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
Soma Bhattacharya

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

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Combat Pushback—and Protect Your Portfolio

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.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: March 29, 2019 11:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

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 (11)

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 (11)

Should You Implement a Portfolio Management Tool?

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!

 

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: September 27, 2018 04:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

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)
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