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

Is Managing Risk a Negative Way to Work?

Don’t Shout the Loudest—Think Ahead

Can We Use the Principles of Newspeak for Good?

The Customer Is Always Digital—So Make the Experience Right

Reality Check: Stop Being So Optimistic

The Customer Is Always Digital—So Make the Experience Right

By Peter Tarhanidis

New and proliferating digital technologies are giving rise to new competitive businesses while transforming legacy organizations. It’s no longer just about the Internet, but increasingly tech-savvy users and inexpensive smartphones and tablets.

From an organizational perspective, it’s not just a matter of grappling with new technical platforms: The relationship between organizations and their customers is being transformed.

Before, the cornerstone of customer service was the golden rule: treat your customers the way you want to be treated. Customer relationships were facilitated and managed within just a few departments.

Disruptive technologies have enabled a shift to a new paradigm: customer empowerment. This ushered in the new platinum rule: treat your customers the way they want to be treated. Disruptive technologies integrate organizations to their digital customer experience and are simultaneously influenced by social, consumer and professional media portals like Facebook, Yelp, NetPromoter Scores, and LinkedIn.

Now, much of the work and measurement of this activity is shared across the entire supply chain of the customer journey, which requires more cross-team collaboration to report on the customer experience.

So the importation question has become: How can we make the digital customer experience flawless? This is the new competitive differentiator for companies. Those that stand apart in this respect build market leverage.

Project managers are one asset organizations have at their disposal to ensure success with this new digital customer experience dynamic. Here’s a four-stop roadmap for optimizing your organization for the brave new digital world we all live in.

  1. Establish a plan to:
    • Identify current customer journey paths.
    • Optimize those paths into one consistent and simple location.
    • Digitize that journey and make it available online, mobile and global.
  2. Build the requisite foundation required to sustain the digital journey (e.g., big data analytics, and mobile-first and cloud infrastructure).
  3. Transition customers from legacy operating approaches into the new digital journey with a change management plan that leads to sustainable adoption.
  4. Improve the experience by acting on key performance metrics that gauge the quality of the customer’s entire journey—don’t just rely on the customer service department for quality control.

How is your organization adapting to the new realities of our digital customer age? Please take a moment and share your thoughts.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: November 17, 2015 03:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative


“Creative” is rarely a word used to describe project managers. Typically, they’re called “organized,” “good communicators,” etc.

A colleague of mine inspired me when he said that a good project manager is a creative one. I was confused at first, but his explanation made sense. To be able to take advantage of great opportunities as they present themselves, a good project manager needs to be creative with the scope and the budget as the project evolves.

In other words, project managers shouldn’t automatically respond: “No, we can’t, it’s out of scope or budget.” Instead, they should say: “How can we make it work?” Genius!

Every project manager is guilty of refusing a great idea when the team comes up with something out of scope or budget. It’s easy to say “no,” but it’s a lot more rewarding for you, the team and the project to find a way. That’s where you get creative!

The first solution that generally comes to mind is upselling the idea to stakeholders and asking for more funds. This could be denied, or it might not even be an option if the budget is fixed.

Another solution is to reduce another part of the scope or even remove it completely to accommodate this new idea. There are often “nice to haves” on projects, and they can be traded for better ideas. That’s where the new idea needs to be sold as more efficient than what’s being removed.

Other solutions can be outsourcing to reduce some costs, or even pulling some strings if needed. And you know what? You don’t have to do this thinking alone—give your team the chance to contribute ideas. You might find out that if some features are slightly different, you can save effort here and there, and then you are able to transfer some budget somewhere else.

The key point here is leaving “no” as a last resort, and asking yourself and the team: “How can we make it work?


How are you creative with your projects?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: October 29, 2015 07:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

The Best Way to Ensure Project Success? Understand and Control the Scope

By Marian Haus, PMP

There are dozens of studies about project failure. (To name just three: Standish Group’s Chaos reports, PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession®: The High Cost of Low Performance and Gartner’s 2012 survey on why projects fail). There are at least as many reasons why projects fail.

Although in some cases forces external to a project can imperil its success, I am convinced that properly managing internal factors, particularly scope, is a key enabler for project success. This is because internal factors can be controlled, while external factors can merely be influenced.

Let’s take some classic reasons projects fail and tackle their root causes from a project scope management perspective.

Vague or unclear requirements and no change control—aka the never-ending scope. These are typical problems related to poor project scope management. The remedy is straightforward. Complete and clear requirements should make it to the scope; anything else poses a risk. In addition, at least a basic change management process is required to keep scope creep under control.

Lack of clear roles and responsibilities (R&R). You tailor your project team around the scope work that needs to be carried out. Because of this, you have to be clear about what your project needs to deliver. This includes product specifications, product design, implementation, integration with other related product parts, validation, delivery, etc.

If the lack of R&R clarity lies within your client organization or with an organization external to your project, then break down your project scope into specific deliverables and lay out the assumption and prerequisites for delivering them. For example, a product specification will have to be reviewed and signed off by the client, the client is expected to provide you with the validation benchmarks, etc.

A lack of R&R often results in lack of ownership and accountability of deliverables.

Underestimated timelines. This can happen especially if estimations are done based on insufficient information or when the scope is not well understood. Estimates are consequently rough, based on previous experience, approximations and assumptions. If conditions are changing during the project lifecycle, this can lead to time or budget overruns.

Unclear and/or unrealistic expectations. This is often related to the project scope. Your project team might be unclear about what it is supposed to deliver or what level of quality and maturity your deliverable will have to pass to meet the acceptance criteria. In other cases, the team might be unclear on how the delivery of your project scope will impact the receiving organization.

Project complexity. This relates mainly to the failure to break down a large scope into more manageable pieces and deliverables. If the list of deliverables is not clear, the sequence in which these are to be produced will not be determined. If the deliverables’ relation to each other isn’t clear, then team members will just be busy delivering something, sometime, for some level of effort. This leads to missing the project goal or ending up with time or budget overruns.

A well-understood and executed scope brings you a huge step closer to finishing your project successfully.

What is your experience with managing project scopes? What key factors, other than scope, do you see as enablers for project success?

Posted by Marian Haus on: October 19, 2015 02:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

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)

The 3 Things That Transcend All Project Approaches

by Dave Wakeman

Recently I had the chance to engage with Microsoft’s social media team about some of the issues I have been covering here. Their team brought up a question you may have asked as well: How do you differentiate between “digital” project management and project management?

It’s an interesting question, because I firmly believe all projects should be delivered within a very similar framework. The framework enables you to make wise decisions and understand the project’s goals and objectives.

I understand that there are many types of project management philosophies: waterfall, agile, etc. Each of these methods has pros and cons. Of course, you should use the method you are most comfortable with and that gives you the greatest likelihood of success.

But regardless of which project management approach you employ, there are three things all practitioners should remember at the outset of every project to move forward with confidence.

Every project needs a clear objective. Even if you aren’t 100-percent certain what the “completed” project is going to look like, you can still have an idea of what you want the project’s initial iteration to achieve. This allows you to begin work with a direction and not just a group of tasks.

So, even if you only have one potential outcome you want to achieve, starting there is better than just saying, “Let’s do these activities and hope something comes out of it.”

Frameworks enable valuable conversations. I love talking about decision-making frameworks for both organizations and teams. They’re valuable not because they limit thought processes, but because they enable you to make decisions based on what you’re attempting to achieve.

Instead of looking at the framework as a checklist, think of it as a conversation you’re having with your project and your team. This conversation enables you to keep moving your project toward its goal.

During the execution phase, it can give you the chance to check the deliverable against your original goals and the current state of the project within the organization. Just never allow the framework to put you in a position where you feel like you absolutely have to do something that doesn’t make sense.

Strong communication is the bedrock. To go back to the question from Microsoft’s social media team about digital vs. regular project management: the key concept isn’t the field or areas that a project takes place in.

No matter what kind of project you’re working on and in which sector you’re in, the critical skill for project success is your ability to communicate effectively with all the project stakeholders.

This skill transcends any specific industry. As many of us have learned, it may constitute about 90 percent of a project manager’s job. You can put this into practice in any project by taking a moment to write down your key stakeholders and the information you need to get across to them. Then put time in your calendar to help make sure you are effective in delivering your communications.

In the end, I don’t think there should be much differentiation between “digital” projects or any other kind of projects. All projects benefit from having a set of goals and ideas that guide them. By trying to distinguish between different project classifications, we lose sight of the real key to success in project management: teamwork and communication.

What do you think? 

By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 30, 2015 09:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

"Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform."

- Mark Twain