Viewing Posts by Wanda Curlee
By Wanda Curlee
Portfolio management is slowly being adopted by corporations. Or is it? I am speaking from my perspective, which admittedly is narrow, but I wonder if company leadership has what it takes.
I have worked at different organizations—from retail and legal to medical and government—and they all say yes, they are ready to do the hard work. But when you try to start developing requirements or even do a gap analysis, there are many reasons why it doesn’t happen: leadership is not in sync, resources aren’t available or there’s not an appetite for change. Or even worse, there is only one person who champions the cause, and he or she does not have the political momentum to push the effort.
The pushback can be major or minor. Leadership might say they had no idea you would need their people to develop the processes, templates and tools. Or leadership might ask if the company can just get a tool instead? There are solutions to all of these points, but leadership may not want to hear them.
So, how do you get over these hurdles?
For some, it’s a matter of providing training and knowledge. Leadership may truly have no idea what portfolio management is. In their eyes, it’s simply knowing what all the projects are in their area. That is one aspect, but there are several steps before you even get to that spot.
For instance, will you look at all projects in the organization, or only those of a certain budgetary value or length? Perhaps a combination of both?
Then there is the question of how to slice and dice the projects.
To slice and dice, you need to understand how to relate projects to strategy. Does your organization meet several of the corporate strategies or only one? If you have a project that is not allocated against a corporate strategy or sub-strategy, then why are you doing it? It’s taking resources and budget away from projects that do have strategic value. Even operational projects, such as upgrading software to a new version or implementing new enterprise software, need to map to a strategy.
For example, imagine your company has a strategy to increase sales by 20 percent in three years. The current sales tool has received well-deserved criticisms, and the tool is too small for the current sales volume. Implementing a new sales tool probably makes sense. However, the new tool would require the company to be running the latest version of operating software. The portfolio manager would recognize this, along with IT, and the portfolio manager would argue the case that these are interrelated. The opportunity exists here to make these two software projects and all the peripheral workstreams, such as training, into a program.
Do you have what it takes to push portfolio management forward? Or will you just succumb to pushback?
Don’t be afraid to speak up. If project portfolio managers don’t advocate for the correct way to do project portfolio management, organizations will suffer in the long run. The wrong way to do something is expensive and not beneficial.
Don’t let your company fall into that trap.
What experiences have you had when pushing portfolio management forward? Please share below.
by Wanda Curlee
Imagine this: You’re walking in San Francisco, California, USA, when you spot an out-of-control trolley car headed toward a group of five people working on the track. You yell for them to get out of the way, but they don’t hear or see you. You’re standing next to a switch, which would send the trolley on a different track. But there’s one worker on the alternate track who, like the five other workers, doesn’t hear you or see the trolley.
You have a choice: Do you flip the switch? Do you take one life over five?
There is no right or wrong answer. It’s an ethical dilemma.
As project managers, we routinely face dilemmas, although they’re not typically as dramatic as the trolley scenario.
In project management, our answers to ethical dilemmas are typically driven by our moral compass or the company’s statement of ethics. Does that mean we are correct? Correct by whose standards?
The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) could bring new factors into our decision-making process. As project managers, we will use AI to make decisions or assist us with decision making. What the AI tool(s) decide to present can drive our decision making one way or another. What happens if AI presents us information that compromises the safety and efficacy of the projects? What happens if AI makes a decision that seems innocent but has dire consequences based on the logic tree—results that you, as the project manager, might not be visible to?
When revealing an ethical issue in a project management logic tree, it would seem that the decision making should be automatically deferred to the project manager. But whose ethics are used to decide when there is an ethical dilemma? What may seem a common decision to you is an ethical one to someone else.
AI is coming. It most likely will arrive in small bits, but eventually, it will be part of the project management landscape. So take steps to prepare now. Make sure you help with AI decision making when you can; participate in studies and surveys on AI and project management; study ethical dilemmas in project management and understand how the AI tool(s) are coded for ethics.
Be ready because project management is getting ready to change, not by leaps, but by speeding bullets in the near—and not so near—future.
By Wanda Curlee
What is the state of portfolio management technology?
That, of course, is a loaded question. Many factors—including the company and the industry—come into play. Nevertheless, most will agree that the tools of portfolio management have progressed.
While portfolio management can still technically be done with spreadsheets, it’s a labor-intensive approach that doesn’t make sense for every organization. So, if you’re ready to upgrade your spreadsheets, how do you know what tool is right for you?
If your organization lacks the expertise, you may need to hire a consultant to help. A consultant can assess the situation and determine the most effective approach to follow. It might be as simple as creating spreadsheets that need to be completed and analyzed differently, or as complex as implementing a new customized tool.
Whether you hire a consultant or not, picking the right portfolio management tool for your organization is a project. And there are many moving parts.
1. Create a wants and needs—or requirements—list. As many of you are already well aware, this is a wish list and there is probably no tool that will meet the full list. The requirements need to be ranked and maybe even weighted to provide a true assessment among tools. One tool may provide only one highly sought requirement but many less-desired requirements. On the other hand, another tool may provide multiple highly sought requirements but no less-desired requirements.
The weighted average can help those make a case for one tool over another. Those making the recommendation should be different from the final decision maker.
2. Customize the tool. The customization should not be done with rose-colored glasses. There should be a pilot program to see if the requirements are producing the results expected or if tweaking is required.
3. Begin implementation. Since this is a portfolio, I would recommend the big-bang approach. That means all projects and programs within the portfolio must be loaded. They need to be analyzed to ensure that the correct information is inputted. The project and program managers need to be trained to understand what is needed on the new tool. Remember, most portfolio tools also work for some (or extensive) project and program management.
Team members working in the portfolio need to be trained as well. Those producing reports and what-ifs must understand how the tool does these things correctly. Without understanding the tool, results may be less than adequate.
4. Compare the before and after state. Once the tool is implemented, the portfolio manager should run a couple tests to see if the previous state and the new tool produce similar, if not exact, results. If not, then there is an issue that needs to be resolved. It may be an easy fix, but more than likely there will need to be some analysis done.
Remember: A tool is not a silver bullet. However, if you have a large portfolio, a tool might be necessary. But don’t expect miracles. You will still have to do the value-add!
by Wanda Curlee
Not long ago, neuroscience was considered something akin to science fiction. In recent years, however, it has crawled out of that genre and into practical reality. By identifying ways people can reason, it’s even making major contributions to the project management profession.
Take the functional MRI (fMRI).
The fMRI creates an image of what a person’s brain is doing when they’re working. If you’re doing math, let’s say, the fMRI shows what areas of the brain are functioning.
Through these studies, neuroscientists have said that there are three ways a person can reason:
1. The detailed-oriented person. This is someone comfortable with schedule management, risk management, budget management, issues tracking, etc. Normally, this would be someone from the project management office (PMO) or a junior project manager.
2. The person who can see the forest for the trees. This is the seasoned project manager or a junior program manager. They are savvy with integration and can see the strategy that is needed for decision making.
3. The strategic-minded individual. Think senior program managers and portfolio managers. These individuals are focused on delivering the organization’s strategic objectives. They can see what the landscape needs to be into the future.
So how does this help you as a project leader? Studies show that if you provide the opportunity for a detailed-oriented person to work in the role of seeing the forest for the trees or putting a strategic person into a detail-oriented role, these individuals become more creative and innovative.
Think about it: By putting individuals in radically different positions—with some guidance and mentorship, of course—you are forcing that person to see problems from different perspectives.
When CEOs claim they do not have creative and innovative people in their organization, I would contend that the CEO is wrong. The CEO just doesn’t nurture the creativity and innovation.
Imagine a brainstorming session where you have individuals who have switched roles. These employees can take an idea presented at the brainstorm and now see it from different perspectives. You no longer have people trapped in thinking from only their own worlds.
Are you as a project leader willing to push your team to experience the world from a different perspective? Are you willing to take a detail-oriented person and cajole him or her into seeing the forest for the trees? Will you mentor and guide the person? You will need to help with the anxiety of doing something totally foreign.
If you are willing, then you have created a more innovative and creative team!
By Wanda Curlee
In my last post, I discussed the project manager-powered management model that centers on neuroscience and people. Many models that discuss project management forget that people are the center of a project team. It is the people that have the power within the project.
Below is the model—let’s look at it in more detail.
By keeping the triangle in balance, the project success rate increases to 60 percent.
Time is the anchor as it can’t be managed. After all, time is constant — a person can’t make it go faster or slower.
Variables are on another side. They incorporate all those items that affect the project or program, including environment, politics, lack of resources, risks, opportunities and more. The effects of the project or program can be positive or negative. Hence, a powerful sponsor can increase the project’s success rate.
Finance is the final side. The word finance was chosen deliberately. Today, there are many ways to support a project or program. It may be normal currency. But financial support could also come in the form of bitcoin, credit cards, loans, various apps used to exchange money and even bartering. Each type is no better or worse than the other. In the future, there may even be something different that has not even be envisioned today.
Project or program managers and their teams have to keep the triangle in balance. If one side falters, the triangle collapses — hence the red bolt in the middle.
The project manager should lead efforts to keep the triangle in balance and drive results; the project team has the power to accomplish tasks.
The entire model is based on human emphasis, which is predicated on neuroscience. And once project or program managers understand the foundation of what drives human behavior, they can then motivate and drive projects to success.
However, the project/program manager has to have a sense of pAcuity: The “p” is project, program, or portfolio, while acuity means keenness. The leader, along with the team, has to have the keenness to take the project/program/portfolio in the right direction by understanding how to harness individuals’ power. Individuals, then, need to have the keenness to assess what is going on around them to drive the tasks to completion. This is done through neuroscience or understanding how we as humans think.
Stay tuned for my next post to understand the brain and how it drives us to perform on the project or program.