What To Expect From Your Executive Project Management Coaching Engagement


Members of the executive team are no strangers to the notion of professional development coaching.  There are life coaches, presentation coaches, executive presence coaches, financial coaches, marketing coaches, time management coaches, etc.  Seems there’s a coach for every possible occasion or skill set.  And it makes sense, no one can know everything about every topic.  Executive awareness that his/her professional development needs a boost in one particular skill set or knowledge area is a key contributor in determining how successful they will be as an executive team member.

I bring this up because one the most common questions and inquiries I get from executive leaders has to do with the service offering we provide with respect to executive project management coaching.  As more and more executives recognize that project and portfolio management approaches are critical tools for managing their strategic execution plans, there is a natural desire for some of them to want to learn more of the detail behind the dashboards, processes and governance commitments.

There really aren’t a lot of professional development or coaching opportunities for executives and senior business leaders that focus specifically on project and portfolio management concepts. Traditionally, if they had a question about a particular methodology or wanted to learn more about the process, they asked their own PMO leaders or senior practitioners.  And that’s a great place to start, quite honestly!  Having a foundational understanding of the processes and tools being deployed within their own organization provides the senior business leader a baseline snapshot with which to compare against alternative practices among industry peers and best practice leaders.

Most of my client base is split between three main personal development concerns/topics/goals:

  1. Can you help me increase my knowledge and vocabulary on project and portfolio management topics?
  2. How can I be more effective and informed as a project and portfolio governance team member?
  3. What are the basics I should know about innovation management, and how does that tie into project management?

You see some common themes in that list.  Increased knowledge of general project and portfolio management discipline.  Improved awareness and understanding of what their project management teams are doing.  Education regarding the expectations of them as portfolio, oversight and decision-making leaders.  Tactics and strategies around why innovation, project and portfolio management are all connected and how they are leveraged to deliver new products and/or services faster and more efficiently.

Working with us, these executives and senior business leaders are exposed to new ideas, alternative methodologies and the latest in “next practices” in the project and innovation management arena.  They increase their own education on strategic execution and can compare what they know or experience within their own organization to their peers.  It is, in the purist sense, a professional growth opportunity.

Whenever I receive an inquiry from a prospective executive coaching client, I send them this “What to Expect…” guide.  It answers the most common questions and concerns raised during our initial discussions and provides an overview of the engagement approach, curriculum and expectations for each party.  My clients have found it to be a valuable tool in validating, and preparing for, engaging with us.  If you’d like to review the material, simply click on the graphic below. (PDF Download)


What To Expect From Your Executive PM Coaching Engagement


If you have any questions, or would like to discuss a potential engagement, please email us at: info@thinkforachange.com or call us at: 920-445-8858

Deciding When and How to Kill a Project


One of the most difficult decisions that executives face when assessing the performance of their project portfolio is when to terminate a poorly performing or irrelevant project.  The act of putting a stop to projects that no longer meet strategic organizational objectives, or cannot deliver expected key performance metrics, is a politically risky undertaking.  Killing projects means admitting failure right?  Oh, and don’t forget there are sunk costs to take into account.  What about all of the promises that were made to so many different stakeholders and potential customers?  And then there’s the stigma of not having the courage to persist through adversity to consider.

While those are all perfectly reasonable excuses, that’s exactly what they are…excuses.  And poor one’s at that!  Organizations that do not actively search for, and cull out, projects that no longer hit the mark, nor have the capacity to be saved in an affordable manner, will suffer from that failure to act for many quarters and, potentially, years to come.

That suffering is realized in many forms:

  • A shortage of available resources (human, financial and time) for additional and alternative projects
  • Failure to realize anticipated benefits from projects still in the queue
  • Lack of leadership focus on the future due to an increased need to remain engaged with the failed effort
  • An increase in support resources needed to deal with the poor results that were implemented into business operations

As one former eloquent executive was once overheard saying, “We don’t kill projects around here, we just wound them.  They continue a slow, painful death march forward, consuming resources, attention and organizational energy until they produce a feeble deliverable that someone can call a ‘win,’ meet a natural death or are mercifully put down.”  These “zombie” projects, as they are known, reside in almost every organization’s portfolio.  Some are highly visible, but are ignored or tolerated like the proverbial “elephant in the room.”  Others have found a way to stay just below the radar or camouflage themselves enough to stay alive.

So how do executive teams and project portfolio management professionals ferret out these wounded, zombie projects and clean up their portfolio to include only those initiatives that support the organization’s strategic road map?  Through the use of effective portfolio governance models and approaches!

Portfolio governance is the accountability methodology for ensuring that projects contained within the portfolio maintain performance metrics that demonstrate they are healthy, align with the strategic direction of the organization and have an appropriate amount of oversight to ensure anticipated benefit delivery is achievable.  So what are these performance metrics and how are they managed and enforced?

Sample Project Portfolio Health Metrics:

  • Traditional Project Performance Metrics
    • Schedule, Budget and Scope/Change Control
  • Alignment to Existing Strategic Vision and Goals
  • Alignment to Intended Markets and Competitive Landscapes
  • Project Portfolio Investment vs. Risk vs. Benefit Analysis Scoring
  • Return on Investment, Benefit Delivery and/ Future Performance Measurements

Flushing out the zombies and ensuring that the other projects in the portfolio meet the guidelines and health metrics most important to the organization requires regular, periodic analysis.  In the world of portfolio management, that means something along the lines of an effective and efficient phase-gated or financially controlled review and approval process needs to exist.  Phase-gating (commonly known as StageGate®) is the process of establishing regular checkpoints where projects must present themselves for analysis to determine health, alignment, performance and other factors before being allowed to proceed to the next phase.  Traditionally, these occur after the project is initiated, defined, designed, tested and staged for implementation.  Financially controlled reviews are similar in nature, but provide the project with only enough funding, authority and other resources to reach the next gate.


These portfolio analysis processes, as you may have already gleaned, require discipline and maturity in project management methodology and business acumen.  Methods for capturing, tracking and displaying key project performance metrics must be in place.  Solid financial management fundamentals must be established to provide a real-time snapshot of expenses vs. intended benefits that can be accurately calculated.  Effective risk and change management protocols must be adhered to so that potential issues and impacts can be assessed, scored and ranked.

As the project progresses through the various phases, gates and approvals, confidence is built around the likelihood of success.  Not to say that projects won’t run into trouble along the way.  In fact, they most likely will!  But this oversight mechanism provides the opportunity to control the pace of the effort and take the time necessary to properly analyze whether or not the trouble is temporary or permanent.

Finally, portfolio analysis processes that support a phase-gated model also require courage and responsible leadership that will stand firm in holding each project to the set of criteria that has been pre-determined and equally applied to all projects.  This model quickly breaks down if different classes of projects (executive pet projects, for example) are given a “wink and a nod” past the gating process.

In the end, the goal of any great project portfolio control system is to establish appropriate analysis and scoring criteria so that the emotional factors of decision-making are removed.  Either a project meets, or does not meet, the pre-selected and well-communicated criteria.  All that remains is nothing more than a simple pass/fail equation.  When executives are able to make necessary decisions in an environment that provides accurate real-time information based on key performance indicators of all active and proposed projects in the portfolio, the correct business investment decisions can be made with high confidence and low emotion.


Announcing Executive Project Management Tapas™

TFAC Exec PM Tapas Menu1

It’s Time for Project Leadership To Have A Seat At The Executive Table

Board Room

It’s time.  Honestly, it’s long past time.  It’s time for project and strategic management to be directly represented at the executive round table, in board meetings, and in the ‘C’-suite.  It’s time for singular ownership and accountability for organizational strategic planning and execution.  It’s time for dedicated focus on organizational resource planning, allocation and utilization.  It’s time for focused attention regarding return on investment, earned value on execution, appropriate risk management and post-execution benefit capture.  And finally, it’s time for single-sourced, unambiguous communication regarding strategic balance, allocation of resources and prioritization of the directives that constitute the portfolio of investments that the organization makes on its own behalf.

We’ve all seen (or heard stories of) high-profile projects where the lack of sufficient oversight by executive sponsors or key executive stakeholders resulted in catastrophic failure.  Then there are those organizations that trade in the public market and are subjected to regulatory demands and accounting practice audits.  Some find themselves failing tests for financial, security or other general controls resulting from absent or immature project investment oversight.  If they were lucky, the impact of the failure stays inside the walls of the organization, lessons are learned and steps are put in place to not make the same mistake twice.  If they weren’t so lucky, well…financial journalists and stock analysts are rarely forgiving.  Is this lack of oversight and attention perhaps caused by project management and strategic execution functions being embedded in department structures that aren’t the primary focus of that particular executive sponsor or leader?

Since its common acceptance and adoption within business operations back in the 1940s, project management, and “ownership” of the discipline, has typically been relegated as a sub-set of duties assigned to a particular line of business, most traditionally aligned to executives with an administrative, operational or information technology focus.  During the sequentially historic eras of industrial, corporate, information and operations business cycles, this was probably an appropriate approach. However, as we transition into a new era, one based on knowledge and understanding, organizations face a gap in emphasis regarding both recognizing, and making, the shift in strategy and tactics.

Members of traditional executive leadership teams are often collectively accountable for the myriad of important capabilities that keep the company in business:  creating customer value, building and maintaining a profitable line of business, formulating a well-defined vision and strategic direction, focusing execution activities on the delivery of organizational objectives that match the strategic direction, and having an ability to identify and quickly respond to changing market conditions.  Additionally, each member of an executive team also brings a unique individual core expertise such as: financial (CFO), operations (COO), information systems (CIO/CTO), marketing (CMO), administration (CAO), and et cetera ad infinitum.

In the not too distant past, project management focused simply on responding to initiatives that had already been conceived, scoped and strategically vetted through a single line of business.  For the most part, it was up to the C-level executive responsible for that line of business to validate that the project aligned with organizational strategy, ensured executive team agreement with the investment and anticipated benefits, and kept the resource impact outside of their own line of business to a minimum.  As the organization matured and its projects became more cross-functional across business lines, it became very difficult for a single business line to effectively and efficiently manage the multiple streams of work.  This reality ushered in the need for PMOs to centralize the portfolio of initiatives, ensure strategic alignment, manage resource supply and demand, and report key performance metrics back to the C-suite to confirm that key strategic initiatives were being successfully executed.

However, even this model is now being quickly outgrown.  Strategic execution is the new organizational dictum.  But delivering strategic results requires strategic positioning.  Strategic positioning requires strategic focus.  Strategic focus requires alignment of strategic priorities with initiatives that are organized, governed, funded and planned to execute the defined strategy.  And a dedication to strategic prioritization, oversight and execution cannot, and should not, be shared with a dedication to focus on financials, or operations, or marketing, or administration…you get the point.

So what does the future hold?  Organizations that want to successfully make the transition into the new knowledge era (or use it as an opportunity to make a market/segment leap) need to have a dedicated senior management or executive team member that has primary responsibility for the development and execution of its strategic direction.  This role may be as senior as a Chief Project Officer or Chief Strategy Officer, or may have a slightly smaller seat at the table such as an EVP or SVP of Strategic Execution or Strategic Portfolio Management.  But the point is, they have a seat at the table and a voice in the conversations…and that’s the key takeaway.

This role would have direct oversight and leadership accountability for the following areas:

  1. Strategic Planning & Execution Management
  2. Strategic Portfolio Investment Management
  3. Project Portfolio Strategic Road Map
  4. Enterprise Project Management Office

Benefits of this structure include improved communication and increased visibility on delivering corporate results, ensuring benefit realization on strategic investments, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of processes through standardization, and the establishment of a methodology that ensures project initiatives meet stringent financial, time to market, risk management and scope/change control guidelines.

Another benefit of this approach is cultural.  By creating an executive role charged with strategic and project execution, an organization sends a very strong message about its pledge to strategic execution excellence.  A dedicated executive-level function also instantly eliminates any misconception that strategic execution and project portfolio management are simply an IT or operational issue, and instead demonstrates commitment on the collective organizational level.

Sourcing this role will require finding candidates that bring a unique combination of skills that span several disciplines.  They must be capable of complex financial management and analysis.  They must demonstrate strategic thinking and organizational skills.  They must have a track record of successful execution and benefit capture.  They also must be able to identify and manage risk, build a team structure that excels at strategic, project and portfolio management, and have deep understanding of effective portfolio management approaches.  Finally, the ideal candidate will have the innate skill and, most importantly, courage to know when the time has come to stop a poorly performing, out of scope or de-prioritized project early enough to cut their losses and minimize sunk costs.

As the business world transitions into the new knowledge-based era, the executive management boardroom table should include one additional seat.  One occupied by a single, specially qualified individual, whose sole focus is accountability for the strategic management and execution-focused portfolio of initiatives for the entire organization.  It is this person’s primary obligation to ensure that the strategic investments made by the organization are delivering a positive and profitable return on those investments.  We expect that in every other functional area of an organization, so why wouldn’t we demand the same from strategic execution?


The Case for Visual Project Management

VPM Banner

As the speed of business continues to increase, and as focus on an ever growing number of project data points is needed to keep business and project execution in control, new and innovative tools and techniques are required to help busy executives make efficient and effective decisions on where to place investments in money and resources.  Because many of these decisions are made in the moment, using whatever facts are available, executives need timely, data-rich and easy to comprehend information.  Lengthy, text-heavy project document artifacts consume too much time and effort to both generate and review.  New research only confirms that information presented in this manner is both ineffective and inefficient.  The fact is, in order for information to be conveyed most efficiently, it needs to be visual.

Let’s face it, a project manager’s world is already full of data visualizations, designed to transform complex and voluminous data into simple, effective communication tools. Traditional project visualizations such as Gantt charts, work breakdown structures, process diagrams, project team calendars, project stakeholder organization charts, and the like are beneficial in their own way, but they simply aren’t enough anymore.

One of many new customized approaches gaining traction in project management circles today is a concept that presents project-related information in a visual, often graphical, form to improve clarity, visibility and understanding of the scope and operation of the effort.  This “Visual Project Management” approach serves as an additional tool for project management professionals to provide:

  • At-a-glance views of project status
  • Real-time project status tracking
  • Real-time issue management and resolution status
  • Data rich environments for better decision making

Traditionally, project information distribution has been based on “push” methods of communication.  In push-based communication, the sender, typically the project manager, decides the “who, how, what and when” regarding project information flow.  This information is typically delivered in the form of e-mails, status reports, project status meetings, conference calls and in some cases, instant or text-based messaging.  The recipient doesn’t really get a choice regarding whether they receive the communication or not.  Nor do they have a say in what format it is delivered.

Alternatively, more and more information is being made available electronically, meant to be digested when the recipient has the time to review it.  In this “pull-based” form of communication, information is simply posted to a common location, akin to a bulletin board or document library.  The recipient chooses what information they want to receive and when they want to access it.  Most importantly, it allows for an opportunity for the project manager and the project stakeholders to have a conversation about what information and specific data points are most important to them.  Then, leveraging any number of visual thinking tools, the project manager can design the format that most clearly and efficiently serves the stakeholders needs.

The key benefit of this new approach is speed.  Critical project information can be produced, replicated and digested in more effective and efficient ways.  Another advantage visual project management provides is that the information is delivered in such a way that anyone can consume it at a time, place and manner that is convenient to them.

When it comes to improving project communication and collaboration, engaging project stakeholders, as well as visualizing processes, work flows and key performance metrics, Visual Project Management has emerged as one of the hottest new methods for leading and managing projects and this specialized niche within the project management community is having a tremendous impact around the world.

If you’d like to learn more about Visual Project Management, please click <HERE>.

Visual Project Management – Social Media

Social Media

Without question, social media and social networking have been a dominant force in the last decade.  What started with simple online tools to manage personal relationships, has exploded into massive virtual communities and networks designed to exchange data, information and ideas.  They have become an entirely new form of communication, available to anyone with a connection to the internet.  In fact, according to research done by Nielsen, internet users spend more time on social media sites than any other type of site and that the percentage of total time spent on social media increases exponentially every year.[i]

Key to the social media wave has been the creation and sharing of user-generated content.  This new concept has transferred the power of information distribution away from traditional sources such as news outlets and publishing conglomerations, and into the hands and minds of individual people.  Its reach and influence have increased drastically beyond simple social status sharing apps and have become sources of real-time news, e-commerce business platforms and often times require the use of social media management tools that help integrate multiple social media accounts under one master umbrella.

From a project management perspective, the use of these new collaboration and communication tools have the potential to boost productivity, improve learning opportunities, shrink gaps between remote user/sites and potentially even reduce cost.  With these possible gains, however, also come inherent risks in the form of data security and privacy issues, a lack of productive work focus and a decline in physical interpersonal relationships.  These risks need to be actively considered by project management practitioners as participation on certain social media platforms may violate organizational security policies and/or unintentionally expose confidential or protected company information to the public domain.

So how can the use of social media be leveraged to improve project management collaboration and communication?   Here are some examples:

Facebook® (facebook.com)

Facebook is an online social networking platform where users create a user profile, add other users as “friends”, exchange messages, post status updates and photos, share videos and receive notifications when others update their profiles.  Facebook is the largest social network in the world with 1.3 billion active users as of June 2014.

While Facebook is the dominant player in social media, its usage in project management practice is rather limited.  There are, however, a number of specific uses that project managers may find to be beneficial in using Facebook:

  1. Connections with other project management professionals for knowledge sharing and networking
  2. Educational and professional development activity with leading providers, associations and thought leaders
  3. Creation of special project “pages” for posting task completion status, project document artifacts and other project-related information that has been approved for public consumption.

Twitter® (twitter.com)

Twitter is an online social networking service with an estimated 284 million active users worldwide that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets”.  Twitter has often been referred to as a “river of information,” with a constant flow of tweets that never stops.  Using this same analogy, users of Twitter are said to periodically wade into this fictional “river,” consuming information as it flows past.

Because this flow of information can be overwhelming, there are a few tools available that focus the consumption of the rapidly changing stream:  Hashtags, Lists and Advanced Searches.  A “hashtag,” noted by the symbol #, is simply a keyword that identifies the subject matter of the tweet.  For project managers, common hashtags include: #pmot (for project management on twitter), #projectmanager, #pmp, #project and #visualpm.  Because the creation and use of hashtags are open to users, some project management teams have created project-specific hashtags to communicate among themselves such as: #AcmeProjectZeus.  Note that tweets and hashtags are public and caution should be used when posting project-related information.

Project teams can also create public or private lists of Twitter users.  Many project managers maintain accounts on Twitter and post valuable information related to the profession.  Creating a list of these users and following their tweets can be a valuable source of professional development.  Lists can be public or private.  While most tweets are public, the aggregation of tweets among members of private lists is only available to the members of that list.   Project teams that wish to communicate on Twitter can form a private list limited only to project team members, stakeholders, etc.  Only one-to-one tweets, known as Direct Messages, are considered private on Twitter.

Finally, using the ‘Advanced Search’ feature of Twitter, users can search content using more advanced conditions such as words, people, places, dates and emotion-based search criteria.  The reader is encouraged to consult the help function on Twitter.com for more information on how to effectively and efficiently use the Twitter social media platform.

Virtual Communities

Project teams, especially geographically diverse teams, can establish an online community using any number of available technical platforms.  These communities allow project teams to share announcements, create team-based calendars of meetings, vacations or key milestones, create team or topic-specific web pages, establish a document repository and participate in forum-like conversations.   Virtual community sites allow project teams to feel more like a cohesive team, with the additional benefit of having a “one-stop shop” for all project-related information and documentation.

Examples of virtual community platforms include:

  1. Google+™ (plus.google.com)
  2. Yammer™ (yammer.com)
  3. Microsoft SharePoint™ (products.office.com/sharepoint/)

Blogging and Wiki Pages

Perhaps one of the original social media categories to be utilized by the project management community, web logs, better known simply as “blogs,” are in wide use both publicly on the internet and privately on thousands of corporate intranets around the world.  Blogs can be used to share information, post status reports or other announcements, facilitate discussions via comments, capture and store knowledge, log change requests and tag blog entries for easy information categorization.

Wiki pages are similar to blogs but add the feature of interactivity and on-the-fly editing capability.  Once a wiki page is created, anyone with permissions to do so can add to or edit the page.  Some project management teams use this functionality like a team diary, where entries on status, progress and key information are stored and then appended to daily, providing a living history of the conversation.  Other teams use wiki pages to document project scope and requirements documentation, as any changes are automatically logged, capturing the editor and the date/time stamp when the change occurred.  Still other teams simply use wiki pages to post and exchange information and facilitate conversations.

Examples of blog and wiki page creation include:

  1. Blogger™ (blogger.com)
  2. WordPress® (wordpress.org and wordpress.com)
  3. SquareSpace® (squarespace.com)
  4. WikiSpaces® (wikispaces.com)
  5. TWiki® (twiki.org)


These technologies are especially useful for geographically dispersed teams.  Podcasting is the recording of a voice communication and sharing it online.  Podcasts can either be broadcast to the public or made private behind a subscription-based authentication system.  Numerous project management teams have taken to dictating project status reports, recording project team meetings for later playback or distribution to non-attendees, as well as delivering project training via podcast.  As long as the project team members have appropriate podcast play-back tools, the podcasts can be made available to anyone.

Vidcasting is essentially the same as podcasting, except the media is video-based.  This becomes an even more valuable tool if the project team has adopted a visual project management approach.  Vidcasting technology ranges from traditional video recording, to screen sharing overlaid with the video, and beyond to multi-paned/multi-media displays shared with the video presentation. While YouTube is the most popular upload repository and search site for video productions on the internet, vidcasts, or other video-based media, can be stored anywhere and similar sites exist elsewhere on the internet.  Similar to podcasting, consumers of the video media simply need to have appropriate software to view the productions and both public and private options exist.

Additional Social Media Options for Project Managers:

  1. Pinterest® (pinterest.com)
    1. A relatively new option for project management teams, Pinterest is a social media platform that offers visual collection, sharing and search tools. Users create and share collections of visual bookmarks, known as boards. Boards are created when a user selects a page, website, etc. and pins it to a categorized board.  While mostly used to share recipes and interior decorating photos, savvy project managers use Pinterest to share visual project media like dashboards, infographics and other data visualizations.
  2. Document Sharing Sites
    1. While usage of document sharing sites has been traditionally limited by organizational information security policies, a number of sites have tightened up their security measures and offer corporate versions of their services. Document sharing sites like Dropbox™ (dropbox.com), Prezi™ (prezi.com), SlideShare™ (slideshare.net) and others can serve as a centralized, cloud-based location for project documentation and presentations, project management training modules and other project document archives.
  3. Professional Networking Sites
    1. Sites such as LinkedIn® (linkedin.com) or even project management specific sites like pmi.org, projectmanagement.com, projectconnections.com and others provide professional development, networking and self-promotion opportunities. While not typically used on a project-level basis, these sites prove especially valuable when searching for potential project team candidates, consultants or other needed project resources.
  4. Bookmarking Sites
    1. Using social bookmarking sites like Evernote™ (evernote.com) and Reddit™ (reddit.com) allow project team members to tag pages, tweets, posts, blogs and other web-based locations for future reference.

** As always, the reader is strongly encouraged to consult first with their organizational or independent IT and/or information security professionals before making social media usage decisions, to ensure that confidential and proprietary project or organizational information is properly protected

[i] “State of the media: The social media report 2012″. Featured Insights, Global, Media + Entertainment. Nielsen. Retrieved 9 December 2012. and “The U.S. Digital Consumer Report”. 2014-10-02. Retrieved 2014-11-25. www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2014/the-us-digital-consumer-report.html


Updates on Project World East Conference

For those of you who are joining me (or still considering it) for the ProjectWorld & World Congress for Business Analysts East Conference being held at Disney’s Grand Floridian in Orlando, Florida…we’re down to only 10 short days until the start of the conference!

Here are a few updates:

  • One of the cool, new features added to the PW East conference this year are the working lunch round tables.  I am excited to share that I will be hosting a table on Tuesday, March 24th from 1p to 2p.  The main topic at the table will be, what else, Visual Project Management, but I’ll be happy to field any questions or facilitate any discussions related to general PM practice, PMOs, alternative project/portfolio governance structures or any other topic you’d like to bring up.  This should be a fun way to network, learn and pick up a few great tips!  I haven’t received any details about how this will all work yet, but I’m sure we’ll hear more at the conference.
  • For those of you still on the fence about attending the conference…here are two last attempts to get you to sign-up:
    • The FINAL “early-bird” registration discount ends next Friday, March 20th.  You can save $100 off registration if you hurry!
    • Also, don’t forget to use my speaker discount code to save an additional 20%!


  • Finally, I am going to be bringing down some hardcover copies of Visual Project Management to hand-out (no charge) after my presentation…so please attend my session and don’t be afraid to ask a question at the end!

I’m really looking forward to meeting all of you who follow the blog and will be in attendance!  See you in about a week!

Project Management and the C-Suite, An Infographic

Project Mgmt and the C-Suite

Visual Project Management – EVM with Tolerance Limits


This post assumes the reader knows something about the Earned Value Analysis method.  For those who might need a quick refresher, please consult page 217 of the fifth edition of the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) or any number of web-based resources.

Put simply, EVA is a technique for reporting project performance using quantitative data, where Earned Value represents how much of the budget and schedule should have been spent with regard to the amount of work actually completed to date.  The data may be presented in numerical (formulaic) or graphical (visual) format.  Additionally, earned value analysis continuously measures project progress throughout the planned life cycle of the project, provides forecasts for likely project completion and can identify potential problems in schedule and/or budgetary performance early enough to take corrective action.


An alternative method for charting earned value that has attracted recent attention in the visual project management community is a concept known as tolerance limiting.  This tool is traditionally used in quality control circles to represent the limitation of values between which measurements must lie if an item is to be considered “acceptable.”


In the chart above, the three lines that parallel each other represent the cumulative planned value (middle line) and the corresponding upper and lower tolerance limits.  Unlike usage of this concept in quality control circles, the limits are not based on statistically-driven guidelines such as standard deviations.  Rather, the upper and lower limits are manually established by the project management office (PMO), project leadership team or key stakeholders based on risk tolerance, acceptance of minimal variation expected in project execution and other factors as determined by the appropriate governance body.

Think of tolerance limits as guardrails within which the project is expected to perform.  If either the actual cost or earned value eclipse these tolerance limits, it serves as a trigger point to alert project leadership that the project has deviated from the plan to an extent that certain action(s) must be taken.  Sometimes that action is nothing more than to raise awareness, while in other circumstances, it requires additional analysis and/or mandatory meetings to review and discuss options for getting the project back on track.

The key advantages of placing tolerance limits around earned value-based project performance indicators are two-fold.  First, and similar to standard earned value charting, it provides an easy to understand visual representation of project performance rather than trying to make sense of numbers and formulas.  Secondly, it provides a mechanism to pause project execution in the event that the actual performance exceeds pre-determined action thresholds.  This provides the project leadership team with the opportunity to take corrective action before the issue gets further out of hand.

The use of EVA graphing tools in project management practice, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication concepts, is explored in greater detail within Visual Project Management, now available to interested readers!


Project Management *is* Strategic Execution

word cloud - strategic planning

The theme for this month’s Harvard Business Review is Strategy or, more specifically, strategic execution.  In support of this month’s theme, Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull co-wrote an exceptionally good article, “Why Strategic Execution Unravels and What to do About it?,” that made me stop and think about the tremendous role and impact that project management has on the success (or failure…) of executing organizational strategy. Additionally, the article mentions a couple of visual project management tools that are worth mentioning, which may increase the odds for successful outcomes.

Simplistically speaking, strategic execution is really the sum of two distinct processes: strategy development and strategic implementation.  Strategic Development involves analyzing the competitive environment in which the organization operates and then making a series of decisions about how the organization will best position itself to compete in the marketplace. This initial process ends with a series of goals or objectives for the organization to pursue, along with metrics to ensure that progress is being made. Strategic Implementation, on the other hand, involves making decisions regarding how the organization’s resources (i.e., people, processes and systems) will be allocated, aligned, prioritized and mobilized towards achieving the identified goals and objectives. Successful implementation is well planned, communicated, aligned from top-to-bottom, monitored, controlled, managed and effectively rewarded.

For those of us who live and breathe project management, that last sentence should sound awfully familiar. Successful project execution also results from activities that are well planned, communicated, aligned from top-to-bottom, monitored, controlled, managed and rewarded.  While not all strategic goals will require formal project management to succeed, nor will all projects necessarily align with strategic intent, the underlying point of the article is that strategic execution greatly benefits from effective and efficient project management approaches and discipline.

What does project management bring to strategic execution?

  1. Portfolio Management
    1. Organizes executive-level strategic direction into portfolios of project-based work; each prioritized, sequenced and resourced appropriately
  2. Governance and Oversight
    1. Provides a methodology for tracking actual vs. estimated work effort, delivery of anticipated outcomes, budgetary and performance metrics, benefit realization and milestone-based funding gates
  3. Project Management
    1. Recognized standard methodology and approach to organizing, planning, monitoring and controlling task-based work designed to deliver a specific outcome
  4. Resource Management
    1. Track and report on organizational resources (CapEx, OpEx, Labor) allocated to the strategic plan
  5. Communications Management
    1. Information collection, formatting and dissemination from a “single source of truth”

One of the interesting things the HBR article calls out regarding this topic is that, despite all of the planning, methodology and process steps that take place before executing on a strategy via project management, “no Gantt chart survives contact with reality.”1 That’s true!  Only within PMP exam questions do projects run perfectly according to plan.  Successful execution of project-based work rarely follows the “happy path.”  Project managers must be nimble in their ability to adjust course as facts, results and market changes dictate.  Additionally, appropriate mitigation plans to known, expected, and even unexpected issues and risks will help to smooth out impacts that change, both good and bad, may bring to the life cycle of the project.

Finally, the article also references a couple of visual tools that help with strategic execution:

  • Balanced Scorecard
    • Typically a structured report or dashboard leveraging visual design and automated data management tools
    • Used by executives and managers to track and manage execution activities aligned to strategic goals
    • Focused on only a small, easily manageable number of data points that are typically a mix of financial and non-financial metrics
  • Strategic Road Map
    • A timeline-based plan that aligns strategic goals, across many time horizons, with specific action plans, projects and/or technologies that will deliver upon the defined goals
    • Uniquely powerful, visual-based collaboration and decision support tools that align technology choices to business objectives, govern project selection, and guide project portfolio prioritization discussions

I’d strongly recommend this article, along with the rest of the HBR March 2015 issue, for project and portfolio management professionals.  Lots of great professional development “nuggets” in there!

The visual tools referenced in the article, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication concepts, are explored in greater detail within Visual Project Management,  now available to interested readers!


The authors of the article also hit upon a specific point regarding the struggle that organizations have “disinvesting” from strategic initiatives.  Changes in strategy can alter project portfolio prioritization decisions or shift resource allocations.  Poorly performing projects may have unintended and/or negative ripple effects across other initiatives in the portfolio or overall strategy.  When do organizations “cut bait,” eat the sunk costs and move on?  This is something that all project management professionals struggle with at some point over the course of their career and will be the topic of a future blog post.

1  https://hbr.org/2015/03/why-strategy-execution-unravelsand-what-to-do-about-it