Viewing Posts by Conrado Morlan
by Conrado Morlan
When I started working for a leading global logistics company, I had to wait about three months to get my first regional program assigned. The program, which is still in the works, includes the deployment of a new centralized billing system — including changes to processes and reporting — across 50 countries and territories.
I did not dread the wait. Instead, I made the most of my time and began networking. I started to meet — in person or via teleconference — with people across the regions in which the system would be deployed.
This helped me build a strong foundation with cross-functional stakeholders across the region. I also got information in advance that helped me to draft my stakeholder engagement plan.
When the billing system inevitably changed, I had to perform support for each individual country’s CEO, CFO, CIO and human resources team to help them understand the new features, the improved processes, the consolidated reports and ultimately the benefits.
The program plans and benefits were discussed and approved during an annual strategy meeting with all of the individual country CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and human resources teams in attendance. However, I still faced difficulties with the deployment in those first few countries.
In the pre-implementation meetings, I had to reiterate the benefits of the program and why it was needed. I had to answer questions and provide solid arguments to justify the tradeoffs between the new and old billing system.
But I used these difficulties to refine my stakeholder engagement plan as I moved to the next country. Understanding the source of change and the stakeholders’ motivations helped me become a better change agent and provide better support during the program implementation.
For the early adopters, it took about three to four months to mature their operation and fully adopt the new system. It was a rough start. But after two months of having the new billing system running, country executives have started to accept the new way of operating.
To build credibility and engage executives from the remaining countries, I asked early adopting executives to share their story and the benefits of the new system.
With this program, I learned how important it is to be an influencer and to build strong arguments that will convince stakeholders to accept projects and programs that change their business-as-usual practices.
What difficulties have you faced when implementing significant change? How did you get buy-in?
By Conrado Morlan
“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” - Abraham Maslow
Over the last two decades, the project management profession has rapidly evolved. The number of professionals has grown worldwide, organizations have adopted, adapted or created frameworks and methodologies to support their projects, and technology has flooded the market with a plethora of mobile, desktop, server and cloud tools.
These tools are big players in establishing the ideal project management environment for organizations that want to track project metrics, performance, pipeline optimization, resource management, time, cost and budget—and the list can go on and on. These versatile apps also support an endless range of frameworks and approaches, from waterfall to agile to Kanban.
Organizations may go thru a selection process to choose the right tool for their environment. Many support their decision-making process with external sources from consulting companies that had reviewed several tools and classified them based on different criteria.
Once a tool is selected, the next step is to put together the various pieces of the puzzle—the project, practitioners and tool. They don’t always naturally match up—and that’s to be expected. That means training.
However, I’ve recently noticed a disturbing trend. I’ve seen several job postings in which the most important trait is the years of experience using a particular project management tool. Some of the job seekers told me that they did not get the job because of their lack of experience in a particular tool.
It makes me wonder: Are organizations “toolizing” project management? Are they boxing themselves into a tool environment? Why is a tool more important than a discipline?
Experienced project professionals exposed to different frameworks or project management methodologies may apply their knowledge to the tool and manage the portfolio, program or project. A tool expert does not make a project management professional.
Remember, at the end of the day, a fool with a tool is still a fool.
Do you think organizations are becoming “tool-centric”? If so, what’s driving this trend?
By Conrado Morlan
“Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.” —Morris Chang, founding CEO, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd.
In the first part of this series, I outlined the groups in the organization that must support the strategic alignment of the project portfolio:
Let’s dive into those groups a little further.
The Executive Group
The executive group shares the strategic plan with the organization, highlighting the high–level strategic objectives that will support its growth and move it to the next stage.
This group defines the strategic governance processes — that includes policies and monitoring guidelines to ensure the strategic objectives will be achieved. It establishes a governing body that will ensure accountability, fairness and transparency. The project portfolio governance will adhere to the strategic governance to align the project portfolio and drive the execution of the strategic plan.
During the development of the strategic plan, a thorough risk assessment should be conducted to assign a risk level to the initiatives included in the strategic plan. The risk assessment will feed into the strategic alignment process to ensure the portfolio of projects will keep these risks top of mind each step of the way.
The governance body will also monitor the performance of programs and project to ensure the expected benefits are being delivered as planned.
The executive group will interact on a frequent basis with the project group to address governance issues, changes in strategy that may impact the portfolio and risks. Meetings with the operations team, on the other hand, will focus on monitoring whether benefits are being created and harvested, as well as how those benefits are impacting — postively or negatively —the strategic objectives.
The Project Group
The project group will cover all areas of the project management profession: portfolio management, program management and project management.
This group will “translate” the strategic plan into elements of the project portfolio and align them with the strategy. Priorities, sequences, dependencies, risks and other elements from the strategic plan will cascade into the project portfolio.
The project portfolio will establish an execution framework that will consider the organization’s existing cross-functional capabilities, operations, and processes, and assess technical and operational requirements to identify gaps that need to be filled to support the successful execution of the project portfolio.
The project tam will:
The project group will interact on a frequent basis with the operations group to ensure projects will deliver the expected benefits, and define how those benefits will be “harvested” and used as an input to subsequent phases of the protfolio and strategic plan.
The Operations Group
The operations group will support program and project teams during implementation and will be the recipient of the benefits delivered by the programs and projects. The execution of the strategic plan is a cross-functional effort and every function in the organization will need to contribute to its success.
The operations group may encompass many of the functions of the organization and will be active participants throughout project implementation. But this group’s participation is most important in the post-implementation phase to ensure a sustainable environment for the achievement of the strategic goals.
This group will work closely with the project group on the ongoing management of the portfolio to monitor benefits realization, and will play an active role in the orchestration of demand management and capability management to ensure resources will be available when needed in order to avoid any delays in the portfolio.
If you’ve worked on strategic initiatives, how have you collaborated with these groups in your organization? What advice can you share?
By Conrado Morlan
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” —Michael Porter
Over the last two decades, organizations looking to remain competitive have realized that creating a strategic plan is not enough. The smart execution of that strategy is also needed to move an organization to the next stage.
One way to drive better execution is to align the project portfolio with the organization’s strategy. This should encompass all current and future initiatives, programs and projects — including business projects, operations projects, technology projects, etc.
The project portfolio is the strategic plan’s execution framework. It calls for cross-functional efforts that provide a holistic view to the participating areas, and helps them better understand the strategic goals and how their contributions will move the organization to the next level. This instills a sense of ownership among the participants.
Strategically aligning the project portfolio allows an organization to establish an execution approach that will allow it to improve existing processes and optimize the selection and sequence of initiatives.
Leaders should screen, filter, and select programs and projects based on the organizational strategy and — for those selected — they should define:
Roles and responsibilities: Who will be involved, as well as each person’s level of involvement and authority
Stakeholders: Who will be impacted by the initiatives and their level of influence in the organization
Resources: What resources could be assigned to programs and projects, and their current capacity and capabilities to support the selected initiatives
Funding: What funds will be available to implement the selected programs and projects
Risks: What internal and external risks would affect the strategic plan and therefore the portfolio of projects, and what risks will be accepted or mitigated
Benefits Realization: What benefits will be produced by each program and how those will be harvested
To achieve that alignment, the following groups must support the initiative:
In the second part of this series I will explore how these groups interact to establish the best execution approach and achieve the strategic goals defined in the strategic plan.
As a portfolio, program or project manager, have you been involved in the strategic alignment of the project portfolio in your organization? What was your experience?
By Conrado Morlan
Risk identification is one of the first tasks many project managers tackle when they’re assigned a new project. But identifying risks can’t be a one-time effort.
The risk log is a living document that needs to be scrubbed and updated on a regular basis. Future internal or external factors can always impact the project.
And while it may be natural to think of risks as negative, that’s not always the case. Risks can also present opportunities that uncover new project benefits or enhance the benefits that were originally defined.
Here are a few examples of risks—and opportunities—that emerged during a project and took me by surprise.
Force Majeure: The Eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull
The eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland caused enormous disruption to air transportation across western and northern Europe in 2010.
While much of the media focused on air travel, freight-transport customers around the world also experienced parcel delivery delays.
At the time, I was deploying a regional project across the Americas for a global logistics firm. The project was put on hold so all employees could support the emergency effort to deliver parcels during the crisis.
The response plan rerouted flights originally scheduled for the hub in Germany to several cities in Italy where parcels were then transported via ground vehicles. And customer service representatives increased communication with customers about their shipment’s status.
In the end, the logistics company didn’t lose any customers and, in fact, many customers were pleased with how the force majeure was handled. The company also demonstrated to the customer the company’s effective emergency plan for crisis situations.
While this unforeseen risk delayed the regional project I was working on, I kept the project stakeholders informed frequently of the project team activities throughout the crisis and shared the actions to be taken to bring the project back on track.
Geopolitical Events: Fidel Castro’s Death
In December 2015, the United States and Cuba agreed to re-establish regularly scheduled flights, allowing selected U.S. airlines daily trips between the two countries.
During the first quarter of 2016, those airlines were launching projects to open new services to one or more destinations in Cuba. It was a daunting job. The projects would need to comply with U.S. and Cuban regulations. And information was not flowing rapidly between the two countries.
The airline I was supporting was awarded three Cuban destinations. But in November, while we were finalizing details for the first flight to Havana, we learned about Fidel Castro’s death.
During the mourning period, all communications with Cuban government officials and agencies were suspended. Trips airline employees working on the project had planned to take to Cuba were canceled.
The project team was uncertain what this delay would mean for the first scheduled flights to Havana. To address the potential risk, different scenarios that included the postponement and cancelation of flights were defined and mitigation plans were drafted for potential implementation.
After the mourning period, communications were restored and project activities normalized. Ultimately, the geopolitical event did not impact the scheduled flights, but it was a risk that could not have been anticipated.
As a project manager, what unforeseen risks have impacted your projects? How did you address and mitigate those risks?