanidis

New and proliferating digital technologies are giving rise to new competitive businesses while transforming legacy organizations. It’s no longer just about the Internet, but increasingly tech-savvy users and inexpensive smartphones and tablets.

From an organizational perspective, it’s not just a matter of grappling with new technical platforms: The relationship between organizations and their customers is being transformed.

Before, the cornerstone of customer service was the golden rule: treat your customers the way you want to be treated. Customer relationships were facilitated and managed within just a few departments.

Disruptive technologies have enabled a shift to a new paradigm: customer empowerment. This ushered in the new platinum rule: treat your customers the way they want to be treated. Disruptive technologies integrate organizations to their digital customer experience and are simultaneously influenced by social, consumer and professional media portals like Facebook, Yelp, NetPromoter Scores, and LinkedIn.

Now, much of the work and measurement of this activity is shared across the entire supply chain of the customer journey, which requires more cross-team collaboration to report on the customer experience.

So the importation question has become: How can we make the digital customer experience flawless? This is the new competitive differentiator for companies. Those that stand apart in this respect build market leverage.

Project managers are one asset organizations have at their disposal to ensure success with this new digital customer experience dynamic. Here’s a four-stop roadmap for optimizing your organization for the brave new digital world we all live in.

  1. Establish a plan to:
    • Identify current customer journey paths.
    • Optimize those paths into one consistent and simple location.
    • Digitize that journey and make it available online, mobile and global.
  2. Build the requisite foundation required to sustain the digital journey (e.g., big data analytics, and mobile-first and cloud infrastructure).
  3. Transition customers from legacy operating approaches into the new digital journey with a change management plan that leads to sustainable adoption.
  4. Improve the experience by acting on key performance metrics that gauge the quality of the customer’s entire journey—don’t just rely on the customer service department for quality control.

How is your organization adapting to the new realities of our digital customer age? Please take a moment and share your thoughts.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: November 17, 2015 03:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

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)

The Internet of Things and the Future of Project Management

By Wanda Curlee

Some would say the Internet of Things (IoT) is still so embryonic and amorphous that there aren’t many job opportunities. But there are already project managers working on the IoT—which refers to a growing network of physical objects embedded with sensors, such as Wi-Fi-connected thermostats you can control from anywhere with your smartphone.

And there will be many more IoT projects in the future. McKinsey Global Institute researchers estimate the potential economic impact of IoT technologies to be USD$2.7 trillion to USD$6.2 trillion annually by 2025. Think of Amazon’s plan to deliver packages via drones. Those drones will need to communicate with customers, employees, the corporate office, and maybe at some point, air traffic controllers. All of this requires a project manager, starting in the research and development stage and going through development and upgrades. This is a never-ending cycle.

All of these projects create the need for programs. Many companies will have a large overlap of IoT projects. A program manager is needed to drive the strategy of the IoT program to benefit the company’s bottom line. In fact, I would venture to say there will be sub-programs and maybe even more than one IoT program. The Internet of Things is so broad, it will be the program managers who define the benefit realization plans and roadmaps and may even decide their program is too broad and needs to be subdivided or spun off into new programs. It will take years for companies and internal business units to determine what IoT will do and how they will drive it.

The company’s CEO will set the IoT strategy, which will then become the portfolio manager’s responsibility to execute. Let’s say the CEO wants to modernize delivery. The portfolio manager should meet with the CEO to have a better understanding of what this means. The portfolio manager will scour the enterprise to determine what needs to be in the portfolio (such as drones) and what should be stopped. The governance committee will assist the portfolio manager. There will be many IoT portfolios throughout many different industries and organizations, including not-for-profits and militaries.

IoT will drive the next opportunities for many in the decades to come. Fasten your seat belts, and hold on for the new adventure and wave of jobs. These projects will be different, but as in many other fields, the project management discipline will drive job creation.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: June 23, 2015 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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 (8)

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 (4)

"If you havenÆt got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me."

- Alice Roosevelt Longworth