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
Vivek Prakash
Christian Bisson
Rebecca Braglio
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Roberto Toledo
Wanda Curlee

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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)

Strategy in Action = Organizational Project Management

By Conrado Morlan

All organizations want to achieve and maintain competitive advantage. But when it comes to project management practices, not all organizations are doing what’s necessary to stand apart from competitors. Why? Some are stuck in a traditional mindset.

To elaborate: For years, organizations have looked for competitive advantage through a traditional project management approach that is operational in nature and includes strict controls focused on schedules, budgets and resources. The problem with this approach is that sometimes even when projects meet controls—i.e., they’re completed on time and within budget—organizations don’t achieve competitive advantage through the expected benefits.

On the other hand, some innovative organizations are opting to evolve from an operational to an organizational project management (OPM) approach. This approach conceives of projects strictly as a means to achieve business objectives defined through the organization’s strategy. These organizations have a project and program management mindset at their core. Because of that commitment, their projects meet original goals more often than the average organization. 

The payoff is huge, according to PMI's 2015 Pulse of the Profession® report, which was released last month. High-performing organizations—those who view project management as strategy implementation, and support it— waste 13 times less money than their competitors.

Taking It to the Next Level

The results suggest that to successfully take the OPM route, organizations must be committed to creating a culture that views project management as a tool for attaining business objectives stemming from strategy.

They must aim for a project execution approach that is both controlled and agile, in order to adapt to potential strategy changes. To ensure successful project outcomes, organizations taking the OPM approach must also focus on talent management. They should look for project managers who not only have the requisite technical skills, but also can step into more strategic and leadership roles.

Organizations adopting OPM will use standardized project management practices. This process will be supported by an improved project governance process that will ensure projects are highly aligned to the strategy of the organization.

As organizations transition into OPM, they should implement a benefit realization training program that showcases examples of strong, focused project management practices that achieved intended strategic benefits. It helps to share these examples across the organization to reveal the effectiveness of strategic project alignment.

Is your organization in the process of taking its project management approach to the next level through OPM? If so, what changes have you experienced in terms of management and project expectations?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: March 02, 2015 11:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Smart Organizations Sync Talent With Strategy

For all the talk of an economic recovery, many organizations continue to obsess over headcount. But a smaller (and smarter) group is focusing on getting the right people on the right projects -- positioning those people and the organization itself to grow. 

The payoff can be huge, according to PMI's Pulse of the Professionâ„¢ In-Depth Report: Talent Management. On average, 72 percent of projects meet their original goals and business intent at organizations with significant or good alignment between their talent management and organizational strategies. Now put that up against the 58 percent rate at organizations with moderate or weak alignment. 

Despite the potential ROI, only 10 percent of organizations report significant alignment. That stat takes on added significance when you consider what's shaping up as a true talent crisis. 

Pulse data revealed four in five organizations report difficulty in finding qualified project management candidates to fill open positions. Some organizations are resorting to some serious poaching -- check the battle for project talent between Silicon Valley tech titans Apple, Google, Yahoo! and Facebook. China Road and Bridge Corporation is adopting a more long-term approach, according to China Daily. Looking to build talent in a strategic market for its projects, the company is sponsoring a group of Congolese students to study engineering and project management in Xi'an, China. 

In this case, organizations that align talent management and strategy have an edge, reporting less difficulty in filling open positions. 

Organizations that align talent management to organizational strategy are also more effective at implementing formalized career paths, with 83 percent moving new hires to advanced project management positions. Among organizations with weak alignment, that number drops to 62 percent. 

The MD Anderson Cancer Center, for example, clearly outlines the path up. It requires 10 years of experience (including five years of project management) and a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential for senior project managers who manage highly complex strategic projects that span three or more organizational boundaries. Establishing a career path not only makes employees feel like the organization has a vested interest in them, it also helps the organization spot -- and close -- any skills gaps that might prevent it from delivering on its business goals.

Recruiting and retaining top talent will only get organizations so far. They need to measure results, too. Across the board, organizations with strong alignment are more likely to measure outcomes such as staff turnover, learning development, and employee engagement, retention and productivity. 

U.S. space agency NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), for example, tracks the effectiveness of its professional development courses by assessing enrollment numbers and feedback from senior leadership. Armed with that information, the PMI Global Executive Council member knows what's working -- and what's not. 

No doubt, creating a talent management program comes with a hefty price tag. But consider the danger of skimping: On a US$1 billion project, organizations with significant or good alignment of talent management programs to organizational strategy put US$50 million fewer dollars at risk than organizations with moderate or weak alignment.  

With those kinds of numbers on the line, the bigger question is: Can an organization afford not to make the investment? 

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: April 08, 2013 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Executive Sponsorship: Benefits of Advising Upward

The purpose of a project or program is to have its deliverables create value. But this value can only be realized if the new process or artifact 'delivered' by the project is actually used to achieve the intended improvements.

Executives have a central role in this process. There is a direct link between the decision to make an investment in a project and the need for the organization to make effective use of the deliverables to generate the intended benefits. In turn, this creates a valuable ROI.

According to PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession, in organizations where senior management has at least a moderate understanding of project and program management, 59 percent of the projects successfully meet or exceed the anticipated ROI. This is compared to just 51 percent of the projects in organizations where the senior management has a limited comprehension of project and program management.

This is where a project sponsor comes in.

An effective sponsor is the direct link between the executive and the project or program. The sponsor is crucial to ensuring top-level management support for the project contributes to the project's success and is critical to achieving the ultimate goal of generating an ROI.

According to Pulse, 75 percent of high-performing organizations have active sponsors on 80 percent or more of their projects.

If your project has an effective sponsor, make full use of his or her support. The challenge facing the rest of us is persuading less effective sponsors to improve their level of support.

To impart project knowledge into other areas of the business, the team needs to be able to 'advise upward.' Here are three tips to do so:

1. Create a conversation about value with other project managers and teams within your organization. This is a very different proposition to being simply on time, scope and budget. It's about the ultimate value to the organization created by using the outputs from its projects and programs. The key phrase is "How we can help make our organization better?"

2. Use the right evidence. Benchmarking your organization against its competitors is a good start, as is understanding what high-performing organizations do.
3. Link the information you bring into the conversation with the needs of the organization. Show your organization's executive how this can provide direct benefits.

In most parts of the world, organizations need to do more with less to stay competitive. Developing the skills of project sponsors so they are active is one proven way to achieve a significant improvement with minimal cost.

In fact, if projects are supported more effectively, there may be cost savings and increased value at the same time. And what's in it for us as project managers? We have a much-improved working environment. Everyone wins.

Do you have an active sponsor on your project? Do you think active sponsors improve project success? How involved are the executives in your organization?

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.

See more on the Pulse of the Profession.
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: August 22, 2012 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Strategic Role of Project Management

I have a bit of resentment for organizations that view the role of a project manager as that of a 'traffic cop.' That is, as someone who simply ensures that requirements are documented, meetings facilitated, conference call numbers set up and everyone has their assignments in on time.

To be sure, these are all important facets of a project. But I believe that any qualified project manager should be performing these actions as a reflex. In other words, this is not the primary role of a project manager but simply the basic administrative tasks of a much bigger role.

That's why I was pleased to see the results of PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession report. Among many interesting findings, this observation hit home:

Research conducted with senior project management leaders on PMI's Global Executive Council found that the most important skill for managing today's complex projects and programs is the ability to align the team to the vision of the project and design the project's organizational structure to align people and project objectives.

This is the key to the future growth and a value-add of project management in today's organizations. If your company is not positioning project managers to help define, communicate and drive the strategic vision and goals of the projects project managers are responsible for, it is under-utilizing their resources.

Project managers should not view themselves as simply the administrative support team for a group of subject matter experts and executives. They should take ownership of the overall success of the projects they run. This goes well beyond meeting the key performance indicators that have been set out for them. It also includes recognizing and providing the strategic value of the project to the organization.

Beyond understanding the fundamentals of project management as laid out by A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), you should also take the initiative to know your business and the industry in which you work. This way, you not only recognize the obvious success indicators but also the more subtle success factors -- and risks -- of the decisions you and your team make.

Take heart, Project Managers. It appears our true value-add is finally starting to be recognized. But also take heed: You must up your game to ensure you remain valuable in today's project management field.

How can project managers help align projects to organizational goals?

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.

See more on the Pulse of the Profession.

Posted by Geoff Mattie on: August 14, 2012 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

"I never thought much of the courage of a lion-tamer. Inside the cage he is at least safe from people."

- George Bernard Shaw