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


View Posts By:

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

Focus on the Team, Not the Project, to Succeed

Agility vs. SOPs: Finding the Right Balance

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

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 (3)

How Portfolio Managers and Business Analysts Can and Should Collaborate

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Just like portfolio managers, business analysts are gaining wide acceptance as a profession. Business analysts can now earn their own PMI certification (PMI-BA) and read their own practice guide (Business Analysis for Practitioners). (Here’s a piece of cultural trivia: Did you know the latest bachelor on the reality TV show “The Bachelor” is a business analyst?)

Portfolio managers should get to know business analysts in their organization, because they can help ensure alignment and management of the portfolio to achieve the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.

What exactly do business analysts do? They, well, conduct business analysis. That’s defined as:

•identifying business needs

•eliciting, documenting and managing requirements

•recommending relevant solutions 

With this in mind, there are four major ways that portfolio managers can leverage a business analyst:

1) Develop Pipeline Opportunities

Business analysts can play a critical role in analyzing business problems and opportunities that will eventually be used to initiate projects and programs in the portfolio. Product or technology roadmaps can outline potential projects or programs that will be initiated at future points. They’re also valuable during a project because they can support proposed changes to a project scope (which will affect the overall portfolio) and ensure that the business justification for the project or program remains valid. 

Many business analysts are embedded within business areas and are critical to early identification and understanding of future opportunities or changes to the portfolio.

2) Define Needed Business Capabilities

We often think of business analysts as documenting business requirements.  Those requirements are built upon an understanding of which capabilities are needed for a particular business domain. 

Typically, capabilities are based on the goals and needs of a particular business area. Those needs may be depicted through business domain capability maps, end-to-end process flows or functional diagrams. An assessment of whether the capabilities currently exist or not becomes the basis for identifying priorities and gaps (in processes or talent). It can also be used to benchmark against other companies.

3) Develop Business Cases 

With their high-level understanding of the goals, objectives and needs of the enterprise, business analysts can assist in defining the justification for the proposed solution. The basis of a business case is the needs assessment. This process seeks to understand the underlying business problem, assess the current state and perform a gap analysis against the future state.

In addition, the proposed solution (see #4 below) is needed for high-level cost estimates that become the basis for the numerator of the ROI. The potential return (denominator of the ROI) is also based on an analysis of the impact of the solution on the current process.

4) Perform Solutions Analysis

One type of solution analysis is to assess a variety of options to go from the current state to future state. (For example, process changes vs. system implementations.) Business analysts can work with business stakeholders to define immediate solutions (quick wins that may be process changes) or longer-term solutions (new products or systems). 

Business analysis outputs provide the context to requirements analysis and solution identification for a given initiative or for long-term planning. Business analysis is often the starting point for initiating one or more projects or programs within a portfolio. The analysis is an ongoing activity within a portfolio as the business environment changes and more information becomes available, creating new competition and strategies.

How do you work with business analysts? Share your experiences and best practices in a comment below. Also, if you’re looking to learn more about how business analysts can support practitioners, check out this pmi.org webpage.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: September 01, 2015 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

ICANN and the Need for Portfolio Management

By Wanda Curlee

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) oversees the Internet’s system of domain names, which include .com, .edu, .gov and .mil, among others. More broadly, the not-for-profit organization aims to keep the Internet “secure, stable and interoperable,” while promoting competition.

Unfortunately, for several reasons ICANN is in the midst of organizational change. ICANN’s current president and CEO announced in May that he’ll be leaving the organization next March, and the search for a new CEO will start soon. More countries are voicing their desire for free or low-cost Internet access and more domain name categories, while pushing their agendas. The disruptive potential of the Internet of Things is making ICANN leadership think as well.

All this change is driving change within ICANN—and creating a wonderful opportunity for portfolio managers.

ICANN needs to focus on strategic goals, which need to tie back to its charter. A strong portfolio manager should be able to assist the new CEO in pursuing and achieving strategic alignment. The portfolio manager will focus country representatives and those that work within ICANN to ensure that projects and programs meet a strategic need.

The organization may require more than one portfolio manager. There may be one master portfolio with several sub-portfolios focusing on specific strategies or goals. Alternatively, there may be several portfolios reporting straight into the C-suite.

The new CEO and other executives will provide strategic direction, and the portfolio manager should have their ear. While executives resolve strategic issues and travel to give presentations, work with governments and testify before government agencies, the portfolio manager is focused on driving strategic initiatives to the finish line.

The portfolio manager is the person at the helm turning strategic goals into results while making course adjustments when necessary. This is accomplished with a healthy governance structure, an understanding of the industry and environmental factors, and constant communication with the C-suite sponsor and major stakeholders.

I’ve focused on ICANN here, but this scenario is largely true for many organizations operating in the dynamic IT and telecommunications industries. The CEO and other executives' suite collectively serve as the captain, while the portfolio manager provides guidance to maintain a healthy bottom line while still achieving the organization’s strategic objectives.




Posted by Wanda Curlee on: July 17, 2015 08:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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)

Do Your Projects Have A Strategic Focus?

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? 

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: June 18, 2015 11:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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