By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
A portfolio manager’s key responsibility is to sell your idea — whether it’s to incorporate innovations into the portfolio, to advocate for portfolio management processes or to champion the establishment of a portfolio. And one of the most powerful ways to sell is to have great presentation skills. The next time you have to present your portfolio strategy to executives or conduct a meeting, think about the simple acronym that can ensure SUCCESS:
I always think in terms of the outcome of my presentation or meeting first: what is the one thing you want to people to remember, do, think or feel differently as a result of your presentation.
· Now, work this core message until it’s clear and concise. As portfolio managers, we need to be experts at distilling a tremendous amount of information into the “critical few” points — think bullet points rather than paragraphs.
· Be aware that too much detail will cloud the message, cause confusion, and delay buy-in. Strip away the unnecessary elements and leave your audience with the essence.
· Don’t add jargon, industry-specific terms (i.e., technology or project management), or try to be too trendy. Spell out acronyms, and try to stay away from anything that requires a dictionary to interpret. I once had a project manager refer to a “wheelhouse,” and I had to look it up to see what it meant. For the record, it refers to “an area of expertise.” But ultimately, ask yourself: Do you want people to wonder what your message is? Or do you want them to quickly grasp it?
· Instead of just jumping into facts, keep the audience’s attention by opening and closing gaps in their knowledge. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself, “What do they know, and what don’t they know?” Open with something they don’t know to grab their attention.
· Then, try to highlight a few ‘a-ha’s” and lead them to the desired outcome. Is your audience interested in the process, or just your portfolio inventory of the programs and projects? Highlight a few programs and projects with interesting facts rather than reviewing the entire list of programs and projects.
· Create curiosity, interest or concern in what you are going to tell them before you tell them. For example, you might say that it’s commonly thought that there are 100 critical projects within the portfolio, but your analysis show that it’s actually 10 critical projects. This way, you are also selling your value as a portfolio manager — anyone can come up with a list of projects, but only you can analyze and bring recommendations.
· Remove abstract language or ideas from your message, and replace them with concrete language or ideas (tied to a tangible/physical item that people can relate to).
· Use sensory language to paint a mental picture. Give an example.
· When selling a new portfolio management process, say “good portfolio management is like having a well-balanced 401k.”
Use “good statistics” — ones that aid a decision or shape an opinion and humanize your statistics by bringing them closer to people’s day-to-day experience.
Make the statistics or examples relevant by placing them into the frame of everyday life. For example: “I compare the portfolio roadmap to having a detailed guide for a trip from NY to LA so that every major stop can be accounted for.”
· Don’t rely solely on logic to sell your presentation.
· Create empathy for specific individuals affected by what you are trying to sell. Say things such as: “Given that it currently takes five people two weeks to manually put together the reports needed, my new portfolio management process will now free up three people and reduce the time to five days.”
· Show that your ideas are associated with things people already care about. Within a large company, that may be increasing efficiency, increasing shareholder value, meeting compliance and regulatory demands and increasing employee satisfaction.
· Use stories so your message relates to the audience and reflects your core message. Use specific examples, preferably yours, of why it’s worked (i.e., “When I worked at our competitor’s and implemented this portfolio management process, it resulted in an increased ROI from 50 percent to 85 percent within six months.”). Another thing that works well: A brief acknowledgement that your method is a best practice within the industry, based on your extensive research.
· Finally, don’t forget that the story should have emotional elements and draw from the other SUCCESS principles.
What are your tips for successfully presenting portfolio management to stakeholders?
A relatively new but increasingly important role is emerging: the chief strategy officer (CSO). From Starbucks to Siemens, many organizations now have a designated CSO.
A CSO can be defined as an executive responsible for assisting the CEO with identifying, communicating, executing and sustaining strategic initiatives -- basically, what a portfolio manager does.
And I would argue that the next CSOs will come through the portfolio management ranks.
Strategy itself is about renewal, and renewal is achieved through transformation. Therefore, a key part of strategy is innovation. That's not just technical or product innovation. It's also managerial, organizational and process innovation implemented through portfolios (and of course, the corresponding projects and programs).
As with a portfolio manager, the core responsibilities of a CSO include translating strategy into execution:
There are four main types of CSOs:
What do you think? Are portfolio managers the next chief strategy officers?
At the end of this month, Cloud Gate, a Taiwanese dance company, will celebrate its 40th anniversary with the performance of a new routine, "Rice." Its founder, Lin Hwai-Min, has received international recognition and awards, including the United States' Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in Choreography in 2013, Germany's International Movimentos Dance Prize for Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 and Time magazine's Asia's Heroes award in 2005.
"Rice" looks to be a culmination of the company's past four decades of work. But it could not have happened without Mr. Lin's talents -- and his arts management team. Their involvement allows the choreographer to concentrate on his creative work. It wasn't always like that; in the early years, Mr. Lin was responsible for teaching and choreography, as well as staging, marketing and fundraising. This left him exhausted and unable to work creatively.
Mr. Lin realized Cloud Gate had to develop a management team. Nowadays, the company has divided its operation into three parts. Firstly, the performance of the routines. Secondly, the training and cultivation of artists, whether dancers or choreographers. And finally, the promotion of dance and taking part in wider cultural activities. The three divisions overlap, forming a coherent program of work that defines Cloud Gate as an organization. This is very much like portfolio management, dividing organizational objectives into different projects or programs.
All of Cloud Gate's managers know they're there to allow Mr. Lin and the rest of the company to work creatively. They know their work helps fund performances for artists and also keeps Could Gate -- and them -- in work. This makes them both sponsors and key stakeholders. And since theater work is beset by a multitude of details, the managers have become skilled in tackling issues appropriately, discerning what is important for the business or for art. However, because ultimately they are part of a creative process, they know they have to be flexible in how they work with artists.
An impressive archive of routines also contributes to the survival of the dance company. Cloud Gate has accumulated over 160 dance routines. Combinations of these can be used to stage a performance anywhere in the world. Routines based on well-known Chinese literature or folk tales, such as "The Dream of the Red Chamber" and "The Tale of the White Serpent," appeal to Chinese audiences. Those in a more abstract style, such as "Cursive," delight European audiences. The inclusion of different routines into a performance helps Cloud Gate develop new audiences or maintain the loyalty of existing ones worldwide.
Mr. Lin also guides dancers' careers, cultivates young choreographers, and contributes to Taiwan's arts and culture. For example, Cloud Gate is the first dance company in Taiwan to provide its dancers with a salary and routine training. The company also regularly holds open classes and performances in all parts of Taiwan, using scholarships and awards to encourage young people to take up modern dance and choreography.
Mr. Lin has spent most of his life searching for this: a sustainable way to run an international contemporary dance company. And project, program and portfolio management have helped get him there, delivering inspiring results.
If you work in a creative industry, what's the role of your management team?
Despite uncertainties in today's economic environment, organizations remain under pressure to successfully execute business strategies. These challenging conditions demand that organizations innovate and gain an advantage through projects. Yet launching a bunch of projects won't save the day. We need solid portfolio management to enable that competitive edge. It's not just about software, methodology and frameworks, after all. To perform well, portfolio management requires a cultural change and solid communications within an organization.
And yet, we still suffer due to poor communications. Many companies, for instance, invest significant effort and capital on projects and programs that do not directly align with corporate objectives because those goals are poorly communicated. Meanwhile, others struggle to balance risk and fail to seize opportunities because of ineffective communications that do not support informed decision-making. For example, I worked on a project of high complexity that had huge technical challenges. These challenges could have been better addressed if there had been more communication among different research teams in our organization.
The payoff to investing in project communications can be substantial, as many studies -- such as a recent one from PMI -- point out. Companies that excel at portfolio management are able to complete projects on time and under budget, increasing ROI and other benefits. But how do we consistently communicate the portfolio management strategy, policies, governance and benefits throughout the organization?
I'm a firm believer that the role of communications is to ensure that portfolio management is embedded in the corporate culture. What do you think is the role of communications in a portfolio?
Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, is a senior-level project executive, leading high-profile business transformation projects, programs and portfolios. She has more than 18 years of professional experience across industries such as healthcare, biotechnology, entertainment and financial services. She recently established a PMO Center of Excellence that includes both project managers and business analysts, implemented a global US$50 million program across multiple sites and managed a $500 million portfolio. Ms. Skrabak served as the committee chair for The Standard for Portfolio Management - Third Edition.
Read her thoughts on portfolio management below:
Although PMI's The Standard for Portfolio Management was updated for its Third Edition earlier this year, I still find that there is much confusion over what portfolio managers do and how they differ from program and project managers. Having been a portfolio manager for over 10 years, I'm offering a few key differences that may help you.
What portfolio managers focus on:
Now that we've level set the strategic responsibilities of portfolio managers, there are some key responsibilities that don't fall under portfolio managers.
What portfolio managers do not focus on:
PMI Announces PfMP certification
Recently, PMI announced its new Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)SM credential, which will be available in Q4 2013.
Having served on the Steering Committee for the PfMP credential, and providing strategic direction and guidance to the team that was chartered to make the final recommendation, it is very exciting to see this launch.
I know that many in the PMI community have been asking about this certification. Having also served as chair for the development of the portfolio management standard, I believe that it's an important credential that meets a key need (remember the "P" in PMI encompasses portfolio). It drives advancement of portfolio management as a profession by formally recognizing the importance of a standard set of skills, knowledge and abilities.
Key requirements include eight years of business experience and at least four years of portfolio management experience. It's expected that The Standard for Portfolio Management - Third Edition will be used as a key reference for the exam.
The PfMP exam outline will be made available in September, with the first opportunity to take the exam in late Q4 2013. If you want to be one of the first to be certified for the PfMP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.