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
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

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3 Ways To Set Yourself Apart

Recognition That Goes Beyond International Women’s Day

How to Lean In—and Thrive—in Project Management

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Viewing Posts by Jen Skrabak

How to Lean In—and Thrive—in Project Management

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Over nearly two decades in project management, I’ve learned a number of strategies to make my voice heard and advance in my career. Much of that success has come by “leaning in,” as Sheryl Sandberg advocates.

As a woman in project management, I believe the following are key:

  1. Show grit. Demonstrate courage, show your perseverance and never give up in the face of obstacles. Know that it’s a multi-year journey, and you must demonstrate the passion to achieve your long-term goals as a leader in project management.
  2. Be the best. Knowledge, skills, abilities—you need to consistently demonstrate that you’re the best, and not be afraid to speak up and show it. Throughout my career, I have always assessed gaps in my knowledge or experience, and actively worked to close them. For example, although I started in IT, I wanted to transition to the business side to lead business transformation programs. I actively sought out progressive assignments by building a track record of successful projects that became larger in scope and team size with each project, until I achieved my goal of an enterprise-wide program impacting hundreds of thousands of users.
  3. Execute flawlessly. Execution is an art, not a science, and it requires creativity, impeccable organization, exceptional communication and most of all, follow-through. Many of these skills are intuitive in women, and the key is to understand that execution requires the leadership of large teams through four stages:
    1. Awareness: Create the right “buzz” around the project.
    2. Understanding: Teams need to understand their role and how their actions fit into the larger picture.
    3. Acceptance: Teams need to accept the message or change by changing their behavior and taking the appropriate action.
    4. Commitment: To demonstrate true commitment, teams should help champion the message throughout the organization.
  4. Build confidence and trust. Multiple studies support the notion that women are not only better at assessing risk, they are also better at guiding actions and decisions accordingly. Women should use this natural decision-making ability and risk management expertise to build confidence and trust as project leaders.
  5. Communicate clearly and concisely. Keep communications rooted in data and facts, not based on subjective information or personal preferences. Women in leadership roles tend to rate themselves lower than men on key attributes such as problem solving, influencing and delegating, and rate themselves higher than men on supporting, consulting and mentoring. How much time are you spending on communicating the right messages and influencing to gain commitment to your viewpoints versus supporting others?

International Women’s Day is March 8, and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. Please share your thoughts on how we celebrate the achievement of women while we continue to strive for balance for women socially, economically and culturally around the world.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: March 05, 2019 10:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

What’s Holding Women Back in Project Management?

By Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP

As a woman who’s worked for the past 18-plus years in project, program and portfolio management, as well as building and leading enterprise project management offices for Fortune 500 companies, I wanted to address the topic of women in project management.

In the United States, women hold 38 percent of manager roles, according to a study conducted by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org. And while women have made gains in some STEM fields, particularly healthcare and life sciences, they are underrepresented in many others. U.S. women hold 25 percent of computer jobs, and just 14 percent of those in engineering, according to the Pew Research Center.

In project management, as in other professions, women earn less than men. For project managers in the United States, men earn an average US$11,000 more annually than women, according to PMI’s Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey.

Historically, women have been pigeonholed in project administrative or project coordination roles instead of project management roles, and the key question is “Why?”

We’ve all heard that we need to “think differently,” and as Sheryl Sandberg advocated in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, women need to raise their hands, project confidence, be at the table and physically lean in to make themselves heard. The dictionary definition of “lean in” means to press into something. So when faced with an overwhelming force such as wind, you need to lean toward the force rather than away in order to not be blown away. 

“Lean in” can be a metaphor for asserting yourself as a leader in project management. As women, we may be held back by self-doubt, our speaking voice or body language that conveys a lack of self-confidence. The advice here is not limited to women; people of color can “lean in,” too.

There are three key cognitive biases that may hold women back in project management. The key is to recognize that these exist, and work to build awareness while overcoming them:

  1. Affinity Bias: We naturally like people who are like us, including those who are the same gender or ethnicity. Men tend to be over-represented in leadership positions and in industries where project management predominates, such as IT, engineering, manufacturing and construction. It is natural that men would prefer to work with and report to people like themselves.  
  2. Inter-Group Bias: This can occur with many groups, such as people from a certain geography (cities or regions), university, culture or other characteristics such as an interest in sports. We naturally feel an instant connection to people with whom we share the same background or a common characteristic, versus those with whom we don’t have anything in common.
  3. Confirmation Bias: A widely held belief is that women appear to not be as confident as men. And when people believe this, they embrace information or experiences that confirm that belief. Research has shown that women are usually expected to be nice and warm, instead of assertive, direct and confident.

By understanding and recognizing these biases, we can work to defeat them. I’ll explore these topics more in my next post, which will coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8. How do you combat biases in the workplace?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: February 25, 2019 11:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

The Next-Gen PMO

by Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP

Project management offices (PMOs) have gained wide acceptance thanks to their ability to ensure the success of projects and programs. More than 80 percent of organizations have PMOs.

But, there is still some confusion with PMOs, as the “P” in PMO can refer to project, program or portfolio. At the same time, PMOs have been thought of as one of three categories:

  • Supportive: Low-level of control with a focus on status reporting and passive monitoring. This type of PMO has low authority, low visibility within the organization and performs primarily administrative functions. Project managers are usually part-time resources and report into functional areas.
  • Controlling: Moderate level of control and oversight over programs and projects. In this PMO, an overall project management framework, plus templates and tools, are in place. Project managers and other support staff (business analysts, project coordinators) report directly or matrixed into the PMO.
  • Directive: High-level of control over programs and projects. This PMO has a lot of authority and visibility within the organization to drive overall execution of programs and projects. Project managers, business/IT leads and other support staff report directly into and are accountable to the PMO.

The Next-Gen PMO, however, is disrupting these traditional categories. In the Next-Gen PMO, the focus is on ensuring the successful delivery of organization-wide strategic initiatives. In addition to traditional PMO functions, such as providing project management tools, templates and training, the Next-Gen PMO is responsible for organizational results. They also report directly to a C-suite executive within the organization. 

I see the four critical functions of the Next-Gen PMO as:

  1. Strategic Focus: Align, prioritize and focus the organization on the top critical initiatives based on organizational capabilities as well as constraints, such as resources or culture. The PMO should operate at the strategic level with executives, and align supply and demand of resources. That may include financial (such as budget), human (not on just number of people available, but skill and capability), or organizational culture (such as the capacity to absorb change, particularly sustaining change over time). 
  2. Governance: Implement the appropriate executive governing board with authority to make hard decisions. Decisions may involve escalated issues/risks, resolving resource contentions, as well as which projects/programs to start, stop and sustain. Often, governance is engaged in starting new projects — particularly low or underperforming ones — without appropriately counterbalancing which projects may have to be stopped in order to free up resources
  3. End-to-End Delivery: This takes a dedicated, seasoned project manager with authority and accountability to the PMO to define, plan and deliver the project, along with identifying appropriate resources and ensuring sponsor support and engagement. The PMO should create a culture where project management is valued and seen as a business enabler to successfully delivering projects. They should develop a roadmap of key initiatives, dependencies and resources that provide value to the organization. That cohesively brings together projects and cross-functional departments that are aligned to strategy.
  4. Benefits Realization: Achieving the promises of project proposals starts with a robust business-case review process, as well as ongoing monitoring for performance and its impacts on the benefits. The PMO should establish success criteria and KPIs to monitor project and portfolio health, and take corrective actions as needed to ensure that the original ROI is met.

Is your organization embracing the Next-Gen PMO?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: August 02, 2018 06:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

3 Career Goals for 2018

by Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP

Happy 2018! Make this year your best yet! 

I know we’ve been hearing these phrases for several weeks now, but one thing still rings particularly true: There’s no denying the fresh-start effect of the new year. 

And with another new year comes new resolutions. 

Instead of resolution, I like goals better. Goals are things that we should strive toward — not just at the beginning of the year, but throughout.

Here are the career development goals I would challenge you to strive for this year:

1.   As you progress through your career, it’s less about collecting a paycheck and more about making choices as to where you’ll do your best work. Don’t oversell yourself. Instead, spend time to really understand the company, roles/responsibilities, team(s) you’ll be working with and how you’ll fit. 

Over the past year, I’ve interviewed a lot of people for senior level program and portfolio positions. I’ve noticed that many are focused on selling themselves for the job instead of thoughtfully understanding the role, assessing how their skills/experiences match up with the expectations and how they will be contributing. If it’s the right fit, then you should articulate why. If it’s not the right fit, acknowledge that as well. Not every role or company is right for every person.

2.   We all know that your direct manager has a lot to do with your career success. As they say, people leave their managers, not the company.  Although you may not have the ability to change your managers, there are some things you can do to develop your career even when you work with a less-than-ideal manager:  

a.   Instead of worrying about what you can’t control, focus on what you can control. Don’t try to change people (such as your manager or team members). Instead, focus on roles and responsibilities. Most companies encourage candid conversations with your manager — be clear about what you would like to see differently about your role. For example, would you like to stretch yourself and have the opportunity to develop your skills in managing programs? Negotiation and influence are key leadership traits, and negotiating your role is a key component of career development.

b.   There is a common saying, “Dress for the job you want.” I say, “Manage yourself and your job for the next role.” When promotions happen, it typically means that you’ve already been doing the job for that next role. So, look at the job descriptions for the ideal role that you want (inside or outside of the company), and do an honest assessment of your gaps. Now that you know where you want to go (your ideal job), you need to know where you currently are (your current knowledge, skills and abilities). Then map out an action plan to get there.

3.   Do some new year’s decluttering and cleaning. Over time, I’m sure you have accumulated a lot of files, activities, commitments and even habits that you’ve been carrying around. Rather than assuming those are still needed, scrutinize what you actually need going forward, and be a bit relentless in simplifying and focusing on what you actually need.

Do you remember Thomas Guides? These were the definitive maps, especially for a car culture like Southern California where I’m based. It was a big event when the new year arrived, a time that also ushered in the new edition of the Thomas Guides. Now, our phones and Google Maps have made those guides obsolete. How many of the Thomas Guides (metaphorically speaking) do you still have around? Take a good look and do some ruthless cleaning.

What goals would you add to this list?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 25, 2018 03:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Take Advantage of the Talent Gap

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

There’s great news for the profession: According to PMI’s latest Job Growth and Talent Gap report, there will be a need to fill 2.2 million jobs globally each year until 2027, growing to a total of 88 million project management jobs in all. Moreover, much of the growth is outside the United States—in places such as China, India, Brazil and Japan. 

Project-related job growth is expected to be 33 percent overall, with health care (17 percent), manufacturing/construction (10 percent) and information services/publishing (6 percent) representing the top three industries.

How can you position yourself to take advantage of these trends? Here are three things to work on.

1.   Get a Certification

Although certification by itself doesn’t guarantee that you will be hired, it does mean that you have demonstrated knowledge and experience in project, program or portfolio management. There aren’t many PMI Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® credential holders out there, so obtaining this certification will help set you apart.

But, instead of viewing the PfMP certification as the goal, plan to take it as a journey. If you find that you don’t have the requisite experience, how can you position yourself by taking volunteer roles to gain the experience? 

Career development should be a joint responsibility between you and your manager. You should express the desire and develop the knowledge to grow your experience in certain areas, and your manager can work to open up opportunities to help you practice your knowledge.

2.   Practice

Work on delivering strategic initiatives, driving change and providing innovation consistently and reliably. It’s not experimenting, but actually delivering—first on a smaller scale, then on a larger scale.

For portfolio managers, for example, you may start by managing the portfolio of a department or product, then move to an entire business unit, segment or product line, and finally on to an enterprise level. 

There are three key areas to grow the depth and breadth of your experience:

1.   Strategic alignment: Go beyond understanding the strategy and proactively work to translate that strategy into specific initiatives. This can be done by defining the business cases, developing multi-year roadmaps or translating high-level concepts into specific projects that will deliver the result, benefit or transformation promised.

2.   Benefits realization: This starts with validating the business case and ownership of the benefits, and is typically realized three to six months after the project/program delivery via operational budget savings, reductions or reallocations. Few organizations realize the benefits because they are often too optimistic in the upfront business case and fail to follow through by ensuring that operational budgets reflect the promised savings or headcount efficiencies. 

3.   Project/program delivery: The foundation of portfolio management is good project and program execution to deliver the product, service or result on time, on budget and per the scope. It doesn’t matter if it’s agile, waterfall or hybrid. Although the portfolio manager may not be responsible for the delivery, the delivery affects the portfolio value.  Ensuring that the portfolio value is realized means ensuring the project or program was delivered effectively and efficiently regardless of the methodology.

3.   Communicate Effectively

Working on the portfolio level means that you’re communicating a vast amount of information—anywhere from 15 to 50 projects and programs—in an actionable way to executives. I’ve had executives tell me, “Don’t tell me what’s going right, tell me what’s going wrong and how to fix it.”  Your role is to remember the four “C”s—clear, concise, compelling and credible. Be to the point, tell the story and build trust with a clear plan of action to fix any potential issues proactively. 

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: August 07, 2017 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)
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