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
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Lung-Hung Chou
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Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Cecilia Wong
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy

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Ten Lessons for PMs, from PMI North America Congress 2014

By Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP, PfMP

“Everyone can be my teacher.”

—Alfonso Bucero, PMI-RMP, PMP, PMI Fellow


After a two-year absence from PMI® Global Congress—North America, I literally ran — my hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, was 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) from the convention center — to get my registration package. This year I did not want to miss the great opportunities to meet and learn from fellow project practitioners. This year’s congress was rich in learning opportunities. My top 10 lessons learned from congress were:


1. Give back to the community. A group of global project managers volunteered to roll up their sleeves to help revitalize John F. Long Elementary School in Phoenix. Kids and teachers welcomed the volunteers (project managers turned project team members), organized them into teams, and assigned specific tasks inside and outside the school buildings. After tasks were completed, the volunteers were awarded a priceless reward: the smiling faces of kids and teachers. By all means, this was the best way to start congress.

 

2. Houston, we have a problem — but as project managers, we also have the solution. The news broke by noon Saturday: There was a fire at the hotel across the street from the congress, and all 800 guests (most of them congress attendees) had to be evacuated. Yet by early evening, all guests were relocated to other hotels in the area. The PMI Phoenix Chapter and congress organizers responded very quickly with a contingency plan: New hotels were identified, transportation arrangements and schedules to and from new hotels and the convention center were set, and attendees were notified via email and social media. This was a real life lesson on how project managers work under pressure and manage problems in projects.

 

3. Tips for being a team leader, from a sports legend. Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the first keynote speaker and walked us through his journey in basketball. He shared the brighter and darker moments of his career and related them to the project management profession. When Magic joined the Los Angeles Lakers, he brought a set of technical skills that, combined with those of his teammates, helped the team to succeed. Magic kept enhancing his skills working with other players and learning new techniques from them to improve his game. To improve our game as project managers, we need to acquire and master new skills as well — and nowadays, strategic and leadership skills are required to better execute projects and make our organization successful.

 

4. Think sideways. For those times when project practitioners put in all their efforts and do not get expected results, keynote speaker Tamara Kleinberg invited us to “think sideways.” That is, exit from the vicious cycle of trying to address issues by providing a lot of answers based on hypothesis, and enter a virtuous cycle in which you start asking questions that will give you hints on how to resolve issues. Great innovation is about asking the questions, not having the answers. She urged us to stop assuming and start asking more, and turn ourselves into conductors of innovation.

 

5. Learn from everyone. Mr. Bucero urged us to learn from each individual we interact with at congress: delegates, volunteers, presenters and keynote speakers. During breakfast and lunch, congress attendees took the opportunity to discuss their experiences and acquire knowledge from global peers. As many found out, sometimes the same issue is resolved in different ways around the world.

 

6. Multitasking isn’t the silver bullet. Keynote speaker Dr. Daniel J. Levitin’s scientific research proved the concept of multitasking does not exist. When you multitask, your brain shifts in rapid cycles among tasks, which leads it to consume a lot of glucose and produce cortisole, a substance that impairs decision-making. Dr. Levitin recommends focusing on one task at a time and partitioning your day into several productivity periods. Turning off electronics to maintain focus as well as taking breaks translates into efficiency.

 

7. Organizational project management (OPM) trends upward. Several Areas of Focus presentations touched on OPM, ranging from interpersonal skills for success as a portfolio manager to transforming from project to program manager and competencies for successfully driving strategic initiatives. Presenters pointed out the importance of building technical, leadership and strategic and business management skills to deliver excellence today and in the future to emerge as a new breed of project executives.

 

8. PfMPs are in demand. The Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® credential ribbon was available for the first time at congress. Not many people knew about the new core certification and asked for more details. On hand were a few of the first 150 PfMPs® from around the world. These PfMP “ambassadors” showed how credential holders can help organizations to align projects and investments with organizational strategy, enable organizational agility, and consistently deliver better results and sustainable competitive advantage.

 

9. Leave your comfort zone. Inspiring closing keynote speaker Vince Poscente shared his four-year journey from recreational weekend skier to Olympian at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Mr. Poscente learned that to succeed, you need to, “Do what your competition is not willing to do.” If you wonder what those things are, they’re the ones we’re also not willing to do. Your homework now is to ask: What will I do to beat my competition?

 

10. Network, network, network. Having the chance to interact with 2,000-plus delegates from over 50 countries is a great opportunity to find the next challenge in your professional career. I met in person the recipient of the Kerzner Award and fellow Voices on Project Management blogger Mario Trentim and the vice president of the PMI Romania Chapter, Ana-Maria Dogaru, and discussed projects and collaboration opportunities that we may start in the near future.

 

After three wonderful days, congress came to a close. Now it’s time to put in practice all the acquired knowledge to emerge as a new breed of project executives — and save the date for next year’s North America congress in Orlando, Florida, USA.

 

Did you attend congress? What were your top lessons learned?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 30, 2014 08:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Selling Your Idea

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:

Simple     

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?

Unexpected      

·       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.

 

Concrete  

·       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.”

 

Credible   

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.”

Emotional         

·       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.

 

Stories     

·       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?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: November 13, 2014 10:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Are Portfolio Managers the Next Chief Strategy Officers?

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:

  • Enabling and sustaining large-scale organizational change -- preparing the organization to accept the change
  • Communicating and implementing a company's strategy internally and externally so all employees, partners, suppliers and constituents understand the strategic plan and how it carries out the organization's overall goals
  • Driving decision-making that creates medium- and long-term improvements through the execution of portfolios, programs and projects
  • Ensuring the portfolio is delivering measurable outcomes, identifying growth and innovation opportunities, as well as monitoring the competitive landscape

There are four main types of CSOs:

  1. Change Enabler: change agent to facilitate cross-organizational initiatives or portfolios
  2. Consultant: a strategic planner and adviser; the formulator of strategy
  3. Specialist: may be focused on a specific type of strategic initiative or portfolio, such as mergers & acquisition
  4. Coach: facilitates the strategy development, consensus-building and translation into execution

What do you think? Are portfolio managers the next chief strategy officers?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: July 15, 2014 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

In Good Company: Project, Program and Portfolio Management

Voices_Roger_Cloud Gate2.jpg

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. 

Voices_Roger_Cloud Gate4.jpg

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.

Voices_Roger_Cloud Gate1.jpg

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?
Posted by Lung-Hung Chou on: November 21, 2013 05:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Embedding Portfolio Management Through Effective Communications

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?

  • With clarity. Clarity is the most important factor for the success of portfolio management. People can't commit to what they don't know or don't understand. Clearly state and communicate the portfolio objectives, policies and procedures. 
  • With openness. On top of developing a nice-to-have framework for project selection, prioritization and portfolio monitoring, spread the word throughout the entire organization on why the company needs portfolio management and how it works.
  • With alignment. Corporate objectives -- and how portfolio management can help the organization reach those goals -- have to be part of the message. Alignment means credibility for portfolio management, because it shows how it adds business value. To communicate the value, show the organization the selection criteria and key performance indicators and their rationale.
  • With discipline. Portfolio management requires consistent feedback, information and reports -- mainly from projects and programs, but also from functional managers, senior managers and more. Discipline means setting up processes and procedures to push and pull communications in a dependable way for the organization. In other words, in-and-out communications have to flow without interruption, overcoming organizational barriers to get information needed and to provide useful, timely information.
  • With accountability. Everyone in the organization should be responsible, in one way or another, for the portfolio results. That means project KPIs and portfolio KPIs should align better. And the best way to achieve that alignment is by ensuring everyone is on the same page about the corporate portfolio strategy, through rigorous governance and consistent communications.

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?

Posted by Mario Trentim on: October 01, 2013 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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