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
Cecilia Wong
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio

Recent Posts

Startups and Project Management: They Aren’t Opposites

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

A True Story of a Bad Sponsor

How To Keep Yourself, and Your Team, Energetic and Engaged

The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict

How Portfolio Managers Do What the CEO Says

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.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: April 01, 2015 07:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Done With Military Service? You Could Make a Great Project Manager

By Wanda Curlee

Transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce can be difficult. If you’re interested in project management, however, you may find that you have valuable skills and experience. When I was introduced to project management years after I finished my service in the U.S. Navy, one of my first thoughts was: I’ve done this before.

Still, it can be hard to know how to start a civilian career as a project manager. Here’s some food for thought.

First, think about tasks you did in the military, whether it was organizing a 5K race or walk for the base, preparing for deployment, returning from deployment, or staging a change of command or retirement ceremony. Just like in project management, all these tasks had a definite beginning and end. Even if the event had been held before, each time was unique. For all of these tasks, a team helped you implement your project.

As you delve into project management as a possible career, I suggest reviewing Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). You may discover your military experience directly relates to the project management knowledge areas it details:

Integration management is making sure that processes and project management activities occur when they should. In other words, you would not finish the planning for the change of command ceremony when you are just starting the project. Tasks can happen in parallel and can jump from process to process, but need to occur in an orderly fashion.

Scope management is about making sure the project doesn’t expand beyond what was agreed upon with the project sponsor. For example, you are leading the team that ensures all heavy equipment arrives back at the base after deployment. Your scope is the heavy equipment, not the laptops and desktop computers. Scope change may not be bad, but it has to be monitored.

Cost management can be tricky for military personnel because some types of military projects—such as returning a unit home from overseas deployment—don’t always have clear budgets. But many, such as organizing a dinner or race, do. If you handled smaller projects such as these, you had a finite amount of money—and you knew it would not be fun to have to ask your superiors for more. 

Quality management is straightforward in a military context. Anyone who has served as junior officer or senior enlisted officer has made sure the team followed the rules and made good judgment calls.

Human resource management is a no-brainer for officers and senior enlisted officers: they know how to lead teams. (By the way, one of my pet peeves is how PMI refers to human resource “management” rather than leadership.)

Communications management is another no-brainer. Without communication in the military, no one would survive. On a project, communication is formal and informal, and both types need to be documented.

Risk management is understanding what about the environment or team might derail the project. In my day, we commonly referred to this as “operational planning.”

Procurement management is what you need to buy for the project. You might not have had experience with this in the military, but if you have been given a budget, you may have dealt with various vendors to determine the best deal to implement your project.

Stakeholder management is the process of leading the individuals who have a stake in the project, and dealing with any concerns they may have. This is all about knowing people, including their likes, wants and agendas, and managing those.

If any of this piques your interest, consider pursuing a project management certification to develop your skills and signal them to potential employers. In the civilian world, the most globally known one is PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. (A list of PMI’s registered education providers is here.)

If you hope to work for the civilian side of the U.S. military, check out the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). Anyone with a current U.S. military affiliation is eligible for free DAU courses and certifications, which aim to develop the U.S. Department of Defense’s acquisition (aka procurement/contract) management workforce.

Beyond certifications, many universities and companies offer project management certificates and degrees. Not all of these programs are well respected, so make sure to examine their curricula closely before signing up and/or get to know their reputation through online research. (A directory of accredited university programs around the world is here.)

LinkedIn groups can also help you transition into civilian project management and deepen your project management knowledge. (I recommend the Gr8MilitaryPM group.)

Finally, keep in mind that as a transitioning service member, many free or low-cost training options may be available to you. For example, in the United States, funds for training and certification exam reimbursement are available to military veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the G.I. Bill.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: March 10, 2015 07:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Taking It to the Next Level: Portfolio Management

By Wanda Curlee

 

As a project manager, you may have worked within a program or portfolio, or both. You may have seen what seemed to be a successful project slowed or canceled, and been confused or upset by this. Why would higher-ups end a project that’s proceeding within scope and budget and on schedule?

The answer, most likely, has to do with the project’s position relative to the organization’s strategy and the portfolio in which the project resided. While working in the for-profit world and consulting on U.S. government projects, programs and portfolios, I’ve learned that program and portfolio managers in all sectors have to make tough decisions about which projects to deprioritize or cancel.

Back when I was a project manager — I earned my Project Management Professional (PMP)® in 1993 — I found myself on the receiving end of bad news from program and portfolio managers. I responded by asking questions to learn as much as I could from the portfolio or program manager. My initial goal was to mature my project management skills, but I ultimately decided I wanted to work at the portfolio level.

Portfolio management is an area of growing interest within organizations and at PMI. The institute’s newest certification, the Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)®, is an expression of that. I had the opportunity to help define the PfMP® by serving on the core team that established the first iteration of the certificate, which launched in August 2014.

Some may think PMI mainly offers specialty certifications, such as risk (PMI-RMP)®, schedule (PMI-SP)® or agile (PMI-ACP)®. In fact, the PfMP offers a different kind of path, one that can help practitioners build a more strategic mindset and skill set within the world of project management.

Portfolio Management 101

So what do portfolio managers do?

First of all, a portfolio manager normally works for a C-level executive or a business unit head. While project/program management experience is not a requirement to be a portfolio manager, it can be a valuable entry point.

The portfolio manager structures the portfolio to meet the strategic needs of an organization. She views projects and programs from a strategic perspective. Whereas the project manager is worried about doing things right, the portfolio manager is worried about doing the right things.

Each of these roles is very important to the success of the organization. Let’s go back to the scenario above, where a project manager is annoyed by the cancellation of a project that was tracking well.

Think about it from the portfolio perspective: The portfolio manager may have canceled your project because another business unit started implementing something similar. The portfolio manager has to decide which project should continue and which shouldn’t.

Ready for a Career Pivot?

Okay, perhaps you’re ready to move into portfolio management. What’s the best way to transition out of the project level?

In my case, I looked for projects that matched the strategic needs of the organization. I tried to work at companies that were growing or changing. I volunteered to take the helm of projects that seemed difficult. Eventually, I managed my first portfolio.

Above all, I recommend pushing yourself to maximize experiences that help you understand the business. Strive for positions that expose you to strategy.

Also, remember that your expertise in project management can help you stand out from other portfolio manager candidates. You know how to measure success, and you have the discipline to run governance for a portfolio.

Is it worth your while to strive for the PfMP credential at some point? In one word: yes. I believe it will come to be recognized as the mark of in-depth portfolio management skill and experience.

Why do I think that? Well, back in 1993, when I earned my PMP, there were fewer than 1,500 people with that credential. Today, of course, more than half a million people have a PMP.

The PfMP is just getting started, but we’ve already seen a 57 percent jump in certifications since its official launch last year. By definition, there will always be fewer portfolio managers than project managers in the world — but I see a bright future for this line of work.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: February 12, 2015 01:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

My New Year’s Resolution: Become SMARTer

By Conrado Morlan

About five years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution that I renew every year: become a SMARTer project practitioner. This annual resolution is how I strive for excellence in my professional life.

What is a SMART project practitioner? It’s a project professional — project manager, program manager or portfolio manager — who plays multiple roles within the organization and contributes to achieving goals emanating from the organization’s mission and strategy. It stands for strategic, mindful, agile, resilient and transparent.

The SMART project professional goes beyond just managing projects. He or she helps achieve business objectives by exploring new ways to lead, execute and deliver projects supported by dispersed and diverse teams. Technical expertise is not enough — SMART professionals must adopt a business-oriented approach.

Time has proved the concept of this more expansive definition of the project professional valuable. In the 2012 video “Are You Ready?” PMI President and CEO Mark Langley discusses the new skills and capabilities required by project professionals to fully support projects. Companies are struggling to attract qualified project professionals with strong leadership and strategic and business management skills, Langley notes.

Since technical expertise is no longer enough to drive high performance,the SMART concept includes a portfolio of skills the project professional must master to meet the needs of the organization in the coming years.

Being SMART means being:

Strategic. Demonstrate an understanding of the organization’s business goals to help it get ahead of the competition.

Mindful. Develop cultural awareness and leadership styles to influence and inspire multicultural and multigenerational project teams. Foster strong relationships across the organization’s business functions. Adhere to the organization’s values and culture as well as the professional codes of ethics.

Agile. Business strategy is not static and is frequently impacted by internal and external factors. Projects will need to be adjusted to remain aligned with the business strategy, so embrace change.

Resilient. Remain committed and optimistic, and demonstrate integrity, when realigning or repairing projects facing hardships because of miscommunication and problematic behaviors as well as cross-cultural issues and conflicts.

Transparent. Whether the project is in good shape or facing challenges, the state of projects needs to be shared promptly with relevant parties.

In summary: To become SMARTer, you need to continually strive for excellence and master new skills to support professional growth and help your organization achieve its business strategy.

Did you make (or renew) New Year’s resolutions for your professional life in 2015? If so, share them with me.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: January 08, 2015 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

How Managers Can Grow Into Leaders

As we move toward the end of the year and prepare our personal and professional goals for 2015, I’ve been thinking about how someone can go from being just a manager to being a leader.

 

Years ago, a big project I was working on with American Express and one of its partners ran into trouble. A lot of factors probably led to that, but one still stands out to me:  I was succeeding as a manager but failing as a leader. And that was the project’s ultimate downfall.

 

Over the years, I’ve been able to reflect and grow from that experience. Here are three ways you can use my experience to help you become more of a leader in 2015.

 

1.   Focus on the vision. Managers are, by their nature, implementers. We get tasked with projects that we may not have had a great deal of input into. But just because we’re helping our sponsors reach their goals doesn’t mean we can’t apply our vision as well. To focus on vision in your management and leadership, start by formulating what this project means to you, the organization, the team and the end users. Then, most importantly, personalize those aspects that are likely to inspire your team.

2.   Focus on important conversations.I once read that a project manager spends 90 percent of his or her time communicating. To become a better leader, focus on the most important of these conversations: ones with your sponsor and your team. They are the people who are going to be able to inform you about changes in circumstances, troubles in a project or resource challenges. While there are lots of important people to talk with, the most important are the ones who have the most direct impact on the project’s success or failure — so prioritize those.

3.   Look at the long-term.This advice ties into having a vision for your project and having conversations with your important team members and sponsors. But thinking long-term also means you need to infuse your vision and conversations with a future orientation. This might mean that you talk with your sponsor about how a project fits into a long-term strategic plan for the organization. Or, it might mean that you spend time during conversations with your team members asking about their goals and values. This can allow you to shift your actions and assignments in a way that delivers on the promise of the current project. At the same time, you will have built a stronger understanding and real relationship with your sponsors and teams that will transcend your current project and have lasting benefits for projects and years to come.

 

What are some of the ways you’ve helped make yourself a stronger leader, rather than solely a manager?  

Posted by David Wakeman on: December 09, 2014 10:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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