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

How to Spot a Top-Shelf Project Manager

3 Lessons From My First Project Manager Job

3 Strategic Resolutions For The New Year

Knowledge Management: More Than Simply Learning Lessons

Want to Start a PMO? Make Sure You Answer These Questions First

The Right Way to Implement Portfolio Management: Baby Steps

By Wanda Curlee

Why do organizations implement portfolio management? There is no right or wrong answer. However, there is a right and wrong way to implement it. Sometimes organizations become so excited by the possibilities of portfolio management, they take the big bang approach. In other words, they implement everything at one time. This is definitely the wrong approach for almost all organizations.

A more desirable approach is what I like to call baby steps. With baby steps, there’s less to lose if something needs to be abandoned or tweaked to better meet the demands of the company. The first step of this approach is to develop the portfolio management methodology the company wants to eventually adopt. This helps leadership see the full value and builds buy-in.

For some, determining what to adopt first is very painful. My suggestion for deciding what aspects of portfolio management to implement first has to do with resources. Today, organizations usually lack all the resources needed to deliver everything desired. So start with your most in-demand resource—the type that gives you the most trouble—whether it’s human, capital, hardware or something else. Then take all your projects and programs and decide the order in which you’d like to deliver them. This is your portfolio roadmap. Are the in-demand resources in collision? In other words, would a scarcity of resources cause bottlenecks in project or program execution? Most likely the answer is yes.

Next, you might want to roughly determine the cost of each component (e.g., a project or program), the highest two risks on each one, and the perceived value of delivery. Cost is normally quantitative, but perceived value and risks may be qualitative. That’s okay. Just try to have four or five factors for each and assign a numeric value for low, medium and high. This makes it easier to come to consensus.

For each component, have concentric circles with value at the center, cost surrounding the value and finally a red circle to describe risk. For example:

The first set of circles has a relatively small value, but large cost and risk. For the amount of benefit received from this component, it might make sense to cancel.

The second set of circles shows a large value, a smaller cost and a large risk. Since the value is so large compared to the cost, it might be worthwhile to see if the risks can be reduced.

Finally, the last set of circles has a moderate value, a large cost and a fairly low risk. This may be a good one to keep, especially if the costs can be negotiated down.

Once each component has three circles, then the portfolio roadmap can be looked at again with each of these concentric circles. Does it match what you had before? Probably not. Based on the circles, you will probably make changes to the portfolio roadmap. Some portfolio components may be canceled and others will change priorities.

Yes, the resource that causes bottlenecks or collisions still needs to be evaluated, because most likely there are still some issues. However, you may have more resources because some components were canceled or delayed. With a better handle on what components can and should be executed when, you’re on your way to a successful rollout of portfolio management at your organization.

Have you ever done this kind of resource audit and prioritizing at your organization? If so, has it helped?


Posted by Wanda Curlee on: December 22, 2015 07:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Are You Managing For The Right Outcomes?

by Dave Wakeman

Last month I wrote about measuring your project’s ROI. Part of that discussion included the idea that in the end, your projects need to be measured according to the outcomes they produce and not the actions that are taken.

So I wanted to take a few minutes to go back over the concept of outcomes and how outcomes, execution and strategy play together to deliver successful projects.

1. Outcomes are all that matter: Every project has deliverables and actions that are meant to drive the project forward and give stakeholders an understanding of where things are and what is happening. The fact is, things like schedules, a work breakdown structure and risk assessments are just tactics that are meant to move your project closer to its end goal: the outcome!

In every project the only relevant measurements of success are the outcomes. Outcomes mean things like a fully functioning product or service, a project delivered on time and schedule, and one that meets the goals of the client and stakeholders.

So try to frame your project conversations in terms of the outcomes and the tasks important to those outcomes. Instead of an activity, think about how these activities play into timelines and budgets or into the overall success of the project.

2. Outcomes aren’t always obvious to everyone: It can be very easy to take a black-and-white view on outcomes. But the truth is that depending on where you are in a project and the role you play, the outcomes may not always be obvious to you.

Why? It’s pretty simple, really. In any situation, we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the actions and activities that are most important to us. So when we look at projects, it can be easy to just think about the tasks we need to do to clear out our schedule or to move onto the next task on our checklist.

Most of this isn’t intentional, so you may have to spend some time relating to team members how activities play into the desired outcomes or even spending time communicating the vision of how the project will play out in the organization.

3. Always be prepared to change: We spend a lot of time talking about risks and change in projects, but I think that in many instances these two skills aren’t applied with as much success and consistency as desired.

But the process of implementing your strategy and optimizing execution comes with the basic jumping-off point of needing to understand, prepare for and embrace change as a constant within all projects.

To better prepare yourself for change, develop this mindset: you are going to communicate consistently with your stakeholders and proactively manage where your project stays within the marketplace, the desired outcomes that the project will produce, and changes in the circumstances of resources and other internal factors.

The simplest way to think about a project is as a set of activities that can be checked off on the way to completion. In fact, a lot of projects are managed that way.

But to be the best project manager and a partner to your organization’s success, you have to make the effort to keep strategy top of mind while executing for the right outcomes. I think these three tips will get you started.

What do you think? 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: December 08, 2015 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Why I’ll Be in Arizona Next Week

By Wanda Curlee

I’m a big fan of PMI’s annual PMO symposiums. I presented at last year’s symposium in Miami, Florida, USA and I’ll be presenting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA next week at this year’s event.

Why do I make the trip each year? There are many reasons. Each symposium acts as a crossroads of sorts between general management and project management. Each gives me a chance to speak with senior leaders in a one-on-one environment. And copies of PMI’s latest installment of the Thought Leadership Series, which features in-depth original research and analysis, are given out to attendees.

This year’s series is on “The Power of Project Portfolio Management.” As a certified portfolio manager, I want to leverage that research to increase my ability to provide powerful portfolios for my current company and future clients.

Last year, the symposium focused on talent management, and PMI’s talent triangle was a focal point. That, coupled with the introduction of the portfolio management certification (PfMP), made for an exciting and fruitful experience.

Senior leaders from many organizations discussed the value of the talent triangle and how portfolios, programs and projects help drive the talent in their respective organizations. Hearing executives discuss and present the practical side of what the project management discipline has done for their organizations was invaluable.

But the bit that I found most fascinating had to do with corporate citizenship. When running a portfolio, trust should be established so that program and project managers are willing to give back funds in excess of actual projects and programs.

It’s an odd concept, but when followed on a quarterly basis, it builds the understanding that more projects and programs can be funded and—most important—there are funds on hand if you find your project or program is in trouble. There’s no concept of shoot the messenger.

This year’s PMO symposium, held from November 8th to the 11th, will once again draw senior leaders from an impressive array of organizations. The networking opportunities will be vast.

If you’ll be in Phoenix, stop by my educational session on why a portfolio manager should be the CEO’s best friend. Yes, I truly believe that portfolio management can drive better management of corporate resources and increase the bottom line for all companies. Resources are finite at every company—and portfolio managers work to allocate them efficiently.

If you don’t agree with something I say, speak up—I’m there to learn, too.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: November 05, 2015 07:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

5 Things Unsuccessful Portfolio Managers Do

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

I am amazed that so many projects and programs (and by extension, portfolios) are still so challenged. Forty-four percent of projects are unsuccessful, and we waste $109 million for each $1 billion in project expenditures, according to the 2015 edition of PMI’s Pulse of the Profession.

One solution that the report identifies is mature portfolio management processes. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of five things that unsuccessful portfolio managers do—and what they should focus on doing instead.

1.  Worry about things they can’t change.

Unsuccessful portfolio managers worry about the past or dwell on problems outside their immediate influence. Successful portfolio managers learn from the past and move on. Sometimes, failures turn into lessons that create the foundation for future growth and opportunity.

Portfolio managers should stay focused on what can we influence, negotiate and communicate, as well as what we can start, stop and sustain. Every month or quarter, assess the processes, programs and projects in your span of control. Decide which to start, stop and sustain, and develop action plans around those decisions (including dates, resources required and collaborators).

2.  Give up when things get too hard.

It may be easy to throw in the towel when conditions become challenging. But the hallmark of a good portfolio manager is the ability to find solutions.

Sometimes, our immediate reaction to a proposal is to think the timeframes or goals are not possible. However, when we get the team together to focus on what can be done, we come up with creative solutions. It’s necessary to gather the facts and do the analysis instead of jumping to conclusions.

3.  Set unattainable goals.

There’s a difference between a stretch goal and an impossible one. Sometimes, projects or programs don’t start off as unattainable (see #2 above) or undoable, but they become so.

Although we may be good at starting projects or programs, there’s not enough emphasis on stopping them. The environment (internal or external) may have changed, key resources may no longer be available, organizational priorities may have shifted, or the business buy-in might take too long. Rather than calling attention to the situation and recommending a “no go,” unsuccessful portfolio managers tend to press on with blinders. This wastes time and resources.

Once I was managing a $500 million portfolio of international expansion programs and projects. The portfolio sponsor told me, “I want to know if we’re falling off the cliff.” Although we hope our programs or projects never get to that point, his words did clearly specify the role I was supposed to play.

4.  Stay in your comfort zone.

It’s easy to create a portfolio in which the potential for risk and failure is low. But that means we may be missing out on opportunities for innovation or great returns. Advocating change in your portfolio requires taking calculated risks that you can learn from or will pay off in the longer term. The successful portfolio manager will advocate taking good risks (aka opportunities) instead of blindly going forward with bad risks.

Taking advantage of opportunities is the key to transformation and reinvention. It’s essential to any organization that wants to survive long-term. For example, who could’ve predicted just a few years ago that Amazon, Netflix and even YouTube would become rivals to TV and movie studios in providing original entertainment? This required calculated risk taking.

5.  Forget about balance.

Balance is important, whether it’s balancing your portfolio or balancing your work and your life. If you’re not performing your best because you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s going to affect your portfolio. Especially with technology blending our work and personal time, it’s sometimes hard to think about balance. One survey showed that we’re checking our phones up to 150 times per day. But remember the basics: eat well, exercise, take time to de-stress, and set aside time for yourself, family and friends. 

What do you notice unsuccessful portfolio managers do, and what would you recommend instead? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: October 10, 2015 11:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

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)

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"

- Albert Einstein