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

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Influence Without Authority

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)

Do's and Don'ts for Portfolio Managers

Categories: Portfolio Management

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:

  • Strategic alignment. Portfolio managers are unique in that they are the only role focused solely on the future strategic intent of the organization.
  • Processes to assist the organization in prioritizing and selecting the right work -- including governance, developing the portfolio structure, and optimizing the portfolio.
  • Resource allocation. It's not just human resources that should be accounted for, but also financial, and equipment or materials. With staffing, it's important to take into account not just available capacity but also capability to do the work. For example, if there are new hires needed for a program, the appropriate training and onboarding ramp-up should be taken into consideration.
  • Continuous monitoring of the broader internal and external environments, including strategic changes. Strategic changes usually result from an organization's response to an external change. An example is the Affordable Care Act. It's an external change that may result in changes to the organization's strategy, which will result in portfolio changes and a review of what should be started, stopped, or sustained.
  • The aggregate -- by definition, the portfolio is a collection of projects, programs, and operational work.
  • Performance of the portfolio -- monitoring the planned vs. realized value.
  • Ensuring communications and stakeholder engagement, especially at an executive level. In addition to reporting the overall status of the portfolio, portfolio managers have a responsibility to communicate the overall portfolio vision to project/program leaders.
  • Risks as well as opportunities. A better way to state this might be to monitor for threats and seek opportunities 
  • Organizational change management. Enabling the future state of the portfolio and ensuring that the changes stick through the development of the right business processes is critical.
  • Ongoing operations of the portfolio. Unlike projects or programs, portfolios do not have a beginning and end.  However, they may evolve according to the strategic needs of the organization.
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:

  • Managing project/program managers. I've heard functional managers that have project/program managers reporting to them refer to themselves as portfolio managers, which causes unnecessary confusion.
  • Managing the execution of programs or projects. They are not focused on the execution of the work, but rather on the oversight of the collection of projects, programs, and operational work.
  • Managing triple constraints. They are not focused on the program or project scope, timelines, or budget, but rather the overall impact on the portfolio.
  • Managing the PMO. Although there may be aspects of portfolio management within the PMO, simply reporting on status, monitoring the budget, and holding governance meetings does not equate to overseeing the end-to-end process.
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 portfolio.management@pmi.org.
Posted by Jen Skrabak on: August 27, 2013 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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