The Art of Project Management: the Seige of Portfolio Management

Carl Manello

The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege. Sun Tzu

Our executives are not irritated generals. Our delivery teams are not swarming ants. However, Sun-Tzu’s metaphor can be overlaid on the concept of portfolio management quite easily. A company that cannot manage the demand funnel and does not align its projects to strategies or corporate goals may end up driving its leadership to “irritation.” If the irritated company then launches projects—which are not aligned and not prioritized—the project portfolio may seem like a swarm response: trying to fulfill everyone’s request for everything wanted all at once. To this end, the project delivery engine of the company will seize up. Projects will fail and team members will pay the price (though hopefully, none will be slain). Read more of this post

Churchill on Portfolio Management

English: Sir Winston Churchill.

English: Sir Winston Churchill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.

Sir Winston Churchill

Is it the same in your organization too? Getting out of the rut of inefficiencies is challenging, time consuming, and never quite at the top of the list. Do you find that there are more projects in the pipeline than in the original approved budget? Is performance less than adequate on some key initiatives? Do you find that projects which are going sideways don’t seem to have a steering mechanism or brake to help with correction? Do you find that you are surprised that this is the same environment you were unhappy with last year?

This becomes the embodiment of the oft-cited saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Breaking the cycle takes action. Action takes a plan. Action requires taking risks. Action can improve performance and effectiveness, but it requires concentrated effort and some investment.

Unfortunately, many clients dismiss the required focused effort on internal improvements thinking that things are ‘good enough’ at the moment. And, with corporate budgets being squeezed, it is no wonder that poorly articulated improvements don’t receive appropriate attention or funding. How can improvement opportunities be tightened-up and how can leaders change the future? Read more of this post

Delivery 2.0

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is the Practice Director for Slalom’s Delivery Effectiveness solutions. He is based in Chicago and enjoys bringing actionable, tactical solutions to his clients to help them improve their delivery.

“Efficiency tends to deal with Things. Effectiveness tends to deal with People. We manage things, we lead people.”
–Source Unknown

As we lead our clients into 2012, we need to provide answers as to what waits in store for delivery organizations. Will organizations continued to underperform (per the trends of the Standish Group’s Chaos Report)? Or will organizations begin to realize the incremental changes that can be made that will help them improve? Delivery Effectiveness is a point of view on companies’ ability to raise the bar all across the organization for delivery improvement. If we consider Delivery 1.0 as the application of general project management practices within IT, Delivery 2.0 is a broader refocus to support the rest of the enterprise. Read more of this post

The Crude Use of Clever Tools

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“The Stone Age was marked by man’s clever use of crude tools; the information age, to date, has been marked by man’s crude use of clever tools.”
–Source Unknown

As part of Slalom’s operational delivery solution, I hold that project selection and the management of the project portfolio are paramount functions for delivering success. However, organizations are continually bemused by the question, “How does one choose the right projects?” The answer is: it is very difficult. And the larger the organization, the more difficult the decisions, trade-offs, and rationalizations. For with a larger organization, there are a greater number of managers, teams, departments, and business units competing for the same scarce resources.

With many inputs and potential outcomes, business initiatives may be under consideration from all areas of the company (i.e., marketing, research & development, production, and support organizations). Is it unfair to compare such proverbial apples and oranges? Can one equate the product R&D project with the project to renew and upgrade technical infrastructure? Certainly there must be some way to compare these. How else will management be able to choose? All efforts cannot be graded as #1’s. Read more of this post

Demand Management

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.”
– H. L. Hunt, — American oil tycoon. February 17, 1889-November 29, 1974

Most of us cannot claim to be in the top ten list of the richest people in the United States. But we can claim to follow their practices and methods and aspire to be as successful. So if we follow Mr. Hunt’s sage wisdom, how do we decide what to work on? This question plagues information technology organizations as they labor to meet the needs of their business partners.

So, how can IT determine what the business really wants?

Try Demand Management! It’s typically used as a way to optimize IT resource capacity, but it can be a great way to help the Business more clearly understand their priorities and role in defining what IT provides. Below I’ve outlined the key steps for successful demand management.

Step 1: Document all requested enhancements

Often, a conversation between the Business and IT goes like this: The Business says, “I want Read more of this post

Pilgrim’s Promise for Project Portfolio Management

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“[T]hey cultivated industry and frugality at the same time—which is the real foundation of the greatness of the Pilgrims.”
Ulysses S. Grant

In these very trying times, corporations, executives, managers and individual contributors should be looking to attain the same greatness as the Pilgrims: producing results by making smart choices.  That greatness is in fact the underlying goal of many of Slalom’s Service Offerings.  As consultants, we have the opportunity to guide our clients through the unfriendly climate of this economy.  Our Portfolio Management offering is a tool we offer to help guide them.

Slalom consultants bring experience, process, methods and tools that can help our clients do what is right.  But read the prior sentence again for clarity: tools will not be our initial offering when helping a client take the first step towards portfolio management.  A basic starting point is instead to implement a process for determining which projects should be allocated the scarce resources the company has to offer.  What projects are in-process?  Which are waiting in the wings? How can the company make objective choices that ensure Read more of this post

Portfolio Management – Its the Process!


Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all….” Oliver Wendell Holmes.

I have developed a reputation within Slalom as a “tool bigot.”  My skepticism is well known across the gamut of portfolio management tools, program/project management tools or any other garden variety of project management panacea.  For those of you who don’t know me, let me explain.  Over the last twenty years I have seen too many corporations make the same mistake: investing heavily in a software tool they believe will auto-magically solve all problems.  And, much like Mr. Holmes, I recognize that project management has many tools, but a bad process fits them all.

I advocate a strong process–not a strong tool–as the indispensable prerequisite for managing project portfolios. Typically our clients don’t need to invest in expensive and sophisticated tools to develop a strong portfolio management process.  They absolutely need to develop a process that allows the right initiatives to be nurtured, developed, executed or shut down. Then, as the process matures, tools can be added to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The odds for success increase significantly when well thought out process precedes tool selection and implementation.

One of the keys to a strong portfolio management process is the development of detailed business cases.  Pro’s and Con’s of projects must be weighed in a standardized, repeatable, scalable fashion.  Costs and benefits must be assessed (and “hard” benefits separated from “soft” ones).  Timelines, resource capacity, priorities…all must be brought into the mix. And while some of the best tools on the market (e.g., Microsoft’s SharePoint) can make a contribution to information gathering, the tools themselves are less effective without a strong process.

Another key to a mature portfolio management practice is the ability of the governance process to initiate the shut-down of a project.  This enables the team to get past sunk costs, strategic drift compensation and overly optimistic project teams who are trying their best to succeed (but who cannot).  According to Sarah Fister Gale, in the February PMI Network magazine, “In today’s economy, it’s even more imperative that poorly aligned projects not be allowed to move forward.”

So as you look around your company, be like that other Mr. Holmes (yes, Sherlock!) and ask: Are your teams over reliant on a sophisticated tool that is barely useful as a time tracking application?  Is there a lack of process to enable good decision making?  Is there even a decision making framework for standardized, repeatable and scalable decision making in support of the portfolio?  Or, are there just the sunk costs, annual licensing and on-going support fees for a big tool?  While we won’t be able to vanquish all of the tool-dominated project management processes (a.k.a. “sins), we can equip our clients with a better way to “handle” their project portfolios through improved processes.


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