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


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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
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson

Recent Posts

The Team That Skipped the Storming Stage

Are You There in the Ways That Matter?

Why I Became A Project Manager

From Birth to Adulthood: How to Mature Portfolio Management Practices

Project Management Transforms Taiwan’s Uni Radio Station

From Birth to Adulthood: How to Mature Portfolio Management Practices

By Wanda Curlee

When we talk about project, program and portfolio management, the word “maturity” often comes up. But with respect to portfolio management, the newest of these three disciplines, what does “maturity” really mean?

For starters, it means time. Simply aquiring a portfolio management tool doesn’t align the portfolio to the strategy, as Dr. Mark Mullaly noted in a projectmanagement.com blog post earlier this year. Alignment typically doesn’t happen overnight or even in one year. Implementation of strategy normally comes with organizational change, and most humans do not like to change.

Here’s a look at a typical portfolio management developmental process.

The Early Years

Immature portfolio management practices are normally less than three years old. I think of this as the toddler stage. Getting to the next stage of maturity takes a committed C-suite that believes that a portfolio manager can balance the checkbook while delivering strategic benefits.

Remember, no company or individual has a blank check to fund all projects and programs. There must be mutual trust between the portfolio manager(s) and the C-suite. The C-suite must provide the portfolio manager with the authority and support needed to get real traction.

Traction should follow from a defined governance structure, rudimentary metrics, and programs and projects adhering to the governance structure. As Andy Jordan notes, without successful projects, portfolio management will not succeed. Project leaders need to realize that the portfolio manager drives the organization’s strategic execution.

Project managers may see this as an attack on their independence or worry that a project will be cancelled, Mr. Jordan adds. With a cancellation, a project manager and team may be placed on the bench. Organizational shifts are uncomfortable.

Throughout this state, it is imperative that portfolio managers demonstrate value to project and program managers, according to Mr. Jordan. One way to do this is to constantly communicate to these practitioners that they must see everything they do through the lens of the customers’ wants and needs.

Growing Pains

The next step is what I call the teenager stage. This phase takes between three and five years, during which—as any parent knows—rebellion can happen.

An important way to avoid rebellion is by making sure project and program managers see themselves as invaluable. They have the ability to see opportunities and risks that the portfolio manager cannot see. The portfolio manager must create this dialogue, which is part of maturing in the teenage phase.

Throughout this phase, the portfolio manager is working to overcome the remaining naysayers while tweaking the process, procedures, governance and metrics. This will take time as well, just as it takes a teenager time to mature into a young adult.


The final phase is, of course, full maturity. This is not a time for stagnation—if that takes hold it will be the death of the portfolio management team. Stagnation means the portfolio isn’t nimble or reactive to change—the opposite of agility.

Mature portfolio management means calibrating the portfolio as frequently as necessary to fit a changing strategy. Strategy today is not the strategy of yesteryear. Depending on the industry, the strategy may change every year. If there’s upheaval in the industry, strategy could change even quicker.

Can you fathom Apple updating its strategic goals only every three to five years? I can’t either. Reaching maturity for the portfolio manager means truly understanding the industry, becoming entrenched with the C-suite, making changes to the portfolio management process to increase delivery to the stakeholders. It means being agile enough to understand that change is needed.

During the process of portfolio maturation, the portfolio manager needs to consider portfolio rebalancing. This is a relatively new concept, and it was discussed during a breakout session at PMI’s PMO Symposium last year. 

The presenter suggested reviewing the portfolio mix at least quarterly to ensure strategic alignment. The larger point is that, as portfolio management matures, project and program managers should become more comfortable in re-estimating on a quarterly basis. By doing so, those projects and programs that are under-running may give back dollars to the portfolio.

Why is this important? First, it means that excess funds can be used for any projects and programs that are overrunning. But more importantly, these funds can be used to start new projects and programs to deliver increased benefits.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: September 23, 2015 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Project Managers Can Learn From One Very Successful College Football Coach

by Dave Wakeman

I’m always looking for a way to tie project management to college football, and the start of football season is a great time to do just that. I went to the University of Alabama, which has been on one of the greatest runs in college football history over the last nine years. This is due in part to the vision of coach Nick Saban.

If you don’t know much about college football and Nick Saban, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with project management. But Saban’s success stems in part from his coaching philosophy, which he calls “The Process.” His reasoning is straightforward, as he once said: “Process guarantees success. A good process produces good results.”

Here are several lessons project managers can learn from coach Saban’s process.

Culture is everything: Every organization has a culture. Some are well thought-out, methodical inventions imprinted through consistent actions and accountabilities. Other organizations, not so much.

At the University of Alabama, “The Process” is at its heart a cultural tool that seeps into every action that every member of the football program takes over the course of the year. Saban is consistent in his discussion of creating a culture that allows his team to focus on the aspects of their “jobs” that create success.

As a manager and leader of your projects, you might be able to deliver the same sort of project culture by clearly stating your expectations for communications, reporting or meetings—or all three.

Regardless of your priorities, take a look at how you can communicate the kind of project culture you want to create.

Success is a process: As leaders, we have to balance two competing interests: the long-term success of our projects and our organization and the short-term tasks involved in delivering us to the long-term outcomes.

One of the big things Saban has done at Alabama is emphasize setting long-term goals for each team and the program, while also consistently focusing his players on the task at hand. This most readily plays out in his insistence that his players focus only on winning the play of the moment, treating each play as its own mission and never looking at the scoreboard.

You might help your teams by setting clear long-term project goals, but then breaking them down into phases with each phase having its own individual stages with a beginning and end. More emphasis should be placed on the specific stage than the overall project.

Communication is key: The image of Saban as a fiery hard-to-please taskmaster may have some validity. But one thing that often goes unnoticed is that he’s typically toughest on his teams when they’re winning and have a tendency to lose focus. When the team is losing a game, he tends to be very encouraging and measured.

As the leader of your team, you can put this idea to work by looking at the way you communicate with your own team and think about what is and what isn’t effective. Maybe you’ll find you’re pushing when you should be nurturing or nurturing when a good push is needed.

Even if you don’t like Alabama, Nick Saban or football, you can and should learn lessons from college football. A great college football team is very similar to a great project team, and a great coach has to be a great project manager.

For your enjoyment, here’s a 60 Minutes TV show profile of University of Alabama’s team from a few years back:

Let me know what you think in the comments! And, most importantly, Roll Tide! 

By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Make sure you never don't miss it, sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 09, 2015 02:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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 (9)

Want Strategic Alignment? Get To Know Your Sponsor!

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:

  • How high a priority is this currently?
  • I’ve read the requirements and goals, but I’m still unclear. What should the ultimate outcome of this project be?

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:

  • First, set up appropriate reporting and meeting schedules with your team.
  • Second, take the time to digest the information gleaned from your team.
  • Third, adjust your actions and activities to reflect the new realities on the ground.
  • Fourth, set up a consistent time to brief and update your sponsor. Keep that appointment religiously.
  • Finally, get the sponsor’s commitment that important matters can and will be addressed quickly to keep the project on track.

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:

  • How will this change impact our organizational mission?
  • Is this change happening because the project wasn’t in alignment?
  • Does this change provide an opportunity for us to embrace a new set of circumstances or new business opportunities?

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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Posted by David Wakeman on: July 15, 2015 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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)

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