New European Partner

April 25, 2011

Discap has joined the Stakeholder Circle partnership to offer clients in The Netherlands training and consultancy based on the Stakeholder Circle® methodology. Discap is an independent consultancy specialising in successful front-end business development including opportunity identification and business case management.

Working at the intersection of the commercial value stream and delivery; Rob de Moor, the principal of Discap, believes focusing on effective stakeholder engagement is a crucial element in translating opportunities into business benefits.

To contact Discap go to: http://www.discap.nl

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Lost in Translation

April 24, 2011

The myths around words and the use of language to define culture is central to our ability to communicate effectively. This is a light hearted story for the holidays……

If the next time you see a Kangaroo it looks confused the reason may be in the name. Capt. James Cook arrives in Australia in 1770 and sees a strange animal….

He asks local Aborigines what is it called? They don’t understand Cook and reply ‘I don’t know’ in their local dialect “kan-ga-roo”……………

The world then had a new species the Kangaroo. But if they didn’t know and he didn’t know who does??

As with all good stories, this one contains enough truth to be plausible. A later explorer, Captain Phillip K. King, recorded in 1820 a different word for the animal, which he wrote as “mee-nuah” so it was assumed that Captain Cook had been mistaken.

However, the Guugu Yimidhirr people to refer to a certain species of kangaroo as gangurru which is pronounced almost identically to kangaroo so all that may have happened is a specific name was applied to a whole species.

Next time you are tempted to drop a great technical term, or hip jargon into a conversation think of the kangaroo myth first. If you don’t know they don’t know what’s the point?? For more on this see my PM Network article of the same title from December 2010: view the article


Key roles within Project, Program and Portfolio Management

April 16, 2011

Project, Program and Portfolio management is frequently seen as a seamless part of a business. However, distinctly different skill sets, personal attributes and capabilities are needed in the different roles.  This post suggests a framework that can be used to understand the differences.

Role 1 – Technical

Most people start on a project management career as a team member focused on technical work. Aspects of the role include:

  • Developing the skills to do the work
  • Solving technical problems
  • Supporting and engaging with fellow team members
  • Planning the work to be accomplished in the next day or two

The team leader is a skilled and experienced technician with additional responsibilities to ensure the others in the team can be successful. The team leader’s additional roles include:

  • Leading the team, leads by doing
  • Skills transfer to new team members
  • Resolving technical problems that are beyond individual team member’s skill sets
  • Planning the work for the team for the next week or two
  • Clearing road blocks and keeping project management informed.

Role 2 – Project Management

The step from team leader to project manager role is a career change.  The project manager manages technicians by providing appropriate direction and leadership. Whilst technical understanding is important, the PM does not need to be a technician.  For example, in many countries it is illegal for a construction project manager to install electrical wiring; this is a job for qualified electricians.  Success for the PM lays in planning and managing the overall project he or she is responsible for and negotiating it through to a successful conclusion. Aspects of the role include:

  • Designing the project to efficiently deliver stakeholder requirements within acceptable time, cost, quality and risk parameters
  • Providing clear achievable and effective direction, leadership and motivation to the project teams through the team leaders
  • Helping team leaders develop their skills and their team members skills
  • Resolving stakeholder issues and problems across the spectrum of the project, usually through negotiation and communication
  • Planning the project work through to completion and then transitioning the plan into action
  • Acting as a buffer to protect the project team from undesirable external influence

Role 3 – Program Management / Project Director

Moving up the career ladder, the next career change is to the role of program manager or project director. The difference between these roles is the program manager will typically manage a range of projects across functions to achieve an organisational objective aligned with the organisations strategy. Whereas the Project Director has responsibility for the performance of project managers within a functional area; eg, the IT Department.

These are junior executive roles focused on achieving organisational objectives and creating value through the work of other managers. These managers, manage project managers. Success for a program manager is delivering organisational change and benefits. Aspects of the role include:

  • Defining strategies to achieve the organisation’s objectives
  • Initiating projects to deliver the required outputs
  • Providing clear achievable and effective direction, leadership and motivation to the project managers
  • Helping project managers develop their skills
  • Negotiating stakeholder issues and resolving problems at the organisational level
  • Planning the organisation’s work through to the achievement of the objective (minimum 1 to 2 years)
  • Helping other organisation executives appreciate the value of the program and ensuring the work is aligned with the evolving organisational objectives

Role 4 – Organisational Governance

Slightly to one side of the ‘doing’ of projects and programs the organisational governance structures are supported by portfolio management and PMOs.  These management roles are focused on providing strategic advice to the executive. The portfolio manager assesses current and planned projects and programs on a routine basis to recommend the optimum mix for future resourcing.  The PMO manager should be operating at the strategic level,  providing input to the portfolio management process based on the performance of current projects and additionally providing input to the organisations overall governance structure. Whilst the PMO staff are frequently technical, the PMO manager needs to operate effectively at the executive levels of the organisation.

Success in these roles is being a ‘trusted advisor’ to the organisations executives. Aspects of the role include:

  • Defining appropriate governance processes to support the achievement of the organisation’s strategy
  • Selecting projects and programs to deliver the required outcomes
  • Negotiating resource and capacity issues and resolving problems at the organisational level
  • Planning the organisation’s work on an on-going basis (minimum 2 to 5 years)
  • Helping other organisation executives appreciate the value of the project and program portfolio and ensuring the work is aligned with the evolving organisational objectives

Whilst these four very different roles are frequently lumped under the one umbrella of project management, as this post has demonstrated, very different skill sets are required for each and transitioning from one role to another, needs to be treated as a career change.

For more information see:


Valuing Project Procedures

April 5, 2011

I am frequently asked to quantify the value of improving an organisations project management capabilities or how to establish the ROI for a new PMO.

Whilst these questions are sensible they are nearly impossible to answer. Certainly there are strong indicators of the value generated by an effective PMO, this has been demonstrated repeatedly in studies by KPMG, PWC and others (Download the PMO studies).

OPM3 is more difficult. The most useful option is a comparison with CMMI.  The larger user base for CMMI makes statistical analysis possible and demonstrates a consistent value proposition for improving organisational maturity and capability (see more on OPM3).

The question is can the generic data generated by these studies be translated to a specific proposal in a single organisation. Unfortunately the answer is no.  On average an organisation can expect a significant return on monies invested in PMOs and improving project, program and portfolio management maturity but as risk practitioners know only to well, on average, nothing is average.  Some situations will fail, other will generate stellar returns.

This is not a new problem.  In June of 1962 the USA Dept. of Defense promulgated PERT/COST as a new general purpose management system for use on major military system acquisition programs. In 1964 a major study was undertaken by The Mitre Corporation to investigate the question of how to evaluate the design of the PERT/COST management system. This study still makes interesting reading today.

The overarching conclusions in the report were:

  • That there is no single, simple straightforward way of deriving value judgments as to the PERT/COST system design, or probably any other general purpose management system.
  • The interrelationships between a management system and the quality of its implementation operation (including the capability of the managers who use it), presents serious difficulties in the assessment of the value of the management system alone.
  • The value of the system is intimately related to both the quality of its implementation and the capability and willingness of the appropriate managers to use it.
  • An evolutionary approach is a good way to evolve the development of the system capability in an orderly fashion over period of time. It is ideal in cases where the ultimate capability to be required of the system cannot be precisely defined, but where the direction toward which increasing system capabilities should be oriented are predictable.

My post on Cobb’s Paradox asked the question why do executive managers allow poor quality systems to exist in their organisations. Possibly one answer is the difficulty of generating a simple investment proposition discussed in this post.

Better informed executives are capable of bypassing set minimum ROI values or payback periods, focusing instead on the demonstrated competitive advantage to be gained by selecting the right projects and programs to do, then doing them right!  The challenge for project management professionals in other organisations is making the necessary information available in ways that can be received and understood by the executives.

In conclusion, Harry S Truman said “The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.”  To help you avoid this problem, the 1964 Mitre Report, authored by R. L. Hamilton, can be downloaded from the link (Handle) on  http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=AD0603425