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

Want to Be Ethical? Follow Principles, Not Rules

Portfolio Management Predictions for 2016

How to Spot a Top-Shelf Project Manager

3 Lessons From My First Project Manager Job

3 Strategic Resolutions For The New Year

3 Lessons From My First Project Manager Job

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Fifteen years ago, I transitioned from being an IT manager to a project manager for the first time. With this month’s theme at projectmanagement.com being “new practitioner PM,” here are three key lessons I learned while managing my first projects.

When I was an IT manager, I always had projects that were assigned to my department. I loved being part of large projects so much I realized I wanted to do it full-time. So I made a conscious decision to transition to being a dedicated project manager.

Managing a project is truly like being a CEO of your own company—you have authority over budget, resource and key decision-making responsibilities. However, it’s an art, and mastery takes time. These are the three fundamental lessons I learned:

1) Communication is about simplifying and personalizing.

Although we may hear that 90 percent of a project manager’s job is to communicate, the best communication is one that doesn’t contain acronyms, special terminology or techno-speak.

Remember that key stakeholders are often involved in multiple projects. To get their attention, you need to make your communications concise and personal while clearly specifying the action desired.

Avoid lengthy mass emails, and tailor the frequency and channel according to the person. One sponsor told me she gets so many emails that I should schedule a meeting if it’s important. Another sponsor told me he works best with instant messaging if I needed something immediately.

The key is to know your audience and adapt accordingly. My first sponsor meeting always includes finding out how and when he or she would like to be communicated with.

2) Project management is about knowing which tools to use when.

Yes, project management is about processes, knowledge areas and ITTOs (inputs, tools and techniques, outputs), according to the PMBOK Guide. But, most importantly, it’s a menu of available options.

Trying to do everything by the book or insisting on adherence to every single template and tool is setting yourself up for disaster. Assess the needs of the project, and don’t ignore the culture of the organization. You can’t go from zero processes to textbook processes overnight. You may need to start slow by introducing concepts and build from there.

3) Build relationships.

Trust is key. When you’re starting out as a project manager, you’re an unknown, so you need to work extra hard to establish the relationships. It’s important to come across as professional, yet approachable and flexible in order to build confidence with your team, and most importantly, your sponsors and key stakeholders. Regular, relaxed one-on-one meetings, such as getting coffee or grabbing lunch, help to build cohesive partnerships that will pay dividends when the going gets tough on the project.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 23, 2016 07:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

3 Strategic Resolutions For The New Year

by Dave Wakeman


The new year is a good time for every project manager to take a moment to pause and reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t worked during the last 12 months. Many of my blog posts last year (like this one, and this one) focused on the intersection of strategy and project management. So I thought it could be valuable to suggest three ways you can propel yourself, your projects and your organization forward in 2016.

1. Set clear goals and objectives. As a project manager, you’re usually like the CEO of your project. So even if you’re in an environment where most determinants of success and failure are laid out by others, you still have the opportunity to set goals and objectives that will set your team up for success.

Imagine a project that is stuck. If you’re in the middle of this situation, it’s a good time to sit down and look at the project holistically and try to define some goals and objectives to get the project moving again.

This might require more than just saying what you hope to achieve over the next month, quarter or year—it could involve ways that you can give your team some short-term wins to create new forward momentum. The important thing is to take the opportunity to stop, think carefully, and decide with intention which way you want to move.

2. Simplify communications and decision-making. One of the supreme challenges for all project managers is the constant need to juggle information and communicate to various stakeholders effectively. Being the filter for most communications can hamper and complicate the communication process. As a strategic-minded practitioner, you’re going to have to simplify processes to avoid becoming a bottleneck.

You may find it easy to streamline your communications and decision-making processes by taking the following three steps:

First, set clear expectations for communication.

Second, empower your teams to use their best judgment and to take action within certain well-defined parameters.

Third, regularly review these processes to reinforce what’s working and change things that aren’t working.

3. Always return to the outcomes you need to produce. I’m guilty of belaboring this point, because it’s essential. The end results are what you need to be working toward. You have to be clear on expected outcomes and what you are trying to achieve. This will inform every action, tactic and process you roll out in your projects.

Get started by clarifying the desired results of your project, and then break them down by each piece of work that you need to produce to make them reality.

If you do this in combination with the items in #2, you’re on your way to becoming even more of a strategic partner in your organization’s success. 

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: January 15, 2016 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

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

by Mario Trentim


In my previous post, I discussed “Frequently Avoided Questions About PMOs.” Now it’s time to successfully define a PMO using the Business Model Generation.

To do this, your organization must ask a number of questions before the PMO is created so that it can achieve its planned benefits. To help you get started, below are questions in nine categories, plus example answers for most.

Figure 1 – Business Model Canvas (Osterwalder, 2010)

1. Value proposition

What differentiates the PMO from existing organizational structures? How will the PMO create value for its customers? What products and services should the PMO offer, and how should they be offered?

The answer to these questions can be in the form of a mission statement, such as: “The Strategic PMO will be responsible for selecting, prioritizing and authorizing strategic projects, coordinating funds from functional areas and suppliers, negotiating with internal and external customer projects, and centralizing information to senior management.”

2. Customers

Who will the PMO’s customers be, and what are their needs and preferences?

Example answers: Functional managers will need information and reports about ongoing projects, plus a centralized system of planning and resource availability.

Project managers will need support in processes, methodology and templates. They’ll also need mentoring and coaching, historical information, lessons learned and documentation.

Project team members will need training, information, infrastructure and help with resource allocation.

Suppliers and contractors will need contracts and procurement management. They’ll also need project information and change request control.

Senior management will need consolidated information, metrics, dashboards and decision-making support.

3. Channels

How can PMO customers access the PMO’s functions? Where and how are the PMO's products and services going to be available?

Example answer: The PMO will offer its functions through in-person and online support, meetings and training sessions, coaching and mentoring, administrative support, enterprise project management, a contract management system, and phone or e-mail support.

4. Relationship

What type of relationship do customers expect to have with the PMO? How will the PMO interact with customers?

Example answer: The PMO will interact via feedback (meetings, suggestion box or email), an ombudsman, workshops and seminars, benchmarking, and monitoring the use of tools and infrastructure.

5. Revenue streams

What are the PMO’s potential sources of income? Will business units pay for PMO services? Does your PMO have an impact report or benefits realization plan to justify the resources needed to keep it running? What are the key success indicators of the PMO?

6. Partnerships

Which people or groups can help the PMO fulfill its mission? Should any functional area, such as human resources, partner with the PMO? Are there external organizations that may help your PMO?

Example answer: Consulting companies will provide training, the HR department will help define career paths, the IT department will help with infrastructure like computers and the network, and associations such as PMI or PMI chapters will promote joint workshops and seminars.

7. Key activities

What processes, procedures and activities must be performed within the PMO so that it materializes its value proposition and delivers it to customers?

Example answer: The PMO will select and prioritize projects, provide training, develop policies, methodology and templates, and provide IT software and infrastructure.

8. Key resources

What resources (people, equipment, infrastructure, money) are necessary for the functioning of the PMO and the realization of its activities?

9. Cost structure

What is the operating cost of the PMO, considering its activities, necessary resources and partnerships?

Example answer: The PMO will require funds for wages, infrastructure, software, books and publications, and consulting and training services.

Do you have any ideas on how to better define a PMO? Is there any way we could improve PMO implementation (or reshape existing PMOs) by using the Business Model Canvas? Please comment below!

And by the way: Visit PMI’s Knowledge Shelf to learn more about PMOs.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: January 06, 2016 07:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

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 (15)

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)

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

- Winston Churchill