What is Strategic Execution?


Strategic execution must accompany strategic planning, otherwise the strategic objectives and goals simply becomes words on a page. In my experience, I have seen companies post their strategies on a wall without any method or approach for ensuring that those strategies are accomplished. About 30 years ago, a survey was conducted highlighting that about 90% of strategies were never fulfilled. Unfortunately, there is little indication that this figure has dropped much. Hence, there is a strong need for strategic execution.

While ‘strategic execution’ may come across as a mere buzz word, some explanation will help articulate what strategic execution is about. Execution-MIH, specialists in the field of execution management, would describe strategic execution as the ability to translate strategy into reality. It is one thing to develop a strategy, it is another thing to make it actionable and achievable. “[Execution management]  is not just accomplishing a task or a goal, but also to achieve the underlying business objectives…Good execution management will focus on the WHAT as well as the HOW of an achievement.“ Too often, executives focus on the what, but pay too little attention on the how.

Gary Cokins,  a strategist at software company SAS, has pointed out that decision makers need discipline to utilize a comprehensive performance management approach described as “a closed-loop, integrated system that spans the complete management planning and control cycle.” Project portfolio management (PPM) is the comprehensive performance management approach that Gary Cokins is referring to and is the bridge between strategic execution and operational excellence. Having articulated the strategic goals and objectives for an organization, projects and programs are launched that directly accomplish the goals and objectives. These projects and programs become the HOW referred to above. Although some strategic decisions are related to policy changes, most strategic goals require work to be done for its fulfillment. Projects and programs therefore help get this work done, and thus become the vehicles for strategic execution.

In summary, strategic execution is how companies accomplish their strategies. It begins with strategy development and continues with strategic planning. This information feeds a portfolio management system which identifies the best projects and programs (including priority and sequence) and optimizes against resource capacity. The completion of these projects and programs signals the transition of the project work into operations. Once all of the necessary projects and programs related to a particular strategy are complete, the organization should realize the benefits of its strategy.

Define leadership


Define leadership. Not easy. There are so many views about leadership that it is difficult to create a concise definition. I am taking a multi-quarter leadership course right now, and one of our tasks as a class was to define leadership. As a result of the values we instill in a definition, it is difficult to reach consensus on a definition. However, the exercise is worthwhile as it has challenged us to consider the most important aspects of leadership and convey it in a clear and simple way.

My personal definition of leadership has a more pragmatic view. I am more focused on accomplishment rather than the ideals of great leadership. As a result, my definition reads: Leadership is the ability to engage, empower, and energize people to accomplish significant goals according to a shared vision.

Firstly, leadership is more than a mere act or process, but is an ability. Good leaders engage those around them (in turn making them a team), which is not easy in large stagnant companies. These leaders then empower their people to work together collectively and collaboratively.  In the process, this group or team is energized to take action. Yet, the action taken is towards the accomplishment of common goals according to a shared vision. The vision may or may not have originated with the leader, but in the end, the leader can communicate the vision so that it is shared by the larger community for the purpose of accomplishing significant goals.

This is the kind of leadership needed for strategic execution.

Good Organizational Infrastructure Manages the Chaos


At a recent project/portfolio management event, there was a comment made about project managers managing ‘within the chaos’. This got me thinking about how portfolio management fits in with the chaos. Another distinction between project and portfolio management began to emerge; Project managers manage within the chaos, but good portfolio management helps manage the chaos. Let me explain.

Project managers are often given a task to make things happen and use as many project management tools as needed to execute a project. Project managers usually do not own their resources and have no direct influence over the types of projects being conducted, the project governance process, or the project priorities for the organization. Therefore, Project Managers need to learn how to best manage their projects in the midst of an ever-changing work environment (a.k.a. chaos).

Portfolio Management as a discipline can be used to help minimize the chaos within the organization. If leadership is proactive in developing good governance processes, then the organizational infrastructure will be established to accommodate the number and complexity of projects within the organization (I will touch on the need for good organizational infrastructure next month at Project World). Good project selection will help identify good projects as well as to balance the high-risk and low-risk projects being conducted at any one time. This is a big point to help manage the chaos. Too many risky projects translates into a lot of variability for project managers; and when Murphy strikes, it can have a huge negative ripple effect across the portfolio of projects.

Good prioritization will also identify the most important projects and help communicate to resources managers how to allocate their resources. Furthermore, solid resource capacity management will make a world of difference for project execution. Imagine having the right resources at the right time! Portfolio management will reduce organizational chaos to make project execution more successful when solid organizational infrastructure is put in place.

Strategic Leadership Qualities Part 1


When I think of strategic leadership, particular characteristics stand out that influence the type of leader I would like to be; I will touch briefly on each point.

1) “Walk the talk”—this relates to how real and genuine a leader is, otherwise the ability to lead will diminish due to hypocrisy. A couple examples may help illustrate the point. When a PMO manager or executive states that earned value management is important, yet rarely reviews the data, and worse, never acts on the data, the manager sends a message that is full of “talk” with no “walk”.  Or, when senior managers try to maintain a semblance of governance yet make exceptions to the process, the hypocrisy weakens the governance process.

2) Accountability—a leader not only needs to hold himself/herself accountable in order to walk the talk, but also needs to hold other people accountable. There is a lot to say about accountability, but strategic leadership will drive accountability within the organizations. This is not easy, and requires my third point, backbone.

3) Backbone—refers to the leader’s ability to stay true to their values and decisions in the face of opposition or pressure. Portfolio management is a cross roads of many facets of the business. A good strategic leader may get caught in the cross fire between organizations, but will not back down until problems can be reviewed and resolved.

More to come on strategic leadership…

Strategic Leadership


Leadership differs from management, most of us agree with that. In regards to portfolio management, strategic leadership is critical.  Peter Drucker has an infamous quote about the difference between leadership and management, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” The distinction between project and portfolio management has also been made with a similar quote, “Project Management is about doing the work right, portfolio management is about doing the right work.” While I wouldn’t minimize the need for project leadership , I would argue that strategic leadership at the portfolio level is critical for making portfolio management sucessful. If we equate the two quotes above, we can see that portfolio management is very much related to effective leadership, because good leaders make sure the right work is getting done.

A lot of articles and books have been written on portfolio management mechanics (“how to”), but very little time has been spent on strategic leadership in relation to portfolio management. In a very general way, we can agree that portfolio management is about doing the right work , but people have to decide what work gets done. Without effective leadership, the right work may not get done (due to pet projects, short-sightedness, etc.).

Doing Portfolio Mechanics by Hand


In a recent discussion on LinkedIn regarding portfolio tool implementations, one consultant commented that the most successful deployments have been done in phases with an upgrade to a more sophisticated tool being done after improving process maturity.

Such an approach makes a lot of sense and could be likened to using a calculator after learning how to do math by hand. I think the analogy is appropriate. Educators encourage kids to learn the basic and important mathematical skills before using a calculator so that they understand foundational concepts.

The same could apply to project portfolio management in the sense that organizations are better off learning the portfolio mechanics and process disciplines ‘by hand’ before jumping into a dedicated portfolio tool. I believe that those organizations that learn to do PPM ‘by hand’ will end up maturing faster and/or utilizing a full fledged portfolio tool better than had they gone straight to the sophisticated software. The advantage is in learning the processes behind the tool. “A fool with a tool is still a fool”, but if the ‘fool’ can learn portfolio processes, the organization will not ‘toy’ around with portfolio software but will yield greater results due to the process maturity.

I personally have learned a lot by creating portfolio charts and calculating prioritization scores ‘by hand’. As a result, I have a much better understanding of what a dedicated portfolio tool should do based on the processes we have developed.

Project Portfolio Management (PPM) – Are we using the wrong Terminology?


I believe that clear terminology and efficient communication are important to have effective operations. I also believe that the term “project portfolio management” is an excellent term to describe the function because it explains what the managers should already be familiar with: maximizing value for the organization through optimizing human and financial resources.

When I explain the concepts of project portfolio management, I point out that our projects help accomplish our strategic objectives and that those projects represent investments by the company both in terms of financial resources and human resources. I go on to explain that our project portfolio is also analogous to a financial portfolio where we balance our investments (long-term and short-term, high risk and low risk) and have the same goal—to maximize value.

The key then is to drive maximum value out of those project investments and PPM helps us do that. I finish by discussing our portfolio management lifecycle which consists of four major steps:

1) Selecting the right projects (selected projects must align with the business strategy and meet other important criteria. The result: the portfolio will contain a higher percentage of winning projects)

2) Optimizing the portfolio (All the steps necessary to construct an optimal portfolio given current limitations and constraints)

3) Protecting the portfolio’s value (During the execution of an optimized portfolio, the aggregate project benefits (portfolio value) must be protected. This occurs by monitoring projects, assessing portfolio health, and managing portfolio risk)

4) Improving portfolio processes (Higher portfolio maturity translates into a greater realization of the benefits of project portfolio management)

I have not had any trouble presenting the concepts of PPM, but communicating concepts and getting increased participation are two different things.

I think the problem could be somewhere else however. In a classic portfolio management article by Rachel Ciliberti <http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/rational/library/apr05/ciliberti/index.html#N10094>, she points out that PPM is a blend of management disciplines that combines:

1) A business management focus to ensure that all projects and programs align with the portfolio strategy.
2) A general management focus for managing an organization’s resources and risks.
3) A project management focus for reviewing, assessing, and managing projects and programs to ensure they are meeting or exceeding their planned contribution to the portfolio.

Most good managers will not have any trouble with the first two points. However, a number of managers may not understand the project management language well enough and that may be a stumbling block.

Book Review—Death by Meetings by Patrick Lencioni Part 2


This post is a continuation of the previous book report on Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death by Meetings. He recommended four types of meetings, three of which are briefly discusses in relation to portfolio management.

2) Weekly tactical meeting: these meetings are focused on tactical issues of immediate concern. There should be discipline to this meeting and structural consistency. A quick lightning round allows everyone to share their top two or three priorities for the week. The next component is a review of key metrics without lengthy discussion. The third component is a real-time agenda, not one created prior to the meeting. Disciplined spontaneity is important for those leading the meetings who can allow the meeting to shape itself based on the most urgent matters.

PPM application: this meeting would allow project and program managers to provide quick status and then address current issues affecting their projects.

3) Monthly strategic meetings: allows managers to wrestle with, analyze, and debate important issues that affect the organization. It is important that they occur regularly so that it serves as a parking lot for strategic matters that get brought up in other meetings. “This gives executives confidence to table critical issues knowing that they will eventually be addressed.”

PPM application: These meetings are particularly relevant to the portfolio management team to actually discuss current strategies and provides time for them to develop clearer strategic criteria. These meetings could also be used for longer-range phasing plans for strategic completion.

4) Quarterly off-site: “provides executives an opportunity to regularly step away from the daily, weekly, even monthly issues that occupy their attention, so that they can review the business in a more holistic manner”. These off-sites should include a comprehensive strategy review, team review, personnel review, and even a competitive industry review.

PPM application: this get away allows the portfolio management team adequate time to consider the strategic direction of the organization and develop future goals.

Book Review—Death by Meetings by Patrick Lencioni Part 1


Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death by Meetings, is a great book and relevant to the PPM community.

“Meetings are boring because they lack drama”
“Meetings are ineffective because they lack contextual structure”

Problem #1—Lack of drama

Meetings are interactive and relevant to our lives, yet they usually lack some amount of drama. “When a group of intelligent people come together to talk about issues that matter, it is both natural and productive for disagreement to occur. Resolving these issues is what makes a meeting productive, engaging, and fun.”

PPM application: portfolio management is both fun and exciting because it is the mechanism for accomplishing strategic initiatives. There are always ongoing changes that requires participants to be engaged, strategies to be clarified, priorities to be established and communicated, and projects to be executed. Keeping this view in front of the portfolio management team and project managers will help keep everyone focused.

Problem #2—Lack of Contextual Structure

The basic problem is that too many things are crammed into meetings and often frustrate many people for different reasons. Tactical near-term decisions may get added to the same agenda as longer-term strategic items. Nothing gets the attention it deserves, people don’t get to weigh in sufficiently and/or are not adequately prepared. The problem isn’t to necessarily spend more time in meetings as it is to break down the content for the appropriate meeting. To resolve the contextual structure issue, Lencioni advocates four types of meetings:

1) The daily check-in: this may be relevant for a leadership team or another group that does work closely together. It’s intent is to provide everyone a quick overview of the days events in five minutes or less (approximately).

PPM application: for organizations that are project focused, having such a meeting may help project managers and key team members stay on the same page with each other.

Using Maturity Models to Understand the End State


Portfolio management maturity models can be a great enabler in making process improvements. Higher maturity often translates into a greater realization of the benefits of PPM.  PPM maturity models are very useful for assessing the current state of the portfolio processes and how to arrive at a higher level of maturity.

However, identifying the end state (also known as ‘future state’) portfolio processes has rarely been discussed in portfolio management literature. The common thought has been to endeavor to reach the highest level of maturity possible. Until now, there has been little acknowledgement that some organizations may not need to strive for level 5 (“optimized”) maturity (an elusive state of maturity to say the least). However, organizations can make a general determination of where their portfolio processes need to be in order to have a legitimate competitive advantage. Having this understanding gives the organization a realistic target for improvement. Such a determination can be made based on two important factors: project criticality (the importance of projects to the organization) and portfolio size (probably in dollars, but for the time being will not be quantified). In order to make a realistic assessment of future state portfolio processes, the portfolio management team first needs to make an honest assessment of project criticality (not an easy task).

The chart below is a conceptual chart depicting an organization’s portfolio maturity goal dependent on the portfolio’s criticality (along the x-axis) and the portfolio magnitude (along the y-axis). The target for many organizations  would probably fall into the “Defined” stage (level 3). For some organizations with either short project lifecycles or low criticality, a level 2 (“Developing” stage) process may be sufficient. For the few organizations where projects may actually lead to increased revenue, a level 4 (“Proactive” stage) process may be necessary.

 

Portfolio Maturity Based on Magnitude and Criticality

Welcome to PPM Execution-A New PPM Knowledge Center


This website is a new knowledge center for portfolio management practices and tools. It is difficult to find a PPM knowledge center with a single source of good portfolio management information. There are a lot of good sites with good information, but no single site that could be considered a PPM knowledge center. I plan to post links to other websites with good information, active PPM blogs, good articles, white papers, and other information relevant to the PPM community. I would like to make this as useful as possible, and welcome any feedback.

Thank you.