by Dave Wakeman
If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I’ve been focusing on strategy a lot lately. The reason is simple: The alignment between projects and strategy tends to be a significant driver of organizational success.
For this post, I want to focus on a crucial figure when it comes to alignment: the sponsor. In working to align projects and strategy, the sponsor really is the key to whether or not your efforts will be successful.
For this reason, it’s essential that project managers candidly communicate with sponsors. You need to understand how the project fits into the organization and how you can position your project in a way that will deliver on your organization’s strategy.
Here are three tips for optimizing sponsor relations.
1. Keep Pushing for Answers: We’ve all dealt with projects and clients that give us some variation of the classic line from our parents: “Because I said so.” That may have worked for our parents, but it won’t work too well for our careers.
As a proactive leader in your organization, you need to work with your sponsor to understand how the project fits into the organization’s strategy. For some of you, that may seem difficult, but if you frame the questions around wanting to understand where you may be challenged for resources or time, you can usually get the conversation started.
Other questions that will help you discover how well your project aligns with the organization’s goals are:
2. Communicate Consistently: One of the big challenges of aligning strategy and projects is that you’re busy, your sponsor is busy, and your team is busy. This is no excuse for not communicating consistently. In fact, a constant stream of demands is a reason you should be communicating consistently—that way you ensure that no one’s efforts are wasted on something that is no longer relevant.
To make sure you communicate consistently with your sponsor, use the following framework:
3. Embrace Change: I’m sure that at one time or another we’ve all felt humiliated and downtrodden because our most dear project has been shut down for no discernable reason and we can’t get an explanation from anyone.
These situations are challenging. But you owe it to yourself, your team and your sponsor to embrace change. You also need to proactively address the change, positive or negative, with your sponsor. This will help you gain information that will allow you to make better decisions. But it will also encourage an open dialogue with your sponsor.
Also, proactively dealing with change can be extremely helpful in assisting your sponsor on new courses of action based upon the new information and the new realities that your projects face.
To accelerate your ability to embrace change, ask questions like:
I’m curious to find out how you handle these kind of strategic communications with your sponsors. Let me know in a comment below!
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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.
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 Wanda Curlee
Situation awareness is taught to many professionals, including pilots, firefighters, air traffic controllers and nuclear reactor personnel. This useful skill has been slow to cross over into the business world, however, though it is making strides.
Situation awareness is the ability to know what’s going on in a complex, dynamic environment. This skill is valuable in project management because a practitioner:
· Needs to evaluate multiple goals simultaneously
· Needs to determine the importance of tasks and goals, and not be distracted by the less important ones
· Needs to know that when team members are under stress, negative consequences may occur, resulting in poor outcomes
Let’s look at how situation awareness can affect projects, programs and portfolios.
I was once on a project that was implementing a new technology. The project manager did not know how to evaluate all the tasks that were happening at one time. Poor decisions were made because the practitioner wasn’t aware of which tasks and goals were important and which were distracting.
As the project continued and lessons learned began to be gathered, the project manager started to gain situational awareness and could share this knowledge with others.
At the program level, intra-dependencies and benefits realization are always on the mind of the program manager. He or she must understand the environment within the organization (such as the politics and the needs of strategic stakeholders) and the industry, as well as other external factors.
Knowing who has the power to do (or approve) different things can help you implement a successful program. The program sponsor can help you get the lay of the land. Thoroughly understanding a country’s laws as they relate to the program and knowing the specific standards for your program and industry are part of developing a better situational awareness.
Again, lessons learned and asking questions of subject matter experts can help. As a program manager, you may have to review lessons learned from similar types of projects to give you an understanding of which tasks or goals are most critical, and which may be just a distraction.
Finally, a portfolio manager should help leadership and project/program managers improve their situation awareness. This means the portfolio manager needs to require a review of lessons learned on a quarterly basis and establish metrics (normally tracked monthly) to look for strategic trends.
Here are some questions portfolio managers can ask to improve the organization’s situational awareness:
· Is there a process or procedure hindering advancements of programs or projects?
· Is the tool set correct?
· Are certain projects or programs failing in some industries but blossoming in others?
· Will there be a gap in resources?
· Will there be a gap in resources with the correct skill set?
· Is it time to re-evaluate a technology or product where sales are dwindling?
Most people in project management have some awareness of their situation.
What sets great project leaders apart is they’ve honed their situational skill set.