BUILDING YOUR PMO’S PROJECT PORTFOLIO

 

Most project management professionals have their own project portfolios—they come in handy during job interviews, performance reviews, etc. But your PMO should also have a portfolio. It’s a great PR tool when your team hosts networking events, and it’s also helpful when introducing your team to a new executive or key stakeholder. We’ve put together a quick guide to get your PMO’s portfolio started.

 

Select a handful of projects to include. You can’t include everything, but look for a variety of projects that showcase your team’s versatility. Include at least one very large project, one high-visibility project, and one project that directly affected the company’s bottom line. Projects with particular significance (improvements to a manufacturing facility, for example) or that demonstrate your team’s expertise in niche areas (perhaps a project completed under regulatory oversight) would also be good additions.

 

Create a project summary for each project. Viewers of your PMO’s portfolio will want to quickly understand the basic objectives and parameters of the various projects your team has executed, so give them the basics at a glance: a short list of key deliverables, information on the project’s duration or timetable, cost data that includes budgeted and actual figures for expense and capital line items, a list of key project team members and their areas of responsibility, and other notable resource allocations or project details. Keep each project summary to just a single page for easy viewing.

 

Pull some photos together. Few things can help viewers understand the scope and impact of your projects like pictures. But you don’t need many—select one or two large photos that best describe the project’s challenges and final outcome, along with a few smaller pictures that highlight particularly interesting aspects of the project. Any more than that, and your viewers will likely lose interest.

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting and project management training services.

 

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ARE YOU FACING A LEADERLESS PROJECT?

A popular tactic of stakeholders who don’t really want to commit, “leaderless” projects are those that end up being turned over to entire groups of end users to babysit, and often result in nightmares for Project Managers. Below are a handful of scenarios that could tell you you’re facing a leaderless project.

Approval authority has been delegated to more than one person. On the surface this looks like empowerment, but deep down you may discover the project’s primary champion has simply eliminated their role and effectively left a host of others in charge without giving them the true authority to keep the project moving forward. Leadership-by-committee works for a while, but if difficult decisions must be made it’s likely no one will feel they are in a position to have the final word.

No one seems to have approval authority. A number of individuals may have been tasked with acting in the primary champion’s stead, even though none has been given the power to make project-impacting decisions. Trying to pry approvals or firm direction from the chief stakeholder is likely to be difficult, and the project ends up languishing in a mess of internal red tape while purchase requests and pending contracts sit in limbo.

The primary stakeholder rarely attends high-level project meetings. Often a co-symptom of leaderless projects, along with either delegating approval authority to several others or delegating approval to no one. An absent champion isn’t a concern if they continue to be accessible in other ways (via e-mail or phone, or through regular drop-in visits to their office). The bigger issue is the champion who is absent because they’re getting pushback on the project from other sectors (budget, corporate objectives, etc.), or has lost their zeal for the project and no longer gives it the support it needs.

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PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting, project management training and project office development services.

ARE YOU REALLY A PROJECT MANAGEMENT ADVOCATE?

Most project management professionals will tell you that project advocacy is part of their job, but are they really taking that task seriously? Simply being on a project management team doesn’t make you an advocate. On the contrary, busy project managers can actually undermine their role as advocate if they aren’t committed and focused. Take a look at some of the hallmarks of strong advocacy, and see if your efforts are keeping you on the right track.

Project advocates truly listen to stakeholders. Too often, a project’s objectives take over. At some point, it can even seem that PMs are beholden to the objectives above all others. Advocates stay in regular contact with stakeholders throughout the project to ensure things are moving forward as expected. They also encourage a robust two-way dialogue with stakeholders so that any concerns are aired early and dealt with as a partnership.

Project advocates recognize every group of stakeholders. Powerful project supporters wield a lot of influence, but project advocates also seek out other groups that have a vested interest in how the project goes but are often given little opportunity to participate. Advocates strive to include underserved groups at all stages of a project. This helps in developing good objectives as well as managing potential disruptions or other issues throughout the project’s lifecycle.

Project advocates understand that success is more than meeting deadlines and staying within a budget. Instead of focusing solely on completing each project, advocates work hard to maintain an overall vision that encompasses administrative objectives (dollars, schedules, etc.) in addition to stakeholder and end user satisfaction. Shifting organizational needs are evaluated against stakeholder expectations, and vice versa. Priorities that compete with management’s directives must be balanced—rather than dismissed without any real consideration—as the advocate endeavors to execute the best quality project possible.

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Check Out These Other Blog Posts on Advocacy:

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WHAT YOU’RE DOING WRONG WHEN IT COMES TO PROJECT MANAGEMENT PHOTOS

Pictures are useful in many areas of project management, from showcasing improvements to documenting problems. But now and then, project management consulting teams completely flub photos. I’m not talking about taking poor quality images. Instead, a somewhat greater concern is where PMOs either miss the benefits of project management pictures or stumble into procedural problems (or worse) because of a photo.

First, let’s look at an administrative mistake with the potential to give you serious trouble.

You aren’t treating photos as data. PMOs sometimes forget to apply relevant information retention practices to project photos, or they don’t protect pictures against unauthorized access. Photos should typically be treated like a project write-up or other piece of documentation. They may need to be scheduled for review and/or destruction per the organization’s guidelines, or encrypted for safe storage.

Now we’ll talk about why your pictures aren’t as effective as they could be.

You’re relying on pictures to tell the story. Photos convey a ton of info, but use them as visual aids rather than standalone narratives. Viewers might easily misunderstand what your pictures show, and your project could suffer as a result. You may be trying to highlight a new piece of equipment, but what if folks only notice the snazzy tile flooring? Opt to include a bit of text with each photo so viewers know exactly what they’re looking at (or for).

You aren’t including enough candid photos. Glamour shots—of newly installed equipment or screenshots from the latest software program—look great to those involved in the project, but human nature is a funny thing. Instead of focusing on posed (read: sterile) pictures, people will almost always gravitate toward the unstaged photos. If you really want folks to pay attention to your pictures, give them a selection of informal, engaging, and even funny images.

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TURN PERFECTIONISM ON ITS HEAD

We’ve talked about why Project Managers don’t need to be perfectionists (“Perfection not needed”), but if you suspect that you are one (“3 signs you’re a project perfectionist”), what can you do about it? Seeking perfection can be a difficult habit to break, even as it wreaks havoc on the rest of your PMO. Fortunately, we have some tools to turn your perfectionism on its head.

If you’re constantly identifying new ways to improve upon projects that are already in progress (or are already done!), it’s time to refocus your attention. Try turning over as much of the management of your PMO’s current projects to others in your group, and instead put your creative energies into those projects that are still under development.

When you find yourself taking back tasks you’ve delegated to others, consider the status of everything else you’re already doing. Is it all current, or are some areas behind schedule? If anything is running late, it’s crucial that you get those items delegated to the right person on the team right away. Next, step back and evaluate your role and its responsibilities, along with the goals of others in your group. If a task doesn’t fit into your job, ask yourself if it would give one of your teammates an opportunity for growth and development.

Handing out advice (whether it’s requested or not) can seriously undermine morale even if your PMO is full of high achievers, so breaking this habit will do the entire team some good. The next time you’re ready to open your mouth and offer your opinion, do an about-face and instead ask those you’re working with for their perspective. Even if you end up giving your point of view later, your teammates have had the opportunity to speak their minds and there’s a good chance their input influenced the direction you gave them.

 

Check Out These Other Blog Posts on Perfectionists:

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PERFECTION NOT NEEDED

WHEN DYSFUNCTIONAL PMOs SUCCEED

Nearly every project management consulting professional has watched a completely dysfunctional PMO execute a project successfully. How do they do it? When the rest of us are carefully creating solid budgets and timelines, while we’re diligently minding our progress and watching for potential problem areas downstream, these broken teams manage to succeed in spite of themselves. Is it just luck? I don’t think so. In those cases where I’ve seen a heavily flawed project team achieve its objectives, there are usually some extraordinary circumstances that contribute to the project’s success.

A lot of problems can slip past disconnected stakeholders or an executive team that isn’t paying attention. Projects that are over budget or miss a deadline may never be questioned, and even failures on a critical deliverable could glide under the radar. If your performance is never truly subjected to scrutiny, what does it matter if you do a good job or not? But beware the downside: the long-term effectiveness of projects that don’t pass muster is diminished, meaning that stakeholders might not trust your PMO’s recommendations in the future, or other projects may need to be implemented to fix what went wrong the first time.

A project team comprised of high-performing individuals will often succeed, even if a subset of members aren’t pulling their weight. Self motivation and sheer determination can usually drive those who set high standards for themselves to cover a lot of faults if it means the project will succeed. Unfortunately, in my experience these situations ultimately put the organization in an even worse position when the stars of the PMO move on in search of a team that doesn’t take advantage of them.

Have any of you ever worked in a dysfunctional PMO? What were the underlying problems, and how did your team manage to find success?

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PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management training services.

THE TASK CONUNDRUM

In project management, there are two schools of thought on doling out tasks to team members—assign all tasks at the beginning of the project, or assign them as they come up in the project schedule. Each method has merits, along with some notable pitfalls. Here we examine both strategies to see what’s good about each, and where problems may lurk.

Assign at the beginning of the project

Benefits of this approach are felt at both the team and individual levels. Project professionals often feel they are better able to juggle tasks for multiple projects simultaneously when they can budget their time early in the process. From the team’s perspective, assigning tasks during the initial project phase may allow resources to be more efficiently managed across the overall project load. Possible downsides include increased susceptibility to delays, due to the unavailability of the person responsible for the task. If one individual gets behind, the effects may be magnified across the entire team.

Assign when the task is ready to begin

This strategy may enable PMOs to eliminate delays by leveraging available resources on a just-in-time basis, rather than wait for a specific individual to begin the task. It may also facilitate a generalist approach to project management by ensuring team members have opportunities to oversee a variety of tasks, rather than just those in their areas of expertise. Potential concerns include the delays that may occur if a task languishes before being assigned, and the unavailability of a team member suited for the task if there is a requirement for a specific skill set.

A team comprised of high performers could likely use either strategy successfully, assuming that some things—communication channels, stakeholder expectations, etc.—were well established and carefully managed. How have these approaches worked in your own experience?

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting services.

7 THINGS THAT CAN KILL YOUR BUDGET

Project management professionals are highly attuned to budget obligations—nearly everything they do is with an eye toward meeting budget objectives while adding value at every opportunity. But with all of the other tasks under the umbrella of the PMO, there are some common practices that often wreak havoc with project budgets.

1 – Not appointing a budget monitor. If your team doesn’t have a specific person keeping an eye on the amount spent and dollars still available across the entire project, budget issues can quickly build up and spiral out of control.

2 – Waiting until late in the project to add up actual expenditures. This habit has nightmare written all over it, as you likely won’t recognize problems until it’s far too late to properly resolve them.

3 – Assuming you can get additional dollars approved. This usually guarantees an uncomfortable conversation with an executive who may not have any more money available (and who will surely wonder why your projections were off base in the first place).

4 – Focusing only on high-dollar items for aggressive cost negotiations. Don’t underestimate the amount of money your PMO can save by value engineering small budget items, which often greatly outnumber the big ticket expenditures.

5 – Expecting to address cost overruns by “borrowing” money from other projects. Even if you resolve your current problem, you’ve now created a new crisis that will need to be tackled later.

6 – Relying on another group for real time cost tracking. Many departments have their own methodology for accruing and recording project costs, and their approach may not provide your PMO with the information it needs to stay on track.

7 – Monitoring all costs equally. Most projects have high-risk areas that should get additional scrutiny (either checking expenditures more frequently or examining them at a higher level of granularity).

Project Management in a down economy

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THE DANGERS OF OVERPLANNING

Can you really overplan a project? It turns out you can. When schedules are adjusted too frequently, or when task durations are forecast too optimistically, the project can quickly fall into the overplanning trap. Most people recognize and quell the occasional bout of overplanning when they see it in themselves, but what happens if that gene runs wild? There can actually be downsides to too much—or too frequent—planning.

The moving target syndrome. One pitfall of updating plans too frequently is that milestone dates can become too fluid. Unless you’re the only one involved in bringing the project to fruition, others will already have target dates in mind for items they’re managing. Manipulating those dates too often can make it difficult for others to achieve their milestone objectives.

Whittling down contingencies. It’s not uncommon for project management teams to build contingency time around key tasks, where variables make tight planning less precise. When a project timetable is managed too closely and updated too often, there’s a tendency to chip away at those contingency days. If everything doesn’t line up perfectly and that additional time is actually needed, the rest of the schedule may again need to change to accommodate the wiggle room that shouldn’t have ever been removed.

Unrealistic targets. This becomes a problem when one person updates the entire project schedule based on their own progress, rather than communicating with all stakeholders to ensure that time savings in one area actually affords the opportunity to adjust target dates in other areas. It’s particularly troublesome if equipment installation schedules or other dates along the project continuum are fixed, and changes create a milestone date that another team member can’t possibly meet. If changes aren’t communicated well, deadlines may be missed simply because someone didn’t know their target date had changed.

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4 THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN DEALING WITH STUBBORN PEOPLE

Much of project management consulting centers around negotiation—objectives, expectations, timeframe, and budget. There are occasions where negotiation may be impossible, such as when budget limitations simply won’t allow additional money to be approved, but sometimes plain human stubbornness keeps the team from making progress. When someone comes to the table refusing to negotiate on key points, project professionals should keep a few things in mind as they try to move the discussion forward.

1 – Even hard data might not sway them
Before you dedicate significant time or energy to gathering data that supports your viewpoint, remember that stubbornness is sometimes immune to empirical evidence. Facts won’t always unseat deeply held ideas, concerns, or opinions.

2 – Ask and listen
Because data might not be enough to change a stubborn person’s mind, see if you can get to the root of why they’re stuck on a particular point of view. Turn the tables and pull information from them by asking about their experiences and perspectives. They might divulge something that points you toward an acceptable compromise or workable solution.

3 – Public opinion could work in your favor
You alone may not be able to bring enough pressure to bear to convince a stubborn person to back down or to secure a compromise. In these cases, consider rallying others to support your cause. This could take the form of user surveys, or it might require getting the senior leadership on your side.

4 – They might not actually be stubborn
There’s a chance they’re stuck on a particular issue because their boss or other influencer has an agenda. As you discuss why they hold such a firm perspective, try to determine if someone else is at work behind the scenes. If so, you’ll likely need to address that person directly before progress can be made.

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting, project management training and project office development services.

Going Beyond Mentoring

Mentoring remains an important way for project management professionals to expand their knowledge base (6 reasons-mentoring still matters), but sometimes your needs go beyond what a mentor can provide. We’ve outlined a few instances where a different kind of expert might have the information or expertise you’re seeking.

Continue reading Going Beyond Mentoring

Project Management Documentation Tips: Forms & Templates

Forms and templates are the foundation for many types of project documents. Rather than putting unnecessary effort into creating new forms for each project, the use of existing forms and templates can streamline your project’s documentation requirements, and allow your team to focus on higher-level objectives. A variety of resources are available to you when looking for ready-made forms, and a few simple tips will help keep your project’s momentum moving forward when truly custom forms are needed.

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Project Management: Master the Restart

Many projects delayed by a sour economy will eventually bubble back to the surface. The landscape may have changed drastically since shelving the project, so a thorough reassessment of the project’s parameters is in order.

Objectives

Don’t assume your original objectives are still valid. Changes in organizational structure, headcount, locations, collaborators, competitors and market all have the potential to affect your objective picture. Examine each target against today’s needs, and adjust accordingly.

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The Project Office (PMO)

Companies today increasingly recognize that, with respect to project management, they must advance beyond the ability to create occasional success stories through the exertion of heroic effort. They know that a core element of their overall success is driven by the ability to consistently bring their entire portfolio of projects to successful completion: on-time, within budget, and per-specification. In addition, they know that if they can cost-effectively accelerate the delivery of their new products and services (without sacrificing quality in the process) they can create a strategic advantage over their competitors.
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