By Dave Wakeman
Last month, I wrote about how you can become a more strategic project manager. This month, I want to continue exploring the topic by focusing on a few ways to make sure your projects have strategic focus.
1. Always Ask “Why?”
This is the essential question for any business professional. But I am aware that asking the question can be extremely difficult—especially in the organizations that need that question asked the most.
Asking why you are taking on a project is essential to the project’s success or failure. Using the question can help you frame the role that project plays in the organization’s goals. It can also allow you early on to find out if the project is poorly aligned with the long-term vision.
This can make you look like a champ because you can make course corrections or bring up challenges much earlier, saving you and your organization time and money.
When asking about a project’s strategic value, you may find it helpful to phrase it in less direct ways, such as: “How does this project fit into the work we were doing with our previous project?” or “This seems pretty consistent with the project we worked on several months back—are they connected?”
2. Bring Ideas
As the focal point of knowledge, project managers should know where a project is in meeting its goals and objectives. So if you know a project is losing its strategic focus (and therefore value), generate ideas on how to make course corrections or improve the project based on the information you have.
There is nothing worse than having a team member drop a heap of issues on us with no easy solutions and no ideas on how to move forward. As the leader of your projects, don’t be that person. To help you come up with ideas to move the project toward success and strategic alignment, think along the following lines:
· If all the resources and effort expended on the project up to the current roadblock were removed from consideration, would it still make sense to move forward with the project?
· What actions can we take that will help alleviate some of the short-term pain?
· Knowing what I know now, would I suggest we start or stop this project? Why?
3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
On almost any project I work on, more communication is a good idea. This is because the more the lines of communication are open, the more likely I’m to get information that will be helpful to me and my ability to achieve the end results that I’m looking for.
As with most things in project management, communication is a two-way street and loaded with possible pain points and missteps. As a project manager looking to deliver on the strategic promise of your projects, your communications should always be focused on information you can use to take action and move your project along.
To effectively communicate as a strategic project manager, ask questions like these:
· What do I need to know about a project that will have a material impact on its success or failure?
· What can I share with my team or stakeholders that might help them understand my decisions?
· What information does my team need to take better actions?
As you can see, adjusting your vision to become more strategic isn’t too far removed from what it takes to be an effective project manager. The key difference is making sure you understand the “why” of the project. From there, you need to push forward your ideas and to communicate openly and honestly.
What do you think? How do you bring a strategic focus to your projects?
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How to Make the Jump From PM to Delivery Lead
By Kevin Korterud
As project managers, our career paths typically involve increasing levels of delivery responsibility on larger and more complex projects. As we grow, many of us have the opportunity to take on delivery responsibilities that focus more on enablement and orchestration of multiple projects in a program manager role.
Beyond that level of responsibility, there is a need for people capable of overseeing multiple programs that can contain many projects. Concurrent multiprogram/project delivery involves the need for a new set of skills that transcends traditional project and program management competencies.
In my company, Accenture, people who serve in multiprogram/project delivery roles are called delivery leads. I think of them as “super program managers”—they’re not as high-level as portfolio managers, but they also don’t get caught up in deep project delivery activities.
One of the most frequent questions posed to me is how project and program managers can “graduate” to delivery lead. Here’s some advice I’ve offered in the past to budding delivery leads.
1. Adopt A ‘Big Picture’ Delivery Mindset
By the nature of what they do, project and program managers immerse themselves in the details around schedule, budget, scope and other project essentials. Their day-to-day roles involve processing a lot of information that enables them to make effective project management decisions.
Delivery leads, on the other hand, need to stand back from program and project management to broadly view the delivery landscape. This perspective gives a delivery lead the ability to see the interconnected delivery “big picture” that enables him or her to take strategic action to keep all programs and projects on track to success.
2. Don’t Manage Projects, Guide Them
In the course of typical project duties, effective project and program managers strive to resolve risks and challenges. They spend a significant amount of time reacting to unforeseen situations.
Delivery leads, on the other hand, should resist jumping into specific delivery details and instead focus their efforts on preventing situations that cause project and program managers to spend all of their time reacting to situations.
Delivery leads accomplish this by providing people, budget, tools, processes and assets to project and program managers in advance of their need. In addition, delivery leads also set policies, governance and other forms of delivery guidance that effectively orchestrate the overall delivery process.
3. Acquire Business Knowledge
Project and program managers invest a large amount of energy and expense in becoming well-versed in practices that enhance their project management skills.
Professional development for delivery leads, on the other hand, assumes a foundational knowledge of project management that needs to be balanced with industry domain knowledge related to the organization’s projects and programs. Delivery leads don’t have to be subject matter experts, but they should be able to communicate effectively with all forms of stakeholders.
For delivery leads, making an investment in business domain knowledge such as supply chain, oil refining, equity trading or other specific industry knowledge enables them to be effective communicators.
4. Manage for Business Outcomes
For project or program managers, success most often comes in the form of achieving key project metrics such as schedule variance, budget variance, planned versus actual progress and other key elements of project delivery.
As a delivery lead, the measures of success change dramatically. Effective delivery leads must be able to translate project results into cost savings, increased sales and improved customer satisfaction as well as other measurements that don’t necessarily fall into traditional delivery activities. This shift in success criteria to business outcomes comes about from delivery leads being accountable for the business rationale behind executing projects and programs.
The journey from project or program manager to delivery lead is best characterized as relieving oneself of common managerial habits in favor of broader leadership activities.
Areas such as governance, orchestrating the schedules of multiple programs, complex resource management and external dependencies become new competencies needed to handle larger delivery responsibilities. In addition, you will also serve as a visible leader to project and program managers who are starting on the same journey.
Does your organization have delivery leads or something like that role? What advice would you offer to help project and program managers who are starting this journey?
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?
A team goes through five stages in a project: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. The success of a project depends on how much time the team spends in the storming and performing stages. If a team leader is good at managing conflicts, the storming stage can be shortened, and the team can gain more time for performing. That significantly increases the chances of success.
Many authors and PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) define five techniques to resolve conflicts: withdraw/avoid, smooth/accommodate, compromise/reconcile, force/direct and collaborate/problem solve.
Aside from collaborate/problem solve, in my opinion all the approaches conclude with either one party winning and the other losing, or with both losing. I think these techniques are intended to achieve results only in the short term, and give no thought to what will happen in the long term.
If you use withdraw or force, one person wins and other loses. The winner might be satisfied, but what about the person who has lost? Will he/she not try to recover losses at the next opportunity? In my experience, if you use smooth or compromise, both parties lose by having to give up something that is important to them.
Let’s take a common example: negotiating price with a vendor. A conflict can arise because you both want a favorable price. Suppose you have the upper hand and force the vendor to settle on a considerably lower price than he or she wanted. Have you resolved the conflict? Probably not.
Since the vendor lost in the negotiation, he or she may try to gain back the lost money by working on the lower threshold of the acceptable range, trying to cut corners in the process or production, or using cheaper material. This will degrade the quality of the deliverable. What you think is a win-lose for you could easily become a lose-lose.
The same thing can happen when you negotiate a salary with a candidate, negotiate a promotion/raise with your report, or settle a conflict between two team members by either forcing one, or asking both, to compromise.
Compromise or smooth are even worse, in my opinion. They are lose-lose in the short term and even worse in the long term. That’s because in compromise or smooth, we often sacrifice important things. Later, both parties keep trying to recover the things they compromised away. They repeatedly negotiate with little takeaway. Lots of time is wasted in negotiations and productivity remains low.
I think problem solving/collaborating is the only technique that truly resolves conflicts. The collaboration focuses on the problem and helps solve it to the satisfaction of both parties—and therefore resolves the conflict for good. It’s easier said than done, of course.
I’ll focus on the collaborate/problem solve technique in my next blog. Until then, please share your views. How have you resolved conflict within your team? What were the results in the short-term and long-term?
By Wanda Curlee
In a recent Forbes article, PMI CEO Mark Langley talked about why employees don’t do what their CEOs tell them to on major projects. Mr. Langley said three major factors cause company leadership and other employees to fail to follow the CEO’s strategic lead:
• CEOs are busy and once the direction is given, they are off to the next situation.
• Implementing strategy is difficult.
• Governance is not in place to fulfill the CEO’s direction.
This got me thinking about ways a CEO can use portfolio management as a means to drive direction.
A robust portfolio management office should be the gateway for the CEO’s strategic direction. Ideally, the CEO would set the strategic direction, and the portfolio manager would take this direction and drive forward. Simple, right?
In reality, the CFO, the business unit presidents and other corporate officers on whose support the portfolio manager depends have good intentions, but day-to-day activities can often take over.
To prevent this, the portfolio manager needs the CEO’s backing and needs to regularly meet with him or her. The portfolio manager also needs to understand the strategy, know how to define the strategy into programs and projects, and stay within the budget.
Doing all this at once is akin to a conductor’s role with a symphony. All parts of the orchestra must follow the conductor’s lead. If the brass section plays faster than the string section, the music doesn’t sound good, and some listeners would blame the conductor. The portfolio manager plays a similar role.
Just like a good conductor, communication is key to the portfolio manager’s job. The portfolio manager must know how to speak to the various stakeholders to keep them informed and focused in the correct direction to carry out the CEO’s strategy.
A CFO will want financial information and may become distracted if the portfolio manager discusses scheduling in detail. Corporate officers need strategic information, the program manager needs a mixture of strategic and tactical info, and the project manager needs tactical info and an understanding of a project’s business value. The portfolio manager has to communicate at these various levels many times during the day.
Governance is another key. Governance reviews projects and programs to ensure they meet the strategic goals of the CEO. Those that do not are rejected and are not done. Governance also assists the governance board in determining if the slate of projects and portfolios selected and within the budget allocated are the ones that should be approved. The portfolio manager normally does this for the CEO and presents the slate to the governing board.
Once the projects and programs are approved, the portfolio manager is constantly evaluating the portfolio to ensure it meets the CEO’s strategic goals and reviewing the company’s landscape for newer projects and programs that may need to be a part of portfolio, based on the same strategic goals. In all these ways, the portfolio manager can serve as the conduit for the CEO’s strategy.
As Mark Langley said, it’s hard work. The portfolio manager is ensuring the right work is done while the project and program managers are ensuring the work is done right. Each has to do their part, and each part is hard. But with all in harmony, the organization will better realize the business benefits for more projects and programs.