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

Recent Posts

Are Traditional Scrum Masters Becoming Obsolete?

Kick-Off Meetings: The Beginning of Success or Failure

Hackers: A Safety Issue

Leaders exert influence for success

Business Transformation With the End in Mind

Leaders exert influence for success

By Peter Tarhanidis

Whenever I’m in a leadership role I try to be sensitive to the level of influence I gain, retain and lose. Influence is a precious commodity for a leader. And it can be disastrous if you lose your team or if tensions arise that reduce one’s effectiveness to achieve a goal.

I recall one of my client assignments where the goal was to ensure a successful integration of a complex merger and acquisition. The team had slipped on dates, missed key meetings and there were no formalized milestones.

I set up casual meetings to discuss with each member what would motivate them to participate. One clear signal was that management had changed the acquisition date several times. This disengaged the team due to false starts that took time away from other priorities.

During the sponsor review, I reported there was a communication breakdown and that no one shared this effort as a priority. At that point, the sponsor could have used his position of power to pressure everyone to do their part. However, the sponsor did not want to come off as autocratic.

Instead, he asked if I would be willing to find an alternative approach to get the team’s buy in.

I realized my influence was low, but I wanted to help improve the outcome for this team. So I talked again with each team member to negotiate a common approach with the goal to be integration-ready without having an exact date.

Ultimately, our goal was to have all milestones met while a smaller core team could later remain to implement the integration when management announced the final date.

A leader uses influence as part of the process to communicate ideas, gain approval and motivate colleagues to implement the concepts through changes to the organization. 

In many cases, success increases as a leaders exert influence over others to find a shared purpose.

Tell me, which creates your best outcomes as a leader: influencing others through power or through negotiation?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: May 31, 2017 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Strategy In a VUCA World—Part 2

Categories: Strategy

By Lynda Bourne

In part one of this post, I introduced the management concept VUCA, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Managing VUCA effectively at the project level should not be underestimated: The agility and decision-making needed to respond to VUCA will inevitably have effects on the outcomes of projects and programs and, consequently, the direction of the organization.

Naturally, there will be a difference between planned and implemented strategy. One approach is to see this gap as “strategic non-alignment” and assume it’s bad. The alternative is to see the gap as strategy that emerges from the work of the organization and changes in the environment, then actively manage its effect to capture as much value as possible.

This idea is not new. It’s been nearly 40 years since the concept of emergent strategy was developed by academic and management author Henry Mintzberg. This concept seeks to create a framework that can identify and act on emerging strategies, resulting in a more incremental approach to strategy formulation. Developing strategy from the bottom up may be a novel concept for many organizations but academic studies suggest this is an important value-adding process. 

Projects and programs are a rich source of VUCA, and almost everyone says successful project management offices (PMOs) and portfolio managers should have a strategic focus. Given that, I suggest it’s time to start conversations with your executive management about identifying and managing the emergent strategies that are appearing in your organization as a consequence of projects and programs responding to VUCA. This will maximize the value created and influence the next iteration of formal strategic planning.  

In their 1985 paper Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent, Mintzberg and fellow academic and author, James A. Walters, concluded by suggesting “strategy formation walks on two feet, one deliberate the other emergent.”

The challenge for PMOs and portfolio management professionals is to engage with the gap between implementing strategy and adapting strategy. They also have to engage with the challenges that arise from allowing sufficient agility and flexibility to maximize value in a VUCA environment without sinking into undirected chaos. 

By adapting these elements to the strategic levels of the organization, you may be able to reduce the potential chaos of VUCA within a project or program:

  1. Use a staged, adaptive approach to planning. We really don't know that much about the far future.
  2. Be agile. Act quickly to manage emerging issues and problems—things will not get better on their own.
  3. Be adaptive and flexible. When you need a new plan to achieve the project’s objectives, be prepared to make the changes.
  4. Expect the unexpected. Things happen—watch for approaching Black Swans.
  5. Use emergence to your advantage. Seize the opportunities you did not expect.

How do you reduce the potential chaos of VUCA?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 18, 2017 09:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Strategy In a VUCA World—Part 1

Categories: Strategy

By Lynda Bourne

Traditionally, strategy and strategic alignment are viewed as a deliberate process. An organization’s governing body determines the vision and mission. Then, along with executive management, the governing body crafts a strategy to move the organization toward achieving that vision.

The result is a strategic plan that forms the basis for effective portfolio management. This plan sets the objectives for projects and programs and measures their success in terms of contributing to implementing the strategy and creating value.

In the last few years, however, management thinking has embraced the concept of VUCA and developed approaches to dealing with the challenges that the modern world presents. 

VUCA, which originally emerged from military leaders, stands for:

  • Volatility: The unpredictability, speed and dynamics of change. The correct response to volatility, according to the concept of VUCA-Prime developed by Robert Johansen, is vision. When things are changing unpredictably, it is vital to keep a clear focus on the organization’s overall vision. Knowing where the organization is heading will ensure that short-term planning can be adjusted to stay on course when external circumstances are turbulent.
  • Uncertainty: The lack of knowledge or an inability to determine the course of future events. Working to understand the environment around the project or program helps reduce uncertainty but can never remove it entirely—this is the domain of risk management.
  • Complexity: The degree of unpredictability regarding the outcome of an action or decision. There will always be a degree of complexity involved in every project, but clarity of vision and seeking to simplify processes wherever possible will minimize its effect. However, there will always be some unexpected consequences (good or bad) that emerge from managing a project or program.
  • Ambiguity: The requirements, instructions or situations that can be interpreted in different ways or are not fully defined. Ambiguity can be reduced by effective communication and the application of many of the processes defined in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide); but agility is required to resolve the remaining ambiguity as it emerges. You need the freedom and flexibility to respond quickly to changing circumstances.

Have you encountered VUCA on your projects? What form did it take?

Be sure to come back for second post on VUCA in a couple of days.  

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 17, 2017 03:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Strategic Alignment of the Project Portfolio (Part 2)

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:

  • Executive Group
  • Project Group
  • Operations Group

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:

  • Monitor risk: Establish the context of the risk identified in the strategic plan with the project portfolio and additional risks that have been identified in the portfolio. Update mitigation plans as required based on discussions with executive team.
  • Adhere to organizational governance: The project portfolio will follow the guidelines of corporate culture, transparent communication, accountability and integrity.
  • Assess capabilities: Identify the required capabilities through short-term and long-term program and project scenarios to ensure the required resources will be available when needed.
  • Delineate operational and technical requirements: Based on the prioritization and sequence of programs and projects defined in the portfolio, define the requirements with a holistic portfolio view and bind them with the strategic plan.
  • Establish metrics: Integrate metrics across operations and technology using industry baseline metrics in order to provide credibility to measurements and a route to quantification.

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?

 

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: April 18, 2017 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

The Strategic Alignment of the Project Portfolio (Part 1)

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:

  • Executive Group: This group will provide the strategic and portfolio governance guidelines.
  • Project Group: This group will handle portfolio management, focusing on delivering value to the business.
  • Operations Group: This group will ensure the organization can sustainably achieve its strategic goals.

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?

 

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: April 15, 2017 07:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)
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