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?
As a project manager, do you realize how many people are observing you? It’s true—in addition to all of our varied responsibilities, we also have team members constantly watching and depending on us for their next moves.
To take advantage of all this attention to benefit the project and organization, a project manager should always remember the three “i” words: help team members improve, be an inspiring professional model, and illustrate project management excellence.
Improve. First, be aware of the wealth of talent your resources hold, as well as what their professional development needs are. You may want to cross-train team members so project activities can continue even if someone leaves the project.
In addition, in some organizations, project managers are asked to contribute to team members’ performance reviews, which gives you another opportunity to suggest areas of improvement. It’s also helpful to pass along training events that you know could interest and enhance the skill sets of your team members.
Inspire. Whether or not members of your team want to become project managers, you should always be a good example of one. How you act on the job says a lot about your profession and your organization, and will be a cue for others to follow.
In addition, you can use your status as project manager to show team members that they can be leaders in whatever position they hold.
Illustrate. Demonstrate project management hard and soft skills. For example, you could show a disorganized team member better techniques for issue and defect logs, or help a struggling team member learn ways to communicate with stakeholders more confidently.
Consistently turning these three words into action takes conscious effort. The good news is that project managers have a fantastic opportunity to be a partner in their team members’ growth.
Do you practice these leadership skills to foster growth in your team members? What other leadership skills would you add to the list?
Here in the United States, it’s that time of year again: March Madness. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it refers to the annual NCAA men’s college basketball tournament taking place throughout the month. Sixty-four qualifying teams from around the country compete for the national championship.
In a sense, the coaches of these teams act as project managers, managing resources on a schedule to reach a specific goal. They can teach us a great deal about strategic leadership and aligning a project to an organization’s goals.
Because each member of any team in the tournament has different ambitions and desires, it is the responsibility of the coach to figure out how to manage and integrate these competing interests in a way that will lead to a successful outcome. Sound familiar, project managers?
Whether your goal is to cut down basketball nets to celebrate winning a championship or bring your project in on time and on budget, here are a few tips for successfully aligning team members to achieve your organization’s goals.
1. Integrate all members into a cohesive team. Most of the time as project managers and leaders, we want the best available talent on our team. Unfortunately, having “the best” isn’t always a sure route to success. It’s far more important to focus on developing talent into a cohesive team that performs and maximizes its efforts.
This is a challenge that Villanova University’s Jay Wright had to faceafter taking the school’s Wildcats to the 2009 tournament’s semifinals.
After that year’s strong performance, lots of talented players wanted to play for the team. Coach Wright accepted a handful of standout players into the school’s basketball program, and in the following years standout individual talents came to dominate his coaching philosophy.
But more talent ended up delivering worse results. After years of subpar Villanova performances in the NCAA tournament, Wright has returned to his old coaching style, where team and personal accomplishments are aligned. One takes care of the other.
The lesson for project managers: Raw talent isn’t enough. It’s your job to make sure individual team members’ goals align to the project goals as much as possible.
2. Serve the team first.As project managers, it’s easy to forget that we are team members as well. Without the best efforts of our team members, we won’t succeed. That’s why it’s important to put the team first—and to always think about how your efforts can improve the team.
The career of legendary University of North Carolina coach Dean Smithillustrates this point. For example, he created a “coach’s honor roll” to recognize the team-oriented efforts of specific players. When the team flew to a game, he and the team’s assistant coaches always sat at the back of the plane, because cramped seats in coach would be uncomfortable for seven-foot-tall players.
As a project manager, put your team first by making sure you highlight your team’s successes and accomplishments during the project. As much as possible, shield them from the demands of sponsors and stakeholders who may have a particular agenda they are trying to advance.
3. Build connections.Possibly the most successful coach in NCAA basketball history is Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski. One of his great revelations as a coach was the importance of creating connections between team members so that everyone shared in the ultimate goal of a successful basketball program.
As project managers, we often face challenges in this regard because many of our team members may be in different sites, working remotely. Yet you can still do a great deal to foster connections by having group calls, encouraging team members to collaborate on solutions and promoting a culture of inclusion by reinforcing behaviors that will lead your teams to work more closely.
Whether they are in the sports world or other industries, well-run projects generally feature tightly connected team members who put the project goal above themselves, and service-oriented leaders who help steer the team toward the winning basket.
How do you build teams that can achieve your organization’s goals?
By Wanda Curlee
Do you ever wonder where project management could take you? Believe it or not, being a project manager is excellent preparation for becoming a chief operating officer (COO).
After serving in the U.S. Navy on active duty for more than five years, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I stumbled into a project management role. I am lucky I did, because it prepared me for many different business roles. I am now on my journey from project manager to COO. The road is not simple, and there have been setbacks, but the goal remains close at hand.
To see how project management can help prepare you for a COO role, take a look at this job description. OK, finished reading? Let’s break down the large parts of the description and how they relate to project management.
Lots of similarities
A COO has “overall strategic and operational responsibility.” As a project manager, you drive the project toward the end goal and keep it on track. But you also drive the strategy of the project and oversee its operational aspects. Granted, you are not doing these tasks at the executive level, but you are the COO for the project.
The COO also develops, implements and manages the operational aspects of the annual budget. As a project manager you do all of this—at a project level.
And depending on the size of the project, you may be managing a budget that is far greater than an organization’s. Think about construction of an oil rig, building a high rise, outsourcing an IT department—all of these projects could have a budget larger than an entire company.
Chief operating officers also have to know management operations. Fortunately, this is what you do day in and day out as a project manager. A COO just does operations on a larger scale. But with practice, understanding, and leading larger projects and programs, you will excel at the same skills required to be an effective COO.
Although the job description may not spell it out, many of the soft skills you’ve honed in project management—networking, communicating, leadership, mentorship/coaching and learning from failure—are also required to be a successful COO.
In addition, tangible skills like planning a budget, implementing training, overseeing the project budget and reporting to leadership will serve you well in the C-suite.
A little help from your mentors
As you prepare for a COO role, I’d also recommend finding mentors. Mentors were necessary for my advancement. I suggest finding three of them: one in your chain of command, the second in your organization but outside the chain of command, and the third outside of your organization.
Choose your mentors carefully. Mentors—especially those outside the chain of command and the company—can help you stretch your limits. A mentor can provide suggestions on how to handle difficult situations.
He or she can also provide insight into politics within the organization or how to handle a political situation. Finally, a mentor can provide advice on the next project or program to tackle to put you on the track to becoming a COO.
By Bernadine Douglas
Every team member brings a unique skill set to a project. It’s easy enough for observant project managers to take note of individuals’ varying backgrounds and skills. What’s harder is using different team member talents strategically to aid a project when the going gets tough.
Here are a few tips for practitioners looking to maximize their team’s talents to keep a project on track.
The How. The first step is to get to know your team members. On many fast-paced projects, it may not be easy to find time to have general conversations with people. But if small time slots arise, be sure to take advantage of them. The payoff could be quick: Even during a casual conversation, a team member may share an insight for getting a task done in an innovative way or information about a skill you didn’t realize he or she had.
The What. It’s important to map your team’s skills while keeping potential resource shortages in mind. You want to make sure that one aspect of the project can continue if the point person for that area on your team becomes unavailable. Ideally, you’ll be able to identify a backup on the team with the right skills to step in if necessary. If that proves impossible, you may have to get approval from another project manager in the organization to bring in someone from another project to meet a tight deadline. (This has happened to me.)
The When. Don’t be afraid of being flexible. In a budget-constrained situation, I have had to quickly train a team member on a skill so a project could continue. The key is finding a team member with the availability and willingness to learn on the fly.
Have you mapped your team’s varied skill sets? Have you thought about whom you’d turn to if a highly valuable team member were suddenly unavailable? I’d love to hear your project contingency plans.