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
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Recent Posts

7 Ways to Align Portfolio Management with Strategy

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

The Common Sense of Risk and Opportunity

How Does OPM Fit In?

Meet the Culture Change Challenge With These 3 Tips

7 Ways to Align Portfolio Management with Strategy

by Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Successfully implementing strategic initiatives is a high priority for most organizations; however, few organizations are doing it well, if at all. In fact, only 10 percent are aligning portfolio management with strategy implementation.

Based on my experience, there are seven critical success factors to align portfolio management with strategy:

1. Agility: This is a broad umbrella for organizational culture and processes that are nimble and versatile. Being nimble suggests speed in reacting and being versatile suggests flexibility and adaptability. It’s crucial to build a nimble and flexible organization and portfolio management processes to take advantage of internal or external changes. Portfolio management must be seen as the enabler of strategic change and anticipate iterative, incremental and frequent adjustments to the portfolio.

2. The 3 C’s: Culture, Change Management and Communications: The “triple threat” of portfolio management is having all three components work in harmony to enable the strategy. Culture can be thought of as the personality and habits that an organization embodies, and although it may be difficult to describe, it can be seen and felt when walking around an organization. It’s been commonly cited that up to 97 percent of the employees in an organization don’t understand the strategy, and over 90 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail due to culture clashes. 

Rather than letting culture just happen by accident, organizations should consciously build and shape the culture of the organization. And, of course, the culture must be socialized through communications and change management to not only convey the right messages and keep employees engaged, but also recognize and reward the right behaviors.

3. Governance: Good portfolio management processes ensure these core governance functions are implemented:

·         Oversight: Leadership, guidance and direction. The key is being involved (through visible engagement and support in problem solving and removing barriers), not just informed (receiving status reports).

·         Control: Monitoring and reporting of key performance indicators, including leading (not lagging) indicators. Too often, portfolio managers report on scope, time and budget status, however, those are all retroactive events. Although course corrections can be made, it is too late to be proactive and, as we all know, it’s easier to stop a project’s problems earlier rather than later. Leading indicators, including risk exposure, incremental value delivered and requirements volatility, are predictive.

·         Integration: Alignment to strategy, as well as organizational ownership of the changes that the portfolio is implementing, should be driven by portfolio governance.

·         Decision Making: While empowering teams to make day-to-day decisions, broad decisions also need executive and management support to ensure buy-in across the organization.

4. Value: The value to the organization depends on performance of the portfolio holistically, not individual components. It starts with ensuring the right programs and projects are selected. Sometimes, the focus is on an individual project’s ROI instead of the fact that although a project may have a positive return, it should be compared against competing projects’ risk, return, and alignment to strategy.

5. Risk Management: There should be a balance of the negative and positive. Mitigate threats and take advantage of opportunities. Value is ultimately the result of performance x risk/opportunity.

6. PPPM Maturity: Portfolio, program and project management (PPPM) maturity ensures the process and talent exist to deliver the programs and projects reliably. Maturity is not measured by a single dimension such as the success rate of the “triple constraint.” Instead that measure includes speed to market, customer satisfaction and strategy enablement.

7. Organizational Structure: When building an organization to enable a strategic initiative (a type of portfolio), an organization should be defined by verticals of end-to-end processes and horizontal enablers. Horizontal enablers are common support elements that span across the verticals organized by the work instead of the functional area—such as change management, reporting, training.

How do you align portfolio management with strategy? I look forward to your thoughts!

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: October 20, 2016 08:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

In my last post, I discussed how powers of position—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward—don’t create a productive environment. To continue the discussion, I’d like to look at how to turn over powers to team members to create more productive environments.

1. Delegate work: This is the first step toward releasing power. Delegating creates opportunities for us to entrust powers to team members. However, be cautious of downloading—searching for candidates to do work simply because we’re overloaded. Delegating is more strategic. It involves identifying the right work to delegate, finding potential in the team, assessing skills gaps, preparing a plan, providing training and then sparing time to support.

2. Take risks: Even if we delegate, the accountability for work still lies with us and we are answerable to their faults. In fact, giving work and power to team members is filled with risks. However it has its own rewards. Taking risks is essential to provide opportunities to team members, grow their capabilities and create a productive environment. We can mitigate the risks with better planning, by assessing skills gaps and by preparing a response plan. Reviewing and supporting the team members during execution is an important part of risk mitigation.

3. Be an enabler: Acting as enabler is the most powerful practice to entrust our power to the team. It means we are no longer only an actor, doing the work, but also a resource to our team members. An enabler provides direction to team members, coaches them to take new steps, enhances team members’ skills and lets them face challenges. He or she helps teams find the solutions rather than providing a readymade one.

Enabling also means providing praise and constructive feedback regularly—or even sometimes in the moment.  

4. Empower: When we become a resource for our team we stop executing our formal powers because it was the manager who had these powers. One of those powers we are giving up is the power of making decisions. Empowering team members to make decisions requires patience. We shouldn’t panic and start acting like a manager to see quicker results. These moments are tests of our trust in our people. Instead, go back to the enabler mindset—explain the circumstances, suggest options and describe the benefits of finding a final or intermediate decision within a given timeframe.

By turning over these powers to our team members, we not only show our trust in their capabilities, but give them opportunities to enhance their career. This will surpass all the benefits of reward power. It will also generate a positive energy of ownership, collaboration and cooperation, leading to a productive environment that can never be achieved via the negative energy of legitimate or coercive powers.

I look forward to hearing your experience. 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: October 14, 2016 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Common Sense of Risk and Opportunity

By Marian Haus, PMP

The discipline of project risk management is all about limiting and hindering the adverse impacts of negative events. The complementary discipline of project opportunity management is all about increasing and enabling the beneficial outcomes of positive events.

In this post I want to look at both practices and treat them as a whole— Risk and Opportunity Management (ROM)—while showing that managing them is nothing more than common sense.

Internal vs. External

The risks and opportunities that are triggered by external project sources are generally out of the control of the project manager’s influence (e.g. organizational changes, political climate changes, strategy changes, technology shifts, etc.). External risks and opportunities are generally difficult to anticipate, avoid or eliminate. The best strategy to approach external factors is to mitigate their impact when they occur.

Most often, however, the source of project risks and opportunities are internal and can generally be controlled by the project manager and the project team (e.g. technical and quality issues, stakeholder requests, scheduling, requirements, budgets, etc.). Internal risks and opportunities are generally easier to anticipate, mitigate, control or exploit, since such events will show up in the day-to-day project work.

Now let’s talk about ROM.

The key of practicing effective ROM is twofold:

1. Awareness: The project team has to be aware that ROM will be conducted regularly, like any other project activity.

2. Active: ROM will have to be conducted actively and not reactively (e.g. when really needed).

Allowing things to happen, letting opportunities slip, or, even worse, being risk averse (i.e. zero tolerance for errors and failure) is not only project management negligence or ignorance. It is yet another project risk (of project-internal nature). Hence, make sure you as a project manager will not fall into this trap and become a risk for your own project!

Capturing ROM

What is the easiest way for your team to be aware and actively conduct ROM? First, put it on the paper—or even better, put it on the board. Allow the project team to write down every risk or opportunity they will encounter during the project course. Next, have the team split the board into four quadrants, based on probability and impact (i.e. low-probability + low-impact, low-probability + high-impact, high-probability + low-impact, high-probability + high-impact).

Then in regular project status meetings validate and agree within the project team on the recorded probabilities and impacts. Certainly there are several more elaborate ways to further qualify and analyze risks and opportunities (e.g. likelihood distributions, decision threes, etc.), but I prefer to keep it simple if possible.

Last but not least, actively capturing and talking about risk or opportunities is not enough. You also have to do something! You need a risk and opportunity response or strategy—whether it’s changing the project plan, getting more resources on board, changing project scope, etc. But that’s a topic for another day.

What do you think? Is ROM nothing more than common sense (at least in its basic form)? What’s your approach to ROM?

Posted by Marian Haus on: October 12, 2016 03:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

How Does OPM Fit In?

by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

In a small business, like a startup, organizational project management (OPM) may seem too big. At a large blue chip, layers of OPM may be standard operating procedure. But what if your org is somewhere in between? On one hand, you're past the days of moving furniture yourself, on the other hand, you're not yet cutting paychecks for 2000+ employees.

First, let's establish that OPM is a good thing. Linking strategy with implementation across an organization to deliver on portfolio promises and realize value is, trust me on this one, a good thing. But OPM at scale is even better. And that is because if you don't scale OPM to where your org is right now, it may seem that OPM is too complex to even attempt at all.

And if OPM is a good thing, then no OPM is probably not so good.

I've seen what happens to a business that doesn't have an OPM strategy in place. The business is moving along successfully but then the stumbling starts, and then maybe stops, but then it starts up again and continues unabated. Teams are frustrated that progress has halted and find they're taking the blame or blaming each other. Leadership pushes the same answers to newly arisen problems—work harder, faster, longer.

The Benefits of Scaling

OPM at scale ensures the strategy that your entire enterprise is about to adopt is the right fit.

Too light (but it may work for a startup), and your undertaking becomes inconsistent, priorities become ever-changing because there's no clear focus. The entire system is not reliable enough to deliver.

Too rigid (but it may work for a Fortune 500), and you may get in your own way with bottle-necking processes, decision-making by committee, waiting for an approval exit gate that never arrives, wasting time because the system is not flexible enough to deliver.

Where too much process is a hindrance (but may work for a large org) and too little is volatile (but may work for a fledgling company), start with some core principles that are key for your org and build from there.

An OPM at scale strategy could look something like this:

  • Decide how projects in your portfolio are managed across your enterprise. That means an off-the-shelf OPM solution may not be where your answer lies—instead grow your solutions for areas like governance, change, prioritization and resource management, as organically as you can.
  • Implement a few standard workflows that support delivery throughout a team and between teams. Are some processes already working? Keep 'em. Notice a couple gap areas? Partner with teams to design a workflow that solves your specific problem.

  • Create consistency with standard, formal processes, but also allow project managers and teams the freedom to make good tactical choices.

  • Focus on picking a few benchmarking criteria.

  • Make space for continuous communication, provide visibility and support working toward improving the core you've got—not necessarily adding anything new.

At your next quarterly review, examine how your custom OPM framework is doing. Are you all still aligned on, not just the goal of your portfolio, but the goal of your OPM strategy? Ready to go bigger and start maturing your framework? Or instead do you need to scale back?

What experience do you have with implementing OPM to scale?

Want to see a fully baked standardized model, take a peek at PMI's Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®).

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: October 05, 2016 06:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Meet the Culture Change Challenge With These 3 Tips

Categories: Agile, Change Management

By Christian Bisson, PMP

My last post about change stuck with me, so I want to revisit the topic by focusing on organizational cultural change here. Culture change means implementing new habits, new ways of thinking, new ways of working and so much more.

It presents a major challenge.

Why? Well, it’s more than processes, tools or documents—creating an organizational culture means changing people. This is as challenging as it gets.

When you’re looking to implement a culture change, here are few items to consider:


1. It takes time.

Most people will expect cultural changes to take a max of a few weeks, which is generally unrealistic. To level set expectations, share a roadmap of your changes.

The map should include high-level milestones of what the change will entail — training, meetings, etc. Then specify the objectives so people are on the same page as to why this is being implemented.

The roadmap will ultimately show that the changes are under control. It should mitigate any concerns or problems people will imagine.

2. You’ll need support.

A culture cannot be changed by just one person. There needs to be buy-in and it must be obvious.

I once had to implement daily Scrums with about 15 people, all of whom were accustomed to daily Scrums being long, painful meetings.

Changing that perception to one where meetings would last less than 10 minutes, where people would be on time, stand up and commit to the work they would aim to accomplish, was a challenge. I started by seeking out the colleagues in the group who were already on board with the change.

These early adopters helped me push others to stand up, be on time and ultimately helped keep things rolling when people went on tangents or brought up items out of turn. They were the first to jump in and “commit” to tasks rather than just saying whatever to get the meeting over with. It created a snowball effect, and we soon had efficient 10-minute meetings in place.

It’s a small example of a culture change, but it shows that having buy-in made all the difference.

3.  Seek feedback.

All team members react different during a culture change. Some will let frustration accumulate and burst when it’s too much, others might complain as time goes, others will be constructive, others will never share, etc.

You want to take control over that by welcoming feedback, as often as you can, from as many people you can. Obviously, don’t talk to everyone everyday. Use your judgment — for example, you might want to talk to those colleagues impacted the most every week, while speaking to others only monthly.

While more time-consuming, gathering feedback from people is better done one on one. It gives you a chance to connect with the individual. If you speak in large groups, the majority of people will remain quiet while others take over.

How have you tried to implement changes to your organizational culture? Share your stories and your tips!

Posted by Christian Bisson on: October 03, 2016 07:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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