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

Recent Posts

The Strategic Alignment of the Project Portfolio (Part 2)

The Strategic Alignment of the Project Portfolio (Part 1)

5 Steps to Manage Project Dependencies

Are You Documenting Smartly?

How Storytelling Can Improve Your Presentations

How Does OPM Fit In?

by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

In a small business, like a startup, organizational project management (OPM) may seem too big. At a large blue chip, layers of OPM may be standard operating procedure. But what if your org is somewhere in between? On one hand, you're past the days of moving furniture yourself, on the other hand, you're not yet cutting paychecks for 2000+ employees.

First, let's establish that OPM is a good thing. Linking strategy with implementation across an organization to deliver on portfolio promises and realize value is, trust me on this one, a good thing. But OPM at scale is even better. And that is because if you don't scale OPM to where your org is right now, it may seem that OPM is too complex to even attempt at all.

And if OPM is a good thing, then no OPM is probably not so good.

I've seen what happens to a business that doesn't have an OPM strategy in place. The business is moving along successfully but then the stumbling starts, and then maybe stops, but then it starts up again and continues unabated. Teams are frustrated that progress has halted and find they're taking the blame or blaming each other. Leadership pushes the same answers to newly arisen problems—work harder, faster, longer.

The Benefits of Scaling

OPM at scale ensures the strategy that your entire enterprise is about to adopt is the right fit.

Too light (but it may work for a startup), and your undertaking becomes inconsistent, priorities become ever-changing because there's no clear focus. The entire system is not reliable enough to deliver.

Too rigid (but it may work for a Fortune 500), and you may get in your own way with bottle-necking processes, decision-making by committee, waiting for an approval exit gate that never arrives, wasting time because the system is not flexible enough to deliver.

Where too much process is a hindrance (but may work for a large org) and too little is volatile (but may work for a fledgling company), start with some core principles that are key for your org and build from there.

An OPM at scale strategy could look something like this:

  • Decide how projects in your portfolio are managed across your enterprise. That means an off-the-shelf OPM solution may not be where your answer lies—instead grow your solutions for areas like governance, change, prioritization and resource management, as organically as you can.
  • Implement a few standard workflows that support delivery throughout a team and between teams. Are some processes already working? Keep 'em. Notice a couple gap areas? Partner with teams to design a workflow that solves your specific problem.

  • Create consistency with standard, formal processes, but also allow project managers and teams the freedom to make good tactical choices.

  • Focus on picking a few benchmarking criteria.

  • Make space for continuous communication, provide visibility and support working toward improving the core you've got—not necessarily adding anything new.

At your next quarterly review, examine how your custom OPM framework is doing. Are you all still aligned on, not just the goal of your portfolio, but the goal of your OPM strategy? Ready to go bigger and start maturing your framework? Or instead do you need to scale back?

What experience do you have with implementing OPM to scale?

Want to see a fully baked standardized model, take a peek at PMI's Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®).

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: October 05, 2016 06:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Are You Managing For The Right Outcomes?

by Dave Wakeman

Last month I wrote about measuring your project’s ROI. Part of that discussion included the idea that in the end, your projects need to be measured according to the outcomes they produce and not the actions that are taken.

So I wanted to take a few minutes to go back over the concept of outcomes and how outcomes, execution and strategy play together to deliver successful projects.

1. Outcomes are all that matter: Every project has deliverables and actions that are meant to drive the project forward and give stakeholders an understanding of where things are and what is happening. The fact is, things like schedules, a work breakdown structure and risk assessments are just tactics that are meant to move your project closer to its end goal: the outcome!

In every project the only relevant measurements of success are the outcomes. Outcomes mean things like a fully functioning product or service, a project delivered on time and schedule, and one that meets the goals of the client and stakeholders.

So try to frame your project conversations in terms of the outcomes and the tasks important to those outcomes. Instead of an activity, think about how these activities play into timelines and budgets or into the overall success of the project.

2. Outcomes aren’t always obvious to everyone: It can be very easy to take a black-and-white view on outcomes. But the truth is that depending on where you are in a project and the role you play, the outcomes may not always be obvious to you.

Why? It’s pretty simple, really. In any situation, we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the actions and activities that are most important to us. So when we look at projects, it can be easy to just think about the tasks we need to do to clear out our schedule or to move onto the next task on our checklist.

Most of this isn’t intentional, so you may have to spend some time relating to team members how activities play into the desired outcomes or even spending time communicating the vision of how the project will play out in the organization.

3. Always be prepared to change: We spend a lot of time talking about risks and change in projects, but I think that in many instances these two skills aren’t applied with as much success and consistency as desired.

But the process of implementing your strategy and optimizing execution comes with the basic jumping-off point of needing to understand, prepare for and embrace change as a constant within all projects.

To better prepare yourself for change, develop this mindset: you are going to communicate consistently with your stakeholders and proactively manage where your project stays within the marketplace, the desired outcomes that the project will produce, and changes in the circumstances of resources and other internal factors.

The simplest way to think about a project is as a set of activities that can be checked off on the way to completion. In fact, a lot of projects are managed that way.

But to be the best project manager and a partner to your organization’s success, you have to make the effort to keep strategy top of mind while executing for the right outcomes. I think these three tips will get you started.

What do you think? 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: December 08, 2015 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

5 Things Unsuccessful Portfolio Managers Do

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

I am amazed that so many projects and programs (and by extension, portfolios) are still so challenged. Forty-four percent of projects are unsuccessful, and we waste $109 million for each $1 billion in project expenditures, according to the 2015 edition of PMI’s Pulse of the Profession.

One solution that the report identifies is mature portfolio management processes. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of five things that unsuccessful portfolio managers do—and what they should focus on doing instead.

1.  Worry about things they can’t change.

Unsuccessful portfolio managers worry about the past or dwell on problems outside their immediate influence. Successful portfolio managers learn from the past and move on. Sometimes, failures turn into lessons that create the foundation for future growth and opportunity.

Portfolio managers should stay focused on what can we influence, negotiate and communicate, as well as what we can start, stop and sustain. Every month or quarter, assess the processes, programs and projects in your span of control. Decide which to start, stop and sustain, and develop action plans around those decisions (including dates, resources required and collaborators).

2.  Give up when things get too hard.

It may be easy to throw in the towel when conditions become challenging. But the hallmark of a good portfolio manager is the ability to find solutions.

Sometimes, our immediate reaction to a proposal is to think the timeframes or goals are not possible. However, when we get the team together to focus on what can be done, we come up with creative solutions. It’s necessary to gather the facts and do the analysis instead of jumping to conclusions.

3.  Set unattainable goals.

There’s a difference between a stretch goal and an impossible one. Sometimes, projects or programs don’t start off as unattainable (see #2 above) or undoable, but they become so.

Although we may be good at starting projects or programs, there’s not enough emphasis on stopping them. The environment (internal or external) may have changed, key resources may no longer be available, organizational priorities may have shifted, or the business buy-in might take too long. Rather than calling attention to the situation and recommending a “no go,” unsuccessful portfolio managers tend to press on with blinders. This wastes time and resources.

Once I was managing a $500 million portfolio of international expansion programs and projects. The portfolio sponsor told me, “I want to know if we’re falling off the cliff.” Although we hope our programs or projects never get to that point, his words did clearly specify the role I was supposed to play.

4.  Stay in your comfort zone.

It’s easy to create a portfolio in which the potential for risk and failure is low. But that means we may be missing out on opportunities for innovation or great returns. Advocating change in your portfolio requires taking calculated risks that you can learn from or will pay off in the longer term. The successful portfolio manager will advocate taking good risks (aka opportunities) instead of blindly going forward with bad risks.

Taking advantage of opportunities is the key to transformation and reinvention. It’s essential to any organization that wants to survive long-term. For example, who could’ve predicted just a few years ago that Amazon, Netflix and even YouTube would become rivals to TV and movie studios in providing original entertainment? This required calculated risk taking.

5.  Forget about balance.

Balance is important, whether it’s balancing your portfolio or balancing your work and your life. If you’re not performing your best because you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s going to affect your portfolio. Especially with technology blending our work and personal time, it’s sometimes hard to think about balance. One survey showed that we’re checking our phones up to 150 times per day. But remember the basics: eat well, exercise, take time to de-stress, and set aside time for yourself, family and friends. 

What do you notice unsuccessful portfolio managers do, and what would you recommend instead? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: October 10, 2015 11:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Project Bully on Your Case? Here Are the Negotiation Skills You Need to Get What You Want

If you’re new to project management, mastering negotiation skills is going to provide you with an invaluable asset to cope with real-life situations that drive project managers crazy sometimes.

If you’re a seasoned project manager, you’ll probably wish you’d read this post before!

In fact, negotiation skills offer many benefits to project managers. Most important, they:

  • Equip you with tools and techniques to resolve differences and to mend hard feelings, instead of avoiding them
  • Help you to build relationships with stakeholders
  • Provide you with strategies to clarify expectations
  • Improve your chances of getting support while also keeping conflict to manageable levels
  • Facilitate a deeper understanding of stakeholders' needs, expectations and agendas

The term “negotiation” derives from Latin roots. Its original meaning likely won’t surprise you:

  • “neg” means “not”
  • “otium” means “leisure”

Negotiating isn’t easy. That’s why most people try to avoid or withdraw from negotiations. But doing this makes you worse off, increasing the chances of being exploited and bullied.

Stop for a moment and ask yourself: Did any stakeholder take advantage of you in a recent negotiation? Maybe your boss shouted at you, “Why are you still planning—when are you going to start doing some work?” Or perhaps a client asked, “It is just a small change to the requirements. Can’t you get it done by next week?”

Here are the Ten Commandments of negotiating with project bullies:

1. Prepare before starting to negotiate

2. Don’t be emotional. Don't take it personally

3. Always be honest

4. Put yourself in “their shoes”

5. Know your BATNA—the best alternative to a negotiated agreement

6. Identify the zone of potential agreement

7. Learn how to say no

8. Think long-term

9. Understand that every problem is an opportunity

10. Whenever possible, improve relationships and build trust

Have you ever taken a negotiation course? Or did you read a great book on negotiation that helped you as a project manager? Please share your thoughts, suggestions and experiences below.

 

Posted by Mario Trentim on: August 06, 2015 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

The Fairest Metric of All

Categories: Metrics

We often rely on a number of different metrics to help create insights into our true project progress. These can range from discrete indicators, such as schedule performance index, to more subjective measures, such as forecasting completion dates based on prior experience on similar projects.   

I am asked on regular basis which project progress metrics is my favorite. In other words: If I were marooned on an island with a project status report with only one project metric, which one would I pick?  

After careful consideration (and I hope I have more supplies than just a status report when marooned on an island!), I would likely select the estimate to complete (ETC) metric. Here's why:

1. Task ETC tells me much more. Primarily, ETC serves as a simple measure of remaining effort for a task. However, ETC at the task level can shed light on other areas that provide visibility to project progress. To arrive at a task-level ETC, a project team member must take into consideration not only the remaining effort, but other factors such as resource capabilities, resource availability, dependencies and lead times for any task reviews. The rigor required to arrive at a task-level ETC compels team members to think through many variables that influence remaining effort. As you can see, this exercise tells us a lot more than just a number. 

2. ETC reduction closely measures true progress. We like to see task-level ETC going down each week at roughly the same pace of the resource capacity we have working on the task. However, ETC figures might not always be reduced at this expected rate. This situation can arise from a number of factors, all which require further inquiry by the project manager. They can include resources assigned to the task being distracted by other projects, delays on deliverables caused by other teams or a potential increase in the remaining forecasted work.

3. ETC can help find major project issues. There are situations when a project team member cannot arrive at a revised ETC figure. When that occurs, it is a strong indicator that visibility to the necessary inputs required to complete the tasks is not present. This should compel you to escalate the lack of visibility as a project issue and pursue remedies. These could include actions such as seeking guidance from subject matter experts, reassigning the task to a more capable team member and increasing interactions with other project teams for their input.  

4. Project ETC does what ETC does best. The movement of task-level ETCs can be aggregated to arrive at an overall project ETC. As with task-level ETCs often not being reduced at a desired rate, comparing prior and current ETCs at the project level can point to larger project issues. In addition, the project ETC actually helps you assess the team's ability to achieve the scheduled completion date. You can compare the project ETC against the future resource availability to see if there is sufficient capacity to achieve the desired completion date. 

While I like to have a healthy mix of metrics to help gauge project progress, quite often I fall back on ETC as an effective and efficient means of determining project progress as well as the factors that impact this progress.   

What is your favorite metric? What are other ways to employ ETC in a project?
Posted by Kevin Korterud on: August 08, 2014 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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