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December 2011 Archives

Applying Portfolio Management as a Business Map

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It's the end of the year and many companies are reviewing how they performed over the last 12 months.

Portfolio management can help senior managers check how their products or services are performing -- and maximize benefits and opportunities to plan for next year.

PMI's Standard for Portfolio Management -- Second Edition defines a portfolio as "a collection of projects or programs and other work that are grouped together to facilitate effective management of that work to meet strategic business objectives."

And "portfolio management is the coordinated management of portfolio components to achieve specific organizational objectives."  When we use a portfolio approach, senior managers coordinate how projects and programs are managed and gain deeper understanding of what they mean to the organization.

Where I have worked, a portfolio is organized as a collection of business operations that share the same purpose. Portfolio management serves as our business map, where different business packages are laid out according to risk, profit and time.
In companies, portfolio managers address products or services according to risk and profit factors. Products or services are divided into four types:
·    High-risk high-profit
·    Low-risk high-profit
·    High-risk low-profit
·    Low-risk low-profit

Taking their payback period into consideration, benefits can be maximized by reasonably allocating resources and financial investment for each of the four types of products/business.

For example, products that are "high-risk high-profit" require time to generate high revenue.

As for businesses or products that are already generating long-term and stable profits -- those in the "low-risk low-profit" category or basic business -- careful resource allocation should lead to eventual increased revenue.
"High-risk low-profit" products should also be given appropriate resources, as long as they bring in certain benefits, such as expanding or maintaining market share, and keeping up with potential competitors.

Take computer manufacturer Acer, for example. In the past, Acer has made large profits on PC products of the "low-risk high-profit" variety. By 2008, Acer was about to surpass its main (and only) competitor, Hewlett Packard, as the world's biggest PC manufacturer. But an unexpected competitor arose: Apple.

Acer's long-term reliance on this "low-risk high-profit" strategy meant that innovative "high-risk high-profit" or "high-risk low-profit" technology products, such as those that Apple makes, were ignored. Apple topped Acer because Acer failed to plan a complete business map. It didn't manage the risks arising from a "low-risk high-profit" strategy. Acer was only focused on pursuing market share by making and selling cheap PC products.
Even when your current business is generating high revenues, you should never ignore business plans and products that are still under development. You should always allocate reasonable resources to these business elements, and never solely depend on your successful products or services.
When planning your company's products or services for the upcoming year, be sure to check if your strategic plan is well balanced. Make sure no element of your business is over-exploited and no element is ignored -- no matter how little profit it currently generates. 

Boost Productivity by Renaming Tasks

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Do you assign yourself a task that's actually framed as an expected result? For example, creating or updating a report is a task, while producing a report is a result of that activity. Or, performing a troubleshooting session is a task; solving a problem is an expected result.

Language impacts how we work and what we accomplish. This reality is illustrated in project management through the use of the work breakdown structures, for example, where we break down the tasks and label them appropriately to be able to execute them. The work seems easier to accomplish that way.

To be productive, tasks need to be executable and controllable. Tasks framed as results are ambiguous because they do not specify an action that can be carried out -- instead, they imply that you will figure out the real action you can do and accomplish.

I find that I get a lot more done when I put a task on my calendar that I know I can control. For instance, I can control hosting a meeting, but I can't control the meeting's outcome. Therefore, the task, "Chair a solution review meeting" has more power than "Get the team to approve a solution." 

When our mind considers a task to be particularly important or ambiguous, it tends to look for an easier outlet or for ways to delay working on that task. It's only when we reword the action in terms that we can understand that we jump to execute the task. The key, I find, is in wording the task as something over which you have actual control.

Look at the work you planned for today or the next seven days. Reword your actions and tasks so that you can have complete control over them. Notice what happens to your productivity and report back.

Have you seen a productivity boost from renaming tasks? 

Project Management Plan: The Basics

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In a previous post, 7 Essential Project Planning Documents, I referred to the "Project Management Plan" as one of the key planning documents that fosters project success. 

Sometimes people confuse the project management plan with the schedule or the scope plan. But it's more than that. 

A project management plan is the planning document, capturing the entire project end-to-end, covering all project phases, from initiation through planning, execution and closure. 

A comprehensive plan covers at least the followings areas and components: 
(Note: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide -- Fourth Edition) covers these in Chapter 3. Instead of putting the elements one by one, I grouped them by purpose/meaning.)

  • Overview: Why the project is being conducted and its primary objectives 
  • Scope: Business needs, requirements, deliverables, constraints and work breakdown structure 
  • Schedule: Activities schedule and project milestones 
  • Costs: Project budget and its funding approach
  • Quality: Quality measurement and control approach
  • Project team: The people working on the project, their roles and responsibilities 
  • Communication: Communication type, channels and the reporting approach 
  • Risks: Risk index, methods to identify and evaluate risks, risk mitigation and contingency planning
  • Procurements: Required procurements and purchase processes
  • Closure: Closure approach, including the deliverables hand-off protocol 
  • Changes: Procedures used to track changes in the project 
  • Baselines: Scope, schedule and budget baselines
When writing a project management plan, the approach depends again
on the project's size and context. I personally use the following approaches:

  • The master document approach is where the entire project, with all the underlying planning details, is documented within the same master plan.
  • The index approach, when all subsidiary planning documents are written as separated documents and linked or referenced in an index-like plan.
What approach do you use when crafting a project management plan? What elements do you use?

Every Project Manager Has a Story

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While recently attending a NASA event, I spoke with a Mission Control Manager, who remembered me from a project management panel I was on earlier this year. I was pleasantly surprised. I almost didn't participate on the panel because I didn't think I had much to share.

Those new to project management may feel they don't have the "expertise" to speak or write on a topic. This could not be further from the truth. 

Your experiences about your career path or even individual projects you've managed or worked on contain valuable information that even just one other person in the profession could learn from. A five-minute talk or a five-paragraph blog is really all you need to start connecting your story to others. It's this connection, done over and over again, that will increase your influence, your reach and professional network.

"Storytelling" is more than reading fairy tales to a child. It comes in the form of speeches, presentations, panels and writings. At project management events (in person or virtual), you can reach dozens or hundreds of people with your unique experiences in the profession. Additionally, the experience of applying for a panel, or writing a paper or article, will help you realize how much you do know, and where there's knowledge gaps. 
So I say, challenge yourself: Volunteer to present and share a project management story in a familiar setting, such as at a PMI chapter meeting or speaking panels. If you're ready to present in front of an audience of people you don't know, search for opportunities to present at events such as a PMI® Global Congress. These types of events expose you to project managers from all walks of life, new comers and veterans alike. With such a large audience present, sharing your stories will inevitably reach other project managers who can learn from your experiences.  
Take some time to write a short entry on the project management topic you're most knowledgeable about -- then find an outlet to share that material. From a PMI community of practice to a PMI chapter discussion board to your own Facebook page, there are many virtual spaces on which to share your project management stories. 
Start small -- even if it's just 140 characters on Twitter. Then build your momentum, and soon you'll find your project management stories have reached places you never thought they could.    

Fellow blogger Jim De Piante recently covered this topic. Check out what he has to say.

Contribute Your Knowledge to Help Update PMI Global Standards

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Looking to contribute to the development of a standard? Here's your opportunity.

Through mid-March, project, program and portfolio professionals along with the interested public can share their expertise and experience to improve and comment on PMI's portfolio and program standards, as well as A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

The Standard for Portfolio Management -- Third Edition Draft Standard will be available for public review until 14 January 2012.

The Standard for Program Management -- Third Edition will be available from 6 February - 6 March 2012 and the PMBOK® Guide -- Fifth Edition will be available from 17 February - 20 March 2012.

Here's your link to log in to PMI.org and access the exposure draft that's available. Review and submit your comments.

You can also visit and bookmark the "PMBOK® Guide and Standards" section of www.PMI.org to reach exposure drafts and learn about current PMI standards projects.

Your voice matters. Provide your comments -- and make a difference in PMI standards.

Win-Wins Can Build Your Project Team's Brand -- and Your Profession

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The recent Qantas Airways network shutdown was a good example of an industry taking a long-term view of what is best for the industry. Rather than overtly exploiting the problems and passenger discomfort caused by the disruption, Qantas' competitors scheduled additional capacity and cooperated to minimize the overall inconvenience to the flying public.

An obvious consequence to this is that passengers may discover they like the rival airline and keep flying it. But overall, the airline industry worked to minimize the damage to the air travel category. Everyone recognized the collective overall need to keep the flying public flying and returning to repeat the experience.

This win-win approach is a stark contrast to the situation where a competitor's primary aim is to score a short-term win, regardless of the damage caused to the sector. If Qantas' competitors had resorted to negative advertising pointing out how bad the Qantas service was, for example, there would have been damage done to the overall perception of flying.

Now, consider your next argument with one of your project's stakeholders, either internal or external. While your stakeholders may not be competitors, it may benefit you to use the same "win-win" approach.

You have a clear choice: You can work collaboratively to build your project team brand and even enhance the larger project management profession. Or, you can go all out to win -- and if you lose, make sure your competitor can't win.

The latter approach always causes long-term problems.

If the customer loses, the relationship will be damaged and they'll be looking for an opportunity to get even. You also permanently damage your long-term opportunities. If you lose, you're no longer part of the solution. You've effectively negotiated yourself out of a role.

The alternative is a collaborative approach where you seek to build the best outcome with as many of your needs, wants and ideas embedded in the final solution as possible. This collaborative solution will, of course, include some of your stakeholder's wants and ideas, but may result in an overall better outcome for everyone by transforming the problem into a win-win solution.

In this scenario, you may have made some compromises, but you're still in the game and can influence the outcome. The relationship is maintained and you have helped maintained the image of the team and the project management profession.

What do you think? Short-term "wins" may feel good. But if the consequence damages the customer's perception of you and your project, is the short-term gain worth the long-term pain?

Groom and Coach Your Gen Y Project Managers

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As a project or program manager, there may be times when you're asked to recommend one of your team members to manage a new project. Depending on the magnitude of the project, you may select a team member based on his or her skills and experience.

The new project may be a good opportunity to fulfill a younger team member's aspiration of becoming a project leader. But to groom project managers from a different generation, you must assess their skills and define an action plan.

After the action plan is completed, the Gen Y manager will start a transition period to prove his capacities by executing the associated project activities. Ninety days is usually appropriate.

During this period the Gen Y project manager will be vulnerable. It will be important that whoever is coaching the Gen Yer, establish a solid working relationship and that you help him or her to navigate the new role.
To effectively coach and train the Gen Y project manager, have your trainee do the following:

  1. Assume the role. Have the Gen Y member take a mental break from the team member role and take charge of the project manager role. What has made him successful in his previous position will not necessarily make him successful in the new role as a project manager.
  2. Get familiar. Make sure the Gen Y member understands the project scope and identify what he or she needs to know about the organizational structure and procedures, and corporate culture and politics during the transition period.
  3. Build success. Define an action plan and meet frequently with the Gen Y member to set and manage expectations.
  4. Recognize quick wins. Identify areas in which results can be produced and will create value for the project. This will help to build the younger project manager's credibility.
  5. Network. Meet with the Gen Y project manager to define networking guidelines and build a list of people that may be important to network within the organization. Facilitate meetings and follow-up networking progress.
Training this new team member to be a project leader can also be beneficial for you. You will be able to act as a coach and combine your field experience in the organization and the profession to customize an approach that will leverage the Gen Y project manager's character, skills and aptitude for learning.
Have you had the opportunity to recommend a Gen Y member of your team to lead a project? If so, what did you do to support him or her?

Are You a Project Driver or Enabler?

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Project managers are tasked with many simultaneous responsibilities. They manage and drive the delivery of a project while managing their team to deliver results according to the business expectations, on time and on budget. It's no small feat when this is accomplished seamlessly.

As a project manager, many times I find myself to be the driver, serving as the catalyst for movement and action.

A driver is someone who takes on the responsibility and accountability for the project deliverables. So, in addition to day-to-day team management, I drive the alignment of the team to the project plan, maintain quality standards with the delivered work and determine the project execution and communication methods.

Enablers act as complements to the driver. They go beyond the task of effectively driving the project activities and focus on the elements that empower the team by fostering a strong work ethic, high morale, satisfaction, and attaining personal and professional accomplishments. Enablers are very good at working with all the team members -- internal and external to the project and organization -- in such a way that allows everyone on the team to:

•    Align to the overall goal

•    Emotionally connect to why the project's overarching goal is important

•    See their own purpose on the team through their contribution and knowledge

•    Feel validated for their inputs and recognized for their efforts and outputs

Enablers add life and color to the project. They are known as the glue that keeps the team together. An enabler can exist within the project team, and he or she doesn't have to be the project manager.

The great value of project managers serving as enablers is that -- when combined with their authority, they are able to drive the project and enable their teams to deliver higher quality projects and longer lasting results. This value is reflected in the quality of the product or service, processes and process adoption rate, plus greater organizational awareness and integration.

Are you an enabler or a driver? Do you think it's most beneficial to have the project manager as the driver or the enabler? Why?

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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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