Project Management

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
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
Christian Bisson
Yasmina Khelifi
Sree Rao
Soma Bhattacharya
Emily Luijbregts
Lenka Pincot
cyndee miller
David Wakeman
Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
Marat Oyvetsky
Ramiro Rodrigues
Wanda Curlee

Past Contributors:

Rex Holmlin
Vivek Prakash
Dan Goldfischer
Linda Agyapong
Jim De Piante
Siti Hajar Abdul Hamid
Bernadine Douglas
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Kelley Hunsberger
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Alfonso Bucero Torres
Marian Haus
Shobhna Raghupathy
Peter Taylor
Joanna Newman
Saira Karim
Jess Tayel
Lung-Hung Chou
Rebecca Braglio
Roberto Toledo
Geoff Mattie

Recent Posts

3 Agile Disconnects We Need to Address

What to Expect: Anticipating and Adapting to Dynamic Economic Trends

Governance Models: The Secret to Successful Agile Projects

3 Valuable PM Lessons I Learned in 2023

The 4 P’s of Successful Modern PMs

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What to Expect: Anticipating and Adapting to Dynamic Economic Trends

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.

In the ever-evolving landscape of corporate strategic planning, organizations face the perpetual dilemma of choosing between capital spending for growth—and optimizing operations for efficiency. Striking the right balance amidst economic trends and leveraging organizational strengths becomes paramount when navigating through strategic projects. Meeting shareholder and stakeholder needs, while aligning with the organization's mission, presents a constant challenge.

To anticipate potential initiatives, project managers must consider global macroeconomic conditions and CEO outlooks. A preliminary assessment based on the United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects and OECD Economic Outlook reports for 2024 reveals a projected global economic growth slowdown from 2.7% to 2.4%. This trend suggests a delicate balance between slow growth and regional divergences. Key considerations include:

  • Global inflation showing signs of easing from 5.7% to a projected 3.9%
  • Slowed global investment trends due to uncertainties, debt burdens and interest rates
  • Fading global trade growth attributed to shifting consumer expenditure, geopolitical tensions, supply chain troubles, pandemic effects and protectionist policies
  • Notable regional examples include the United States expecting a GDP drop from 2.5% to 1.4%, China experiencing a modest slowdown from 5.3% to 4.7%, Europe and Japan projecting growth rates of 1.2%, and Africa's growth expected to slightly increase from 3.3% to 3.5%

Examining the corporate landscape, a survey of 167 CEOs in December 2023 indicated a confidence index of 6.3 out of 10 for the 2024 economy—the highest of the year. The CEO upsurge assumes inflation is under control, the Fed may not raise interest rates and instead reverse rates, setting up a new cycle of growth. Furthering the CEO agenda, McKinsey & Co. identified eight CEO 2024 priorities:

  • Innovating with GEN AI to dominate the future
  • Outcompeting with technology to drive value
  • Driving energy transition for net zero, decarbonization, and scaling green businesses
  • Cultivating institutional capability for competitive advantage
  • Building out middle managers
  • Positioning for success amidst geopolitical risks
  • Developing growth strategies for continued outperformance
  • Considering the broader macroeconomic wealth picture for identifying growth

As project managers, navigating the uncertainty of economic shifts necessitates staying vigilant. The year may bring variables and predictions that impact the execution probability of strategic projects. Shifting between growth plans and efficiency drivers demands different preparation. To stay prepared, consider the following:

  • Regularly monitor global economic indicators and CEO outlooks
  • Foster agility within the team to adapt to changing priorities
  • Develop scenario plans that account for potential economic shifts
  • Collaborate with key stakeholders to gather real-time insights
  • Continuously reassess project priorities based on evolving economic conditions

In an environment of perpetual change, proactive monitoring, adaptability and strategic collaboration will be key to successfully steering projects through the dynamic economic landscape.

How else can you stay prepared as the demands shift on you and your team?

References

  1. JP Morgan: Economic Trends
  2. Economic outlook: A mild slowdown in 2024 and slightly improved growth in 2025
  3. UN: World Economic Situation and Prospects 2024
  4. McKinsey: What matters most? Eight CEO priorities for 2024
  5. CEOs Gain Confidence About 2024 On Hopes Of Lower Rates
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: January 26, 2024 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

3 Valuable PM Lessons I Learned in 2023

By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP

We are almost at the end of 2023! As I take a moment to reflect on this wild ride of a year, here are three key lessons I learned that I wanted to share with you all.

1. Embrace change: Projects are like a box of chocolates…you never know which ones might get canceled.
As program managers, we are no strangers to change. Yet some types of changes are easier to deal with than others. 2023 has been a turbulent year for me with multiple project cancellations right before releasing them to production.

It was super demotivating. But as technology continues to evolve, customer needs shift and market trends change, it's essential to stay flexible and change course as strategy demands. If you ever have to deal with such a situation, rather than feeling demotivated you should embrace it as an opportunity for growth and learning. By doing so, you'll be better equipped to lead your team through the ups and downs.

One of my mentors gave this perspective, which has helped me immensely: “We get paid to do the work without promises that the features/projects will be released to production. So as long as you get paid and you are continuing to learn, do your best work and leave the rest.”


2. About pursuing your passion: Stop comparing yourself to others.
You might have heard this advice from several people: If you pursue your passion, your work will be more enjoyable. For the longest time, I have been beating myself up because I don’t have any passions (unless binge watching TV counts as a passion? :)). I personally do not find this advice to be practical, so I made peace with the realization that it is important to be content with myself rather than compare myself to others who are “pursuing their passion.”

What I realized is that we can pursue our interests in other ways and means instead of completely switching careers or trying to turn hobbies into a living. We can pursue our passions/interests in small ways like finding opportunities in the domain that we are interested in. As an example, if your hobby is photography and photo editing, perhaps you could continue being a program manager but find a job in a company that specializes in photo editing software like Adobe.

Find the domain or area that brings you joy—whether it's event management, innovation or team building—and find opportunities in that domain. When you enjoy what you do, everyone benefits—not just your own well-being, but also your program's success.


3. Attitude of gratitude: The secret ingredient to well-being, in both your professional and personal life!
Last but not least is cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Sure, there are always things that could have gone better (like projects not getting canceled), but be grateful for what we have.

As a program manager, we have the privilege of working with talented team members who contribute their skills and expertise to our projects. Rather than thinking “they are doing their job,” make it a point to express gratitude toward them regularly. A simple "thank you" or acknowledgement can go a long way in building positive relationships within your team
and fostering a supportive work environment. Additionally, practicing gratitude can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

By embracing these three lessons, you'll be better equipped to navigate the challenges of program management in 2024 and beyond. Remember, as a program manager, our role goes beyond managing projects; it's about leading people, fostering collaboration and driving impactful results.

As we bid farewell to another year, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you for your thoughtful comments and engagement. (A special shoutout to our editor Cameron for inspiring me to write and for shaping my musings a better way). Wishing you all a blessed 2024!

Posted by Sree Rao on: December 11, 2023 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

The Importance of Strategic Management for Technical Program Managers

By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP

During my initial phases as a technical program manager, I was heavily focused on the execution of programs and didn’t bother much with strategy. As I gained more experience, I realized the importance of understanding strategy and how it can uplevel us as program managers.

Based on my experience, there is a common misconception that TPMs only play a role in program execution once a strategy has been determined. Strategy plays a crucial role in determining the success of any program, so in this post I will discuss why being plugged into strategy is essential for TPMs.

Strategy vs Plan: Understanding the Differences
Before diving into the importance of strategic management, it's important to understand the difference between “strategy” and “plan.” Strategic management involves the formulation and implementation of long-term plans to achieve organizational goals. Simply put, strategy is the what and why, while a plan is the how.

What is Strategic Management?
Strategic management is a vast topic—there are even master’s programs that delve into it in detail (I will not be able to do that kind of justice to it in this post). A high-level summary is that it refers to the process of defining an organization's mission, vision and overall direction, as well as making decisions on how to allocate resources to achieve those goals. It involves analyzing the internal and external environment—identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis), and developing strategies to address them.

One of the key benefits of strategic management is its ability to provide a clear roadmap for achieving project/program goals. Strategy involves conducting market research, analyzing competitive landscapes, identifying customer needs, and developing long-term plans that align with business objectives. By having a well-defined strategy in place, we can ensure that our projects are focused on delivering value to stakeholders—while also contributing toward the organization's overall success.

Product managers usually create the strategy, but TPMs play a significant part in putting it into action.

Why is Strategic Management Important for TPMs?

  1. It forces you to focus on the long term, not just the short term. I have worked with teams that did not have product managers. These teams were identifying and executing on features that would benefit in the short term, but were not necessarily thinking about the long term. This has served us well when the customer base was small, but was not sustainable when the customer base began to grow. This is where TPMs can be force multipliers—by understanding the fundamentals of strategic management, TPMs can help ensure the teams are set up for long-term success.
  2. You can track KPIs/benefits over time. As TPMs, we not only should be tracking program/project key performance indicators, but also track if we are achieving the benefits we set out to achieve with the program. This includes monitoring metrics/KPIs well after the programs have been implemented. This involves setting clear targets and KPIs, regularly monitoring progress toward these goals, and making adjustments as necessary based on the data we collect. By having a well-defined strategy in place that includes specific milestones and metrics, we can ensure that our projects are aligned with broader business objectives. This also provides us with valuable insights into how to improve performance over time.
  3. It aligns efforts with goals. As the saying goes, “Ideas are a dime a dozen.” In companies that foster a bottom-up culture, we often receive an abundance of project and feature ideas from team members. By understanding the organization's overall strategy, TPMs can help prioritize these ideas based on their alignment with the company's goals. This ensures that resources are used efficiently and avoids confusion about what to focus on.
  4. It provides a framework for decision-making. A well-defined strategy provides a framework for decision-making throughout the project/program lifecycle. This involves analyzing various options and their potential outcomes before making a decision, as well as regularly reviewing the strategy to ensure that it remains relevant in light of changing market conditions or customer needs. By taking a more deliberate approach toward decision-making, we can minimize the risk of costly mistakes while also ensuring that our projects are aligned with broader business objectives.
  5. It provides data-driven insights. As TPMs, we have access to a wealth of data about the project's progress. By providing data-driven insights into the program's performance—and how we are tracking toward achieving goals—we can help inform strategic decisions and ensure that resources are being used effectively.

Conclusion
Strategic management is a crucial aspect of any successful technical program management effort. By participating in strategy sessions and influencing decision-making throughout the program lifecycle, we can ensure that our efforts align with broader business objectives, minimize the risk of costly mistakes, and provide valuable insights for continuous improvement over time.

Disclaimer: My experience has been only in the tech industry, and I am not sure if this is prevalent in other industries. I would love to know if you have experienced something similar.

 

Posted by Sree Rao on: October 11, 2023 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Business Context or Business Acumen? PMs Need Both

by Dave Wakeman

I was scrolling ProjectManagement.com recently, looking for inspiration and ideas for this month’s piece when I saw one author pose a question about “business context” and another one post about “business acumen.”

These got my attention, because over the years, my entire collection of posts has been about reinforcing these two points:

  1. One, the business context matters.
  2. Two, business acumen will make you a better project manager.

So this month, I want to reinforce the importance of your business skills to be a better project manager by highlighting two key ideas.

1. The best project manager can’t fix the wrong project. Peter Drucker said something about the worst waste of timing being doing something that need not be done at all.

One of the key ways that you can use your business skills to improve your PM performance is by understanding what projects are really going to push your business toward its key strategic goals.

This speaks directly to context. You get there with your business acumen.

Why does this matter? First, a lot of projects end up taking place due to momentum. A project starts gaining steam, no one steps in to ask if it is “essential.” It just seems important. So, it gets done.

Second, a lot of projects are done because that’s the way similar projects have been handled in the past. So, a project is just done because it is consistent with “best practices” even if there have been no lessons learned to update the process.

These scenarios highlight the importance of context and business acumen for PMs, because being able to step in and understand if a project is essential and impactful can stop the wrong projects from taking place.

2. Context is key in any situation. The best project manager in the world is still operating in a situation filled with context, no matter what.

The idea of any project, business or PM operating in a vacuum is funny, because nothing occurs in a vacuum. Great PMs know that context matters in every situation, and that context is fluid.

Andy Jordan recently wrote about there being “multiple” contexts, and that is right to a point, but it can be confusing to people. A good PM’s frame of reference for “context” in their projects revolves around the answer to the question of, “What does success look like?”

Why does this matter? One, we need to isolate the signal from the noise. I agree with Andy that there are multiple contexts for any project decision. Where I want you to focus your attention is on recognizing which one is most important.

In the modern business environment, you are never going to be able to manage all the contexts, so the process of isolation and focus matter more than ever.

So, look for the thing that is going to help you achieve “success,” whatever that means in your situation.

Two, the proper context should help you justify your project’s execution. Above, we discussed business acumen and the “right project.” Here is where context helps that come true because the context can change—and likely will change.

So, it is your job to make sure you know what success looks like so that you can place the project in the proper context to ensure that the right projects move forward.

Remember, the best project manager in the world can’t save the wrong project—and that’s where the meeting of business acumen and business context come together.

What do you think? Am I off the mark?

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 08, 2023 07:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Supercharging an Organization’s Performance to Achieve its Mission

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.

There is a dramatic increase in the strategies corporations implement to meet the needs of their stakeholders. Driving value from all parts of an organization and its functions may seem like repetitive exercises—and even feel more like a medieval gauntlet with only a few successful programs. HBR (2021) wrote that by 2027, about 88 million people will be working in project management—with economic activity reaching $20 trillion USD. Also noted: Only 35% of projects are successful, leaving immense waste of resources.

There are many reasons projects fail. HBR (2021) states of the 70% of failed projects, and after exhaustive root-cause analysis across all industries, one can identify common themes such as undervaluing project management skills and methods, and poor performance. Yet organizations that apply project management methods recognized their performance had a 2.5 more times chance to be successful, and organizations can waste 28 times less resources. As such, when applied, the implementation of PM methods works.

Yet in a world filled with a variety of project taxonomies, many organizational boards are now contemplating the need to implement environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Forbes states the benefits of ESG and CSR initiatives include:

  1. Advancing organizational culture, empowering staff to do social good, and welcoming diversity.
  2. Encouraging partners and investors who are interested in long-run strategy to manage risks and opportunities by emphasizing the organization’s ethics.
  3. Raising an organization’s staff confidence and productivity, creating a workplace that achieves the business mission.

Therefore, to ensure success for ESG and CSR programs, an organization’s top leaders need to prioritize and align across all the organization’s businesses. Leaders can use the balanced scorecard to achieve this alignment, and can extend its use across the entire project portfolio.

This theory was developed by Kaplan and Norton, which state the balanced scorecard method converts the organization’s strategy into performance objectives, measures, targets and initiatives. Linking the concept of cause and effect, the balanced scorecard covers four perspectives:

  1. Customer: How do customers see us?
  2. Internal: What must we excel at?
  3. Innovation and learning: Can we continue to improve and create value?
  4. Financial: How do we look to shareholders?

Marr (N.B.) reported over 50% of companies have used this approach in the United States, the United Kingdom, Northern Europe and Japan. One clear benefit has been to align the organization’s structure to achieve its strategic goals.

In conclusion, applying project management methods and aligning an organization’s performance through the balanced scorecard can unlock ESG and CSR benefits that can supercharge a company’s efforts to achieve its mission.

References

  1. HBR: The Project Economy Has Arrived
  2. HBR: The Balanced Scorecard—Measures that Drive Performance
  3. Project Management Statistics: Trends and Common Mistakes in 2023
  4. Forbes: Three Reasons Why CSR And ESG Matter to Businesses
  5. Balanced Scorecard: How Many Companies Use This To
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: June 14, 2023 04:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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