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
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Jess Tayel
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Recent Posts

A Scrum Master’s Duty

Avoid the Internal Project Trap

Take Advantage of the Talent Gap

Project Success Buzzwords: Are These the Same?

Understanding Expert Judgment

Take Advantage of the Talent Gap

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

There’s great news for the profession: According to PMI’s latest Job Growth and Talent Gap report, there will be a need to fill 2.2 million jobs globally each year until 2027, growing to a total of 88 million project management jobs in all. Moreover, much of the growth is outside the United States—in places such as China, India, Brazil and Japan. 

Project-related job growth is expected to be 33 percent overall, with health care (17 percent), manufacturing/construction (10 percent) and information services/publishing (6 percent) representing the top three industries.

How can you position yourself to take advantage of these trends? Here are three things to work on.

1.   Get a Certification

Although certification by itself doesn’t guarantee that you will be hired, it does mean that you have demonstrated knowledge and experience in project, program or portfolio management. There aren’t many PMI Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® credential holders out there, so obtaining this certification will help set you apart.

But, instead of viewing the PfMP certification as the goal, plan to take it as a journey. If you find that you don’t have the requisite experience, how can you position yourself by taking volunteer roles to gain the experience? 

Career development should be a joint responsibility between you and your manager. You should express the desire and develop the knowledge to grow your experience in certain areas, and your manager can work to open up opportunities to help you practice your knowledge.

2.   Practice

Work on delivering strategic initiatives, driving change and providing innovation consistently and reliably. It’s not experimenting, but actually delivering—first on a smaller scale, then on a larger scale.

For portfolio managers, for example, you may start by managing the portfolio of a department or product, then move to an entire business unit, segment or product line, and finally on to an enterprise level. 

There are three key areas to grow the depth and breadth of your experience:

1.   Strategic alignment: Go beyond understanding the strategy and proactively work to translate that strategy into specific initiatives. This can be done by defining the business cases, developing multi-year roadmaps or translating high-level concepts into specific projects that will deliver the result, benefit or transformation promised.

2.   Benefits realization: This starts with validating the business case and ownership of the benefits, and is typically realized three to six months after the project/program delivery via operational budget savings, reductions or reallocations. Few organizations realize the benefits because they are often too optimistic in the upfront business case and fail to follow through by ensuring that operational budgets reflect the promised savings or headcount efficiencies. 

3.   Project/program delivery: The foundation of portfolio management is good project and program execution to deliver the product, service or result on time, on budget and per the scope. It doesn’t matter if it’s agile, waterfall or hybrid. Although the portfolio manager may not be responsible for the delivery, the delivery affects the portfolio value.  Ensuring that the portfolio value is realized means ensuring the project or program was delivered effectively and efficiently regardless of the methodology.

3.   Communicate Effectively

Working on the portfolio level means that you’re communicating a vast amount of information—anywhere from 15 to 50 projects and programs—in an actionable way to executives. I’ve had executives tell me, “Don’t tell me what’s going right, tell me what’s going wrong and how to fix it.”  Your role is to remember the four “C”s—clear, concise, compelling and credible. Be to the point, tell the story and build trust with a clear plan of action to fix any potential issues proactively. 

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: August 07, 2017 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

A Checklist for Shared Outcomes

By Peter Tarhanidis

I was recently assigned to transform a procurement team into one that managed outsourcing partnerships. I realized the team was very disengaged, leaving the strategy up to me to define. There was no buy-in. The team and the partnerships were sure to fail.

But I was determined to make the team successful. For me, this meant it would be accountable for managing thriving partnerships and delivering superior outcomes.

To get things back on track, I had to first get alignment on goals. Setting shared goals can help to shape collaborative and accountable teams that produce desired outcomes.

Establishing goal alignment can be a difficult leadership challenge; however, leaders must gather the needs of all stakeholders and analyze their importance to achieve the desired organization outcome.

I often use this checklist to tackle this challenge:

  1. Set shared goals in consensus with teams to motivate them to achieve the desired outcome.
  2. Link shared goals to key performance indicators (KPIs) that lead to the desired outcome.
  3. Integrate goals into individual and project performance reviews to drive accountability.
  4. Measure KPIs to keep teams on track.

I used this checklist during the procurement team project and it helped to reset and reinvigorate the team. Once we aligned around shared goals, team collaboration increased and the organization started to achieve the targeted business benefits.

If you’ve used a checklist like this before, where have you stumbled and how did you turn it around?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 18, 2017 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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 (14)

2016 in Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

by Cyndee Miller

Ahhh, late December—my time for curling up with some holiday bonbons, a nice bourbon and obsessively reading every year-end recap article, deep analysis, listicle and infographic out there. There’s loads of stuff on music, politics, books, technology, business and just, well, 2016 life in general. (The Economist even has a country of the year. Spoiler alert: It’s Colombia.)

But there’s not a whole lot of ink devoted to what went down in project management over the past year. So consider this a not-so-super-scientific look at the year that was in Project Management Land.

Not every project went precisely to plan. The Rio Olympics, for example, got mixed reviews: some good, some less so. And there were some straight-up flameouts: the GalaxyNote project, for example.

But on a grand scale, things were looking pretty good. The global economy continued to regain its footing (although not quite everywhere.) And project, program and portfolio managers remained in high demand across sectors and around the world. With good reason, they’re getting stuff done even amidst mind-boggling change.

No shocker here, much of that change revolved around tech, with industries like aviation and healthcare going in for major upgrades and overhauls. The Internet of Things entered the buzzword lexicon a few years back, but in 2016 we started to see what it might mean for project pros in everything from mobile to the once-staid auto industry. And as more and more devices get connected, project managers entered the front lines of the battle against cybersecurity threats. Then there are the drones, coming soon to a project site near you.

Even in such a tech-drenched year, there is no doubt that it still comes down to people. Robots will not take over the profession any time soon. For one thing, their leadership skills are just not where they need to be. Plus, they stink at managing teams.

2016 was a powerful reminder that project, program and portfolio managers are at heart change agents. Sitting at the intersection of strategy and the status quo, they’re the ones who figure out how to make change happen—and stick. And process-fueled technical knowledge alone isn’t enough. Strategic leadership skills are a must-have—and that message came through again and again and again.

Strategy is all about the pursuit of advantage—which means achieving the right goals at the right time. There’s a reason PMI’s Thought Leadership Series and Pulse of the Profession In-Depth reports focused on benefits realization. In 2016, it wasn’t just knowing how to deliver the goods, but why the goods matter.

Those are my highlights. What’s your big takeaway from the year? Is the great debate over agile approaches actually still a debate 15 years after the manifesto was published? How are PMOs faring? And what happens when there’s a PMO agile smashup?

Agile, connected cars, change management, whatever—what are you thinking about as 2016 closes?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: December 23, 2016 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

7 Ways to Align Portfolio Management with Strategy

by Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Successfully implementing strategic initiatives is a high priority for most organizations; however, few organizations are doing it well, if at all. In fact, only 10 percent are aligning portfolio management with strategy implementation.

Based on my experience, there are seven critical success factors to align portfolio management with strategy:

1. Agility: This is a broad umbrella for organizational culture and processes that are nimble and versatile. Being nimble suggests speed in reacting and being versatile suggests flexibility and adaptability. It’s crucial to build a nimble and flexible organization and portfolio management processes to take advantage of internal or external changes. Portfolio management must be seen as the enabler of strategic change and anticipate iterative, incremental and frequent adjustments to the portfolio.

2. The 3 C’s: Culture, Change Management and Communications: The “triple threat” of portfolio management is having all three components work in harmony to enable the strategy. Culture can be thought of as the personality and habits that an organization embodies, and although it may be difficult to describe, it can be seen and felt when walking around an organization. It’s been commonly cited that up to 97 percent of the employees in an organization don’t understand the strategy, and over 90 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail due to culture clashes. 

Rather than letting culture just happen by accident, organizations should consciously build and shape the culture of the organization. And, of course, the culture must be socialized through communications and change management to not only convey the right messages and keep employees engaged, but also recognize and reward the right behaviors.

3. Governance: Good portfolio management processes ensure these core governance functions are implemented:

·         Oversight: Leadership, guidance and direction. The key is being involved (through visible engagement and support in problem solving and removing barriers), not just informed (receiving status reports).

·         Control: Monitoring and reporting of key performance indicators, including leading (not lagging) indicators. Too often, portfolio managers report on scope, time and budget status, however, those are all retroactive events. Although course corrections can be made, it is too late to be proactive and, as we all know, it’s easier to stop a project’s problems earlier rather than later. Leading indicators, including risk exposure, incremental value delivered and requirements volatility, are predictive.

·         Integration: Alignment to strategy, as well as organizational ownership of the changes that the portfolio is implementing, should be driven by portfolio governance.

·         Decision Making: While empowering teams to make day-to-day decisions, broad decisions also need executive and management support to ensure buy-in across the organization.

4. Value: The value to the organization depends on performance of the portfolio holistically, not individual components. It starts with ensuring the right programs and projects are selected. Sometimes, the focus is on an individual project’s ROI instead of the fact that although a project may have a positive return, it should be compared against competing projects’ risk, return, and alignment to strategy.

5. Risk Management: There should be a balance of the negative and positive. Mitigate threats and take advantage of opportunities. Value is ultimately the result of performance x risk/opportunity.

6. PPPM Maturity: Portfolio, program and project management (PPPM) maturity ensures the process and talent exist to deliver the programs and projects reliably. Maturity is not measured by a single dimension such as the success rate of the “triple constraint.” Instead that measure includes speed to market, customer satisfaction and strategy enablement.

7. Organizational Structure: When building an organization to enable a strategic initiative (a type of portfolio), an organization should be defined by verticals of end-to-end processes and horizontal enablers. Horizontal enablers are common support elements that span across the verticals organized by the work instead of the functional area—such as change management, reporting, training.

How do you align portfolio management with strategy? I look forward to your thoughts!

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: October 20, 2016 08:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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