Project Management

Servant Leadership: Serve to Be Great

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This blog is about leadership as it applies to projects and project management, but also as it applies to society in general. The bloggers here manage projects and lead teams in both business and volunteer environments, and are all graduates of PMI's Leadership Institute Master Class. We hope to bring insight into the challenges we all experience in our projects and in our day-to-day work, providing helpful tidbits to inspire you to take action to improve—whether in your personal life, your business/work life or on your projects. Read, comment and share your experiences as we share ours. Let’s make the pie bigger! Grab a slice!

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Cameron McGaughy
Catalin Dogaru
Mike Frenette
Suzan Cho
Jonathan Lee
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Graham Briggs
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Recent Posts

Strategy Formulation is not Strategy Delivery

Project Management is All Around Us!

The Servant Leadership Way: Virtues that bring Results

Acting a leader?

The Elusive PMO

Viewing Posts by Mike Frenette

Strategy Formulation is not Strategy Delivery

A recent question on Quora prompted me to spend 20 minutes writing an answer because I believe it to be a critically important question.

The question was "How is strategic management used in project execution?" I didn't really want to answer that question, so I indulged myself and changed it to “How does project management fit with strategic management?”

Organizations must have a strategy. If they don’t, let’s just stop the conversation here.

Strategy needs to have a plan of execution. It is of no use for a bunch of executives to fly to some resort somewhere and dream up a strategy, then fly back, dispersing it to the minions, expecting that they will run off in all directions implementing it exactly as they envisioned. Strategy without execution is no more than a puff of smoke. It is where the rubber meets the sky, as we used to say at Michelin Tires.

Now let’s talk about projects. This is where the rubber meets the road. Others may have said that Projects are used to execute a strategy, and therefore must be aligned with the strategy.

I take a slightly different view. That is, Portfolios of Programs and Projects must align with the Strategic Intent of the organization.

Portfolios are often based on business units, answering the question “To be successful, what set of Programs and Projects must my part of the organization execute over this period of time, and for which I have funding, in order to meet the business goals set out for my part of the organization, interleaving with other parts of the organization?” The period of time may be a year, three years, five years or more; or changing continuously as in Agile Organizations - another topic.)

So you might ask, “What is a Program, then?”. I’m glad you asked.

A Program is a series of inter-related, and possibly inter-dependent projects, all of which must be executed to achieve a business benefit or set of benefits. That is, if any one of the projects is not executed (not necessarily at the same time), the business benefit cannot be achieved.

So - Projects are part of Programs (and for various reasons, if we define it this way, we must also say that a Program may contain many Projects or even only one Project). Projects deliver products, usually on time, on budget and to the desired level of quality using either traditional (predictive) or Agile (adaptive) methods. Products of projects are used to realize the benefits defined in the strategy and in this way set the stage for delivery of benefits, albeit not the actual benefits themselves. Benefits Realization Management is another topic for another day.

So how does all this answer the [modified] question?

Strategy is a must-have for any organization. Implementation or execution of Strategy has to be funded and planned. The best way to do this, in my view, is through Business-defined Portfolios containing Programs and Projects, that are created to be in lock-step with the Strategy, and through which executives who created the strategy cause their vision to become a reality.

It goes without saying that executives who implement their Strategies this way must provide the organizational resources required: their personal support, funding, people, and careful attention to change and how it will impact the organization. This raises the specter of Organizational Change Management, also a topic for another day.

I believe executives who set strategy and then empower their people to deliver it, providing the required resources and support whenever they need it, represent the epitome of Servant Leaders. Set the direction, trust your people and give them what they need to do the job.

What do you think? What is happening in your organizations? Is strategy delivery baked into your DNA? Or is it an annual talk about corporate vision that does little but excite people for a few hours a year?

Posted by Mike Frenette on: June 21, 2019 01:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

The Elusive PMO

In our jobs as project managers, we often find ourselves thrust into situations requiring us to share our knowledge to help others be successful. But that is not a problem for us: it’s an opportunity to help others become leaders - a main tenet of servant leadership. And what stronger leadership is there than a PMO formed through a mix of best practices from credible sources, collaboration and consensus among the PMs in your organization?

So you are an excellent project manager and your skills have been recognized: a high success ratio in the projects you manage, high technical expertise, outstanding interpersonal skills and an ability to boil complex theory down into comprehensible, practical and applicable processes in your organization. You have been chosen. Now it is time to set up the PMO.

There have been been many books and articles written on how to set up a PMO and how to make it successful. There have also been many written on why PMOs fail, the types of PMOs and whether a PMO should be a provider of good practices or a provider of PM services. You must be well aware of success metrics for your PMO. You must learn lessons from those who have tried and succeeded or tried and failed, and you must know the type of PMO you have been mandated to create.

PMs are a strong-headed bunch. They are in control of their own project organizations, often have a lot of autonomy, and may (believe it not) actually be resistant to change, much like many people in a multitude of organizations. So, you will be challenged with inviting their input, collectively separating the wheat from the chaff, having them feel they have had input and have been part of gaining consensus on ways to change to improve project success rates without undue process and fanfare.

There are a few things I feel require particular focus:

  • Identifying all the PMs in the organization and treating them as you would any key stakeholder in a project - communicate business objectives and intent, involve them, consult with them, and gain consensus on important items.
  • Using industry standard processes, tools and templates (PMI is a great source), but tailoring them to the organization, not just branding, but in content and use. One size does not fit all.
  • Implementing a training, certification, mentoring and coaching program so that help is always at hand, and everyone knows how to get it.
  • Installing a PM vernacular that matches the processes, tools and templates you are together espousing and socializing it within your organization’s PM Community.
  • Establishing a repository for all things PM, preferably online and mobile-friendly, making sure the entry point is highly visible, linking it to your organization’s main entry point to such applications.
  • Making the entry point usable, engaging a user experience expert to design, for example, graphical, clickable and easy to use interfaces.
  • Creating a PM community within your organization and holding regular meetings allowing PMs to showcase their projects, share lessons learned and discuss leading edge PM topics, in person or virtual or a combination of the two.
  • Establishing a virtual collaboration space for PMs, where lessons learned can be shared, where help can be requested and where virtual mentoring can take place.

These are just a few items to consider, of course. A final critically important note is to set up monitoring processes to ensure your PMO has high adoption rates and a robust sustainability plan. How will you monitor its use? If it is not used, how will you fix it so it is? How will you ensure it remains fresh with continuous updating?  How will you ensure PMs stay engaged in the community you collectively created?There is more, of course, and I am sure some of you will share your experiences and lessons learned here.

Here’s to the establishment of your vibrant, well-adopted and fully sustainable Project Management Office!

Posted by Mike Frenette on: November 28, 2017 08:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

We Don’t Need Servant Leaders in the Volunteer Realm!

Categories: Leadership, PMI, Volunteering

There I was, on the Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk just outside Privateers Warehouse, enjoying the beautiful, hot, sweltering day: the sort of day that made it difficult to lick all the drips of the Cows chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cone I had just salivatingly acquired as they began their rapid trek down the cone onto my hand, threatening to turn my arm into a sticky mess and prompting me to lament the fact that I had forgotten to ask for extra serviettes.

My colleague and I were out for a lunch time stroll, enjoying the cloudless indigo sky and the emerald water, passing Nova Scotia’s trademark Bluenose schooner at its usual dock and dodging tourists coming from the opposite direction, likely from one of the three gargantuan cruise ships that had docked farther down the harbour that morning at Pier 21. They were undoubtedly also on their way to purchase one of those delicious Cows delicacies, firm in their knowledge that the tourist brochure held rolled up in their sweaty fist was leading them to an unusual guilty Haligonian experience.

Since we both served on the same local volunteer board, we fell into a conversation about servant leadership and what it all meant. I expressed my belief that mentoring and coaching was a big part of being on any board, especially in volunteer organizations, due to the limited lifetime of a volunteer role. She conjectured that it didn’t really matter what happened after you left a volunteer organization, because you were no longer responsible, and it was up to those who stayed behind to do their part.

Well, that got me going. I posited that a volunteer board is exactly like an ice cream cone in the heat. The cone is the framework of the organization and the ice cream is its volunteer base, formed of board members and committees of the board. As volunteers finish their terms and leave the organization (those drips of ice cream racing toward their next role in life) they must leave something behind - a fresh scoop of ice cream that has been formed to fit the cone, and well prepared to withstand the heat of the day.

I have to confess my metaphor dwindled into indistinct mumbling at this point.

After gently informing me that my example was fraught with drips, if not gaping holes, my esteemed colleague agreed that one must leave something behind. I said, “Got ya! So you agree with me after all!”. Begrudgingly, she admitted that perhaps she was somewhat hasty in her previous rather heartless assertion and agreed that volunteer board members need guidance and succession planning to keep the board alive and true to its original mandate, providing continuity of purpose.

In our case, the mandate was to provide value to members through networking, professional development and certification. You probably have already guessed the organization in question. You know - the one that provides incredible value to its members and through them to the profession and many industries they serve.

So are volunteer organizations really like Cows ice cream cones in the heat? Of course not, but if that playful similie coerced you into reading this article, my purpose is served. I admit it. I am a shameless snake oil salesman.

But to get on with the real topic, the one that has you on the edge of your seat, seeking answers, allow me to suggest that in a volunteer organization servant leadership is indeed required. It is required in other organizations too, but in this one, because of the fluidity of the board and its committees, even more so.

As a president of a volunteer board or a director of a portfolio, it is your job to develop people to fill your shoes to ensure the organization continues to live on within its original mandate. Because board roles are often quite short, as normally dictated by some fairly stringent by-laws and articles of incorporation, replacing yourself with someone who has been indoctrinated into the volunteer culture of the board has to be a main preoccupation of yours. I’m sure you will agree that bringing someone onto a board with zero experience of the organization’s inner workings is not a way to do this.

So develop your replacement. Lend them a helping hand. Give them an opportunity to see how that finely tuned engine works so they can strive for the success you’ve achieved and learn from the failures you’ve experienced. Succession planning is crucial. Grooming your fellow board members for a leadership role, and encouraging them to also groom their committee members to step into their roles is one of your primary jobs as a volunteer board member.

As you ponder your role, always remember that as a steward of a volunteer organization, it is your job to leave it better than you found it. And what more effective way is there to do this than by preparing those who succeed you to reach for an even higher pinnacle of success than you and your colleagues achieved?

To those of you in the warm part of the globe, I wish you a fabulous summer season, and may you catch all those drips of delicious dairy confection before they leave the bottom of your cone. And to those of you who are not, enjoy your winter sports, resting in the certain knowledge that your ice cream will not melt.

Posted by Mike Frenette on: July 10, 2017 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Project Failure or Organizational Failure?

San Pietro at nightI was privileged to present with my friend and colleague Majeed Hosseiney on May 2nd at the PMI EMEA Congress in Rome on the topic of leadership in organizations as it applies to the project environment. The gist of our presentation was that we have a tendency when a project fails to shine a light on the indicators we watch as project managers - the famous iron triangle. That is, we look within the project to find reasons for failure, and not so often outside the project. 

We asked the audience, "Please stand if you can say all of your projects delivered full scope, on time and within budget?" How many do you think stood up in a room of about 80 people, almost all of whom were project managers? Would you guess 50%? 20%? 10%? 5%? 1%?

0% is the correct answer.

Was it because everyone was too shy to stand to receive a round of applause for such an unusual accomplishment? Or was it really because 80 projects managers had never had a successful project as measured by iron triangle factors?

We then asked those who did not stand (everyone) to discuss with the person next to them what might be common reasons for such failure and to share with us. Responses included weak sponsorship, inadequate executive support, unskilled teams, and so on. You can probably add a few yourself. Or, maybe you can say that all of your projects were roaring successes. If so, please tell us what made them so. 

We had a great time presenting. The crux of our presentation was that project failure is often a misnomer. That is, project failures can often be attributed to organizational failure, and that failures can be reduced and even avoided by using portfolio, program, project management methods within a projectized organization. Project selection based on business goals and available budget has a much greater chance of producing successful projects. It makes decisions more transparent and more business goal-based. 

We were fortunate to be interviewed by Kristin Jones a few hours after our session. You can probably tell that we had a lot of fun. 

Have you found that external factors negatively impact your projects, sometimes more often than factors internal to your projects? Do you feel that sometimes projects are blamed for what might be a failure in leadership on the part of the organization? We'd love to hear your opinions.


Posted by Mike Frenette on: May 10, 2017 10:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Where Does Strategy End and Project Management Begin?

Share the visionIn a recent HBR article on strategic prioritization by the current chair of PMI, Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, I read about a tool he uses aptly called Hierarchy of Purpose. This tool helps in understanding an organization’s purpose, methods of pursuing it and its strategic vision;  what is of utmost importance over the next few years; what projects should be resourced “to the hilt” that align, as well as which should be scrapped; who the best people are to involve; and, what outcome-related targets should be set.

I think this is a great tool that ties in perfectly with portfolio management, organizational [servant, I hope] leadership, stakeholder engagement and of course the programs and projects that result from the portfolio.  

But what really intrigued me was Antonio's comments about conflicting messages coming from an executive team. The example he cited, more eloquently than I could, was about an organization telling their people they had two main strategic priorities: Efficiency and Customer Satisfaction. He then related a brief story about how someone delivering a parcel was invited into their customer’s office for a chat. The person first thought “Yes! Customer Satisfaction, here I come!”, was immediately supplanted by the second thought “Oops - where is the efficiency in that?” See the conflict?  

How often do we get conflicting and unclear priorities from our leadership team and what should we as project managers and servant leaders do when that happens? I believe it is up to us to be crystal clear in OUR understanding of priorities so that WE can be crystal clear in our decision-making and in relaying the same priorities to our teams.  Would a servant leader simply accept what was said verbatim from senior members of our team? I think not.  It takes a lot of nerve to point out the need for clarity, the need for priorities that are not both number one and the need for a change in messaging.  What senior executive would not welcome such courage from a more junior leader?

So, once we understand the business priorities and have clarified where the focus should be, how do we instill this into the project team? Knowing and understanding with clarity is the first step. Communicating it clearly is the second. Communicating to the team, to the stakeholders, to the customers if applicable. Making decisions in any project becomes much easier when that shining star representing the organization's strategic and focused goals can be seen clearly and followed to a successful conclusion. Just like those three wise men who were said to have followed a star around this time of year a few thousand years ago.

How clearly does your executive teams express the strategic goals of your organization? Can you make autonomous decisions firm in the knowledge that you clearly understand both the goals and the priorities? How do you communicate this to your teams?

Food for thought.

But during this time of year, one should be clearly focusing on food for the tummy.  And with that, I wish everyone celebrating during this time a wonderful holiday season and all the best in 2017.  


Posted by Mike Frenette on: December 15, 2016 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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