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
Wanda Curlee

Recent Posts

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Taking It to the Next Level: Portfolio Management

By Wanda Curlee

 

As a project manager, you may have worked within a program or portfolio, or both. You may have seen what seemed to be a successful project slowed or canceled, and been confused or upset by this. Why would higher-ups end a project that’s proceeding within scope and budget and on schedule?

The answer, most likely, has to do with the project’s position relative to the organization’s strategy and the portfolio in which the project resided. While working in the for-profit world and consulting on U.S. government projects, programs and portfolios, I’ve learned that program and portfolio managers in all sectors have to make tough decisions about which projects to deprioritize or cancel.

Back when I was a project manager — I earned my Project Management Professional (PMP)® in 1993 — I found myself on the receiving end of bad news from program and portfolio managers. I responded by asking questions to learn as much as I could from the portfolio or program manager. My initial goal was to mature my project management skills, but I ultimately decided I wanted to work at the portfolio level.

Portfolio management is an area of growing interest within organizations and at PMI. The institute’s newest certification, the Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)®, is an expression of that. I had the opportunity to help define the PfMP® by serving on the core team that established the first iteration of the certificate, which launched in August 2014.

Some may think PMI mainly offers specialty certifications, such as risk (PMI-RMP)®, schedule (PMI-SP)® or agile (PMI-ACP)®. In fact, the PfMP offers a different kind of path, one that can help practitioners build a more strategic mindset and skill set within the world of project management.

Portfolio Management 101

So what do portfolio managers do?

First of all, a portfolio manager normally works for a C-level executive or a business unit head. While project/program management experience is not a requirement to be a portfolio manager, it can be a valuable entry point.

The portfolio manager structures the portfolio to meet the strategic needs of an organization. She views projects and programs from a strategic perspective. Whereas the project manager is worried about doing things right, the portfolio manager is worried about doing the right things.

Each of these roles is very important to the success of the organization. Let’s go back to the scenario above, where a project manager is annoyed by the cancellation of a project that was tracking well.

Think about it from the portfolio perspective: The portfolio manager may have canceled your project because another business unit started implementing something similar. The portfolio manager has to decide which project should continue and which shouldn’t.

Ready for a Career Pivot?

Okay, perhaps you’re ready to move into portfolio management. What’s the best way to transition out of the project level?

In my case, I looked for projects that matched the strategic needs of the organization. I tried to work at companies that were growing or changing. I volunteered to take the helm of projects that seemed difficult. Eventually, I managed my first portfolio.

Above all, I recommend pushing yourself to maximize experiences that help you understand the business. Strive for positions that expose you to strategy.

Also, remember that your expertise in project management can help you stand out from other portfolio manager candidates. You know how to measure success, and you have the discipline to run governance for a portfolio.

Is it worth your while to strive for the PfMP credential at some point? In one word: yes. I believe it will come to be recognized as the mark of in-depth portfolio management skill and experience.

Why do I think that? Well, back in 1993, when I earned my PMP, there were fewer than 1,500 people with that credential. Today, of course, more than half a million people have a PMP.

The PfMP is just getting started, but we’ve already seen a 57 percent jump in certifications since its official launch last year. By definition, there will always be fewer portfolio managers than project managers in the world — but I see a bright future for this line of work.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: February 12, 2015 01:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

2025 Vision: The Future of PMOs

By Kevin Korterud

 

To mark the new year, I decided to make a rather ambitious resolution: envision the future of project management offices (PMOs). Specifically,  what PMOs will be like in the year 2025.

In retrospect, a New Year’s resolution to exercise more or take up a new hobby might have been easier. But here goes.

In 2015, PMOs of all types face a growing number of challenges. These include larger and more complex programs, workforces spread across different locations, time zones and cultures, integration needs and a shortage of skilled technologists. All of these trends will likely intensify in the next 10 years.

While there have been significant advances in the area of program delivery with agile methods, work planning tools and other enhancements, we need to rethink the function of the PMO with regard to its readiness to deal with a constantly changing and challenging business environment.

Here’s how I think PMOs could — and should — be functioning in 2025:

 

1. Mega PMO. Today all sorts of PMOs are spread across an organization: enterprise, business, program and transformation PMOs. Organizationally, these PMOs are typically fragmented across multiple business functions and governance structures. In addition, each PMO can operate independently of each other.

Given the complexity and scale of contemporary programs, this scenario has inherent risk from a delivery integration and coordination standpoint. For effective and safe delivery in the future, all PMOs need to be brought into a single organization and centralized command structure responsible for the oversight of all delivery programs.

This “Mega PMO” would go beyond the strategic roles played by Enterprise PMOs (EPMOs)—like portfolio management and benefits realization—to encompass tactical and operational services as well.  

The level of integration on today’s delivery programs compels a move to this new PMO operating model.    

 

2. Mega-PMO Partitioning. We must also address the strategic, tactical and operational needs of contemporary program delivery. This can come about by structuring the PMO of the future into functions that provide services and direction at all three of these levels.

For example, portfolio management, benefits realization and strategic planning would reside in a function that is staffed with highly skilled resources. Administrative and operational activities such as work plan updates, status report production and financial tracking would be in a service center function using resources with matching skills.

 

3. Unified Program Managers. It’s common today to have program managers embedded in various parts of an organization. While this results in program manager specialization, it does little to harmonize program management approaches and activities.

Just as program oversight would be brought into a single organization, so should the program managers overseeing program delivery. This would ensure both existing and new program managers collaborate and execute in a coordinated manner.

In addition, the centralization of program managers would also enable the development of program managers’ skills in ways that typically wouldn’t happen while embedded in a business function.    

 

4. A Master Control Room. In a prior article, I mentioned the need for and benefits of a program control room. The creation of a single PMO compels the need for a centralized control venue to enable effective delivery oversight.

To manage the quantity, complexity and scale of future programs, this PMO master control room would need to resemble a control room in a manufacturing environment. This would include display screens, consistent representation of status, incident resolution rooms and other enabling technologies that drive effective program delivery.    

 

This vision of the future aligns with the trends and trajectories of delivery programs. Not unlike how manufacturing, supply chain and other core business processes moved from craft to industrialized systems, the design and operation of PMOs need to change to support the delivery programs of tomorrow.    

What do you think the future will hold for PMOs? I welcome your reactions!

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: January 16, 2015 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

8 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Project Portfolio

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

As you reflect on 2014 and prepare for the New Year, consider these eight resolutions for your project portfolio in 2015.

1.     Be a portfolio leader. Don’t just manage the portfolio — lead it by thinking in terms of profits and losses. In that sense, how does it compare to other portfolios or business units? What was your 2014 return on investment, and what is your 2015 estimated return? Is this within your organization’s expectations? What projects/programs were a drag and should be stopped? What projects/programs have the potential to generate the most returns and can be a calculated risk? (A calculated risk has a reasonable probability of generating a return; of course, what is “reasonable” depends on your organization’s risk appetite and threshold.)  If you were an investor, would you invest in your portfolio? Asking these questions may help you decide what to do differently in 2015.

2.     Accelerate the business. Ensure strategic alignment by thinking about your portfolio as dynamic and agile — an accelerator to business goals and objectives. How can you free up resources to innovate rather than just keep the lights on?

3.     Sell your portfolio’s value by understanding your audience. Speak the organization’s language while remembering the 5 C’s: clear, concise, credible, creative and compelling:

Clear— Frame the discussion in terms the other party can easily relate to and understand.

Concise— Long decks and presentations will lose your audience. Think elevator speeches: If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s probably too complicated to understand. And if it’s too complicated, then you will not have the opportunity to influence, let alone reach agreement.

Credible— Know what you’re talking about and be prepared. This means doing your homework before coming to the table.

Creative— Look beyond the obvious to find the solution.

Compelling— Always know what’s important to the other party and what will drive them to action. Tease out the underlying need instead of only the stated desire. Understand what your bottom line is, and theirs.

4.     Establish a culture of innovation. Do this, and you can deliver long-term as well as quick wins. 

5.     Make data-driven decisions.Look at the facts to drive decisions, not emotions. Don’t get attached to pet projects.

6.     Engage with the world.Go beyond stakeholder engagement at work. Don’t forget about yourself, your home and your community.

7.     Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That little voice is an early indicator — listen to it. Sometimes when we forge ahead against our instincts, we find out later that it would have been better to take another course.

8.     Find meaning in your portfolio. Your portfolio delivers the impossible — innovative projects and programs that have not been done before. What achievements in the past year were key to the organization, in terms of values, culture and feeding creative juices? How can you do more of that in 2015?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 06, 2015 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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)
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