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As a project manager, you lead the organization towards innovative thinking about how to realistically meet strategic objectives. Through managing people and projects, you have a vast array of knowledge of the organization, business practices, organizational culture, power players and influential people. Most importantly, you know where the bottlenecks are in the many business processes at work. You know the people who enable and those who do not. You are among the most valuable assets at your company because you know how to get things done.
Having all of this knowledge and experience, how can you become a major contributor to corporate strategy development and project alignment? Take all of that knowledge and use it to think and act like a strategic enabler and solution partner.
Portfolio management requires both business managers and solution partners working together to align, plan and manage a “strategy to action life cycle” for new and legacy corporate initiatives. This collaboration encourages critical thinking to discover how to use your social and political capital to strengthen corporate strategies.
- Portfolios help organize and prioritize project investments. If you are familiar with Agile practices, a Product Backlog can be compared to a portfolio. As Product Owners and customers examine the business value of product features and prioritize each feature in the Product Backlog based on value and risk, business managers and solution partners examine the business value of proposed projects and prioritize each project in the portfolio based on value and risk. This guides companies to make decisions about project and resource investments.
- Portfolios help inspire innovation to reduce cost. Examining the business value of legacy technologies and business processes helps identify areas of improvement or replacement as some elements may no longer support business strategy or may be too costly to sustain. The goal here is to reduce the number of elements that have low business impact. Technology retirement or replacement may lead to new, smarter technologies that enable corporations to achieve business goals smarter and faster.
An influential PMO can and should impact business decisions about projects. When opportunity to reduce cost or improve business value is present, members of the PMO should be at the forefront when business leaders ask what the best alternatives are. The “strategy to action life cycle” is a continuous process with direct participation and influential input from project managers strategically poised to add the most value. You don’t need to hire a portfolio manager to manage a portfolio. Project Managers can lead strategy to action management activities using portfolios and this critical contribution can increase the value of your PMO.
A project manager agrees to manage a technical project that was two years old and had two previous project managers. Given repeated failures and lack of progress, the assigned engineering team had little faith that the new project manager would make a difference. But the project had the attention of the executive steering committee and canceling it was not an option. So the project manager went on a mission to turn things around, and discovered that disruptions and other work requests interrupted engineers to the point that they were unable to complete project work. The engineering team did not have a proper intake and tracking process for engineering work, so the project manager created an automated solution to track new work requests. Once in place, productivity increased more than 60% for the entire engineering organization and the project manager was promoted to portfolio manager.
Some business executives and managers see project managers as service suppliers, delivering projects as a service, and they see value in that when they have a solution to deliver and it is delivered to their satisfaction. But think about the social and political capital you pick up during your journey to deliver projects, and how you can use that to inspire others to think outside the project and consider the many other benefits you can bring to management as their partner.
ESI’s Project Management 2013 trend number 3 claims, “Project management is not just for project managers anymore”, so expect to see more non-project managers becoming “project manager by accident” this year, a trend that can either make or break us. Inexperience will show as more projects fail this year, adding to another ongoing problem that shows up in the 2013 survey as business leaders continue to question the value of project management and whether or not to invest in experienced project management resources. Experienced project managers know how to think outside their project and add value in other ways, so don’t’ limit yourself to project delivery as a service; contribute to the big picture through solution delivery as a service. Be a solution partner and you will help move the project management profession to the next level.
The project manager says to the PMO manager, “2013 is going to be a busy year for us, with all of the new projects starting in just a few short weeks. I hope we have enough project managers to handle the workload.” The boss agrees, “Yeah, I just received this year’s list of projects and I think we are in for a busy year too. We may have to hire a PM or two. Can you start collecting resumes so we can start the hiring process?” The project manager goes off to start the screening process and in a few weeks, two new project managers join the team. Then the finance team decides to cut the budget and some of the new projects. The PMO manager says, “We seem to have more project managers then we do projects, so let’s have the two new PMs evaluate some project management software for next year’s budget. I’m sure a new project or two will pop up sooner or later.”
What’s wrong with this PMO? The PMO is not engaged in the strategic planning process so the PMO manager uses duct tape as a remedy. The PMO manager makes a resource plan and hires new staff based on a list of projects, then once the company cuts the budget, the new project managers have no projects to manage so the PMO manager assigns them to work on something that is not part of the strategic plan, hoping a new project or two pops up in the near future.
Business leaders will invest money in technology and human resources that help companies reach strategic goals and they see value in project management professionals who invest in themselves to become savvy business management leaders. Today’s project manager adds value when business leaders see them as “strategic enablers”, planning and managing projects that add value to the company’s bottom line. Just as IT organizations enable their companies to achieve their goals through technology and service management, PMOs enable companies to achieve their goals through strategic solution delivery. Companies make it possible for PMOs to deliver strategic solutions by engaging them in the strategic planning process.
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by Frank P. Saladis, PMP
I think it is fair to say that risk management is a subject that does not receive the attention it deserves. In today’s extremely uncertain world economy, the need for a solid risk management strategy should be at the top of the list of business priorities. The key stakeholders in any organization should be the main advocates of risk management and should be insisting that every department and every employee practice at least some very basic activities that will help to reduce exposure to risk situations. Recently, during a discussion about risk management, the concern raised was that managing risk added cost to the project and was therefore unacceptable to the executive decision makers. My response was very straightforward. I asked if the individual remembered the statement often mentioned by service providers when discussing maintenance plans which is something like “You can pay me now or you can pay me later”. This simple statement provides the very foundation for developing a risk management strategy. It will cost you less to prepare for risk and prevent or mitigate occurrences than it will to correct a situation once it has occurred. Managing risk involves preventive action, proactive thinking, a positive mindset, and clearly visible managerial support.
Today’s very challenging business environment requires every organization to examine their risk strategies. Those organizations that do practice some form of risk management focus their attention on quantifying and managing a variety of risks including financial (the recent banking issues), hazards (chemical spills as an example), and operational problems (computer failures, security threats, etc.). Another area that is screaming for attention, according to Adrian J. Slywotzky and John Drzik in the Harvard Business Review on Managing External Risk is Strategic Risk which they believe is the greatest threat of all. Strategic risks go beyond the familiar challenges such as late product launch or a last minute change in the requirements for a major system deployment. Strategic risk, according to Slywotzky and Drzik includes the possibility of a major technology overtaking your product or significant shifts in the market that may reduce the need for your product or a shift in customer priorities. Strategic risk management is, in fact, a “strategic necessity.”
In order to address risk effectively it is important for the management of an organization to communicate the need for an ongoing risk management process and to create, or enhance, within the organization’s structure and operations a culture of risk management.
Risk management should not be viewed as something that is done in addition to the “normal” work that is performed. It should be embedded in the work in the same way that quality should be embedded in every task performed.
Risk management is actually practiced by most people everyday. Extra time is added to travel estimates when weather becomes a factor, people have their automobiles inspected for safety, money is placed in a special account as a back up in case of an emergency, and many organizations have established a management reserve that can be used to address unplanned catastrophic events. The key here is to make sure that a common sense approach is utilized. Certain risk situations are accepted as a natural part of any given day. People who travel frequently by air understand that there are inherent risks to consider. Stepping into your automobile, walking across a busy street, and hiring a new person all include some type of risk. These potential risks are not generally analyzed in extreme detail. They are, in most cases assessed subconsciously. The point is that risk management is being practiced.
Common sense tells us that we should consider risks before we undertake any assignment or make any decision. Some assignments require just a few minutes of assessment and response development. Complex tasks and decisions require much more effort and the use of the appropriate tools and techniques. One very important point that is often overlooked is that risk is often perceived as negative aspect of project management when, in fact, managing risk effectively may present many opportunities. Risk should always be viewed from both sides: threats and opportunity.
When developing a risk management process it is important to obtain buy in from the stakeholders who will be affected. Establishing a framework or basis to work from will facilitate the actual development process. Consider the following table:
|Risk Category||Sources of Risk|
|Technical – evolving design, reliability, operability, maintainability||Physical properties, changing requirements, material properties, unstable technology, testing, untested technology, modeling, system complexity, integration, design, safety|
|Program / Organizational – processes for obtaining resources, enterprise environmental factors, organizational process assets||Material availability, contractor stability, personnel availability, regulatory changes, personal skills, organizational process, security processes, communications processes, strategic planning issues – industry, technology, brand, competitors, customer/client, projects, portfolios, programs|
|Operational – supportability, maintaining systems, operating procedures||Product reliability, training, system safety, documentation, technical data, interoperability, transportability|
|Financial –limited budgets, estimating processes, constraints||Administrative rates, overhead costs, estimating errors, cost of quality, reliability of estimating resources|
|Project Management – schedule, estimating processes, reliability of planning processes, methods and procedures||Estimating errors, number of critical path items, degree of concurrency, unrealistic schedule baseline|
|External – subcontractors, regulatory, market, customer, weather||Contract terms and conditions, unclear statements of work, customer/client responsibilities|
Developing a framework that identifies risk by category can greatly improve the efficiency at which an organization works to identify and respond to risk situations. The RBS – Risk Breakdown Structure is commonly used to identify project risks by category and sub-category. The RBS will help project teams identify risks and become more aware of the many sources of project risk. The table shown provides some of the information that may be included in a risk breakdown structure.
A culture that encourages a positive and proactive approach to risk management will greatly improve an organization’s overall performance and will build confidence among its employees. A quote by Louis Pasteur sums up the need for risk management “Chance favors the prepared mind”. Create an organization that is prepared for the uncertainty of the future.
Whether your responsibilities include making decisions that impact the entire organization or the completion of a task within a project, risk management should be included in the decision process.
Failure to assess risk and develop the appropriate strategies can result in disaster at the project level or enterprise level. So don’t risk it. Take the time to assess risk. Develop a culture that includes risk management as a part of the way things are done naturally. It does not matter if an organization is risk averse or is aggressive when it comes to taking chances, having a plan is just good business sense.
Re-published with permission from allPM.com. Visit www.allpm.com, the project managers information portal.
About the Author: Frank P. Saladis, PMP, is a Consultant and Instructor / Facilitator within the project management profession. He is a senior trainer and consultant for the International Institute for Learning and has conducted numerous project management training seminars domestically and internationally. He is a Project Management Professional and has been a featured presenter at the Project Management Institute ® Annual Symposiums and World Congresses and many other project management events. Mr. Saladis is a graduate of the PMI Leadership Institute Masters Class and has held several positions within The Project Management Institute including President of the NYC Chapter, President of the Assembly of Chapter Presidents and Chair of the Education and Training Specific Interest Group. Mr. Saladis the editor of the internationally distributed newsletter for allPM.com, and is the author of several project management books and numerous articles about project leadership. Mr. Saladis is the originator of International Project Management Day and was recognized as PMI Person of the Year for 2006.