Visual Project Management Headed to the 2015 PMI Global Congress North America!

I was just informed that my presentation and white paper proposal submission regarding Visual Project Management was accepted by the selection committee for the 2015 PMI Global Congress 2015-North America!

Visual Project Management is a new practice concept that integrates visual thinking tools and data visualization methodologies with more traditional project communication, reporting and collaboration practices.  Attendees of this session during the Congress will gain an in-depth understanding of why these visual-based techniques work and where they are best applied, including live demonstrations of some of the most popular and effective visual thinking and data visualization tools.


As the world’s largest Project Management conference, with thousands of attendees from over sixty (60) countries, dozens of exhibitors and an impressive list of well-known sponsors, the PMI Global Congress 2015-North America encompasses three days of learning and networking aimed at building technical, leadership, and strategic and business management skills at the largest global gathering of project, program and portfolio management professionals.

This year the Congress will be held at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in the heart of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  I am hoping that many of my blog readers will be able to attend the Congress, and my presentation, so we can meet face-to-face, share some war stories over a cocktail, expand our networks and just enjoy this great event at the world’s coolest venue!

Official details regarding the PMI Global Congress 2015-North America can be found at:

The Global Congress has its own Twitter Account (@PMICongress) and topical hashtag (#PMICongress).  You can also follow my Twitter account (@ThinkForAChange) and my topical hashtag (#VisualPM) for additional announcements and information.

I’ll have much more information to share as the details begin to emerge, especially following the announcement from PMI once the “Area of Focus” educational session schedule has been set.  The keynote speaker list was just announced last week, and judging from the selections, there are going to be some great learning opportunities and thought-provoking take-aways right out of the gate each day!

More to come…stay tuned!

Visual Project Management – Visual Project Displays

Visual displays of project-related data are quite familiar in project management practice.  Whether found in a common area, shared project team space or on a factory floor, these displays share information, encourage collaboration, increase project visibility, communicate status and make data easy to interpret and understand.  Four of the most commonly used visualization approaches for project management include project display walls, project showcases/exhibitions, project flight plans/checklists/status displays, and 3D virtual project environments.

Project Display Walls

For organizations that cannot accommodate or justify the corporate real estate commitment required by a dedicated war room, space can usually be found on a long wall or shared workspace area.  “Project walls” include much of the same data visualization artifacts used in project war rooms.  Many project walls are centralized project status boards with dashboard-like project status metrics posted and available for viewing by anyone in the organization.  Similar walls may be confined to the PMO or individual department that is sponsoring the project work.


Since the team is not co-located in a single room, status reviews and project meetings are typically conducted through what is known as a “wall walk.”  In a wall walk, the project team collectively reviews all new items posted to the wall, as well as any visual summaries of project status or performance metrics in order to determine next steps or actions to be taken in the next work cycle.

Project Showcase or Exhibition

Some projects have such an impact on the organization or society-at-large that they are deserving of special attention or recognition.    To facilitate this recognition, some organizations create an exhibition area to showcase these projects and their artifacts or deliverables.  Rather than being actively used for the day-to-day management of a project effort, the showcase or exhibition is typically used post-project to highlight awards the project may have won, display products and/or services that the project recently delivered, or to convey other information the project team or their sponsors/stakeholders wish to share with the entire organization or the general public.  These displays are usually either static, created as a stand-alone exhibit with a set duration, or event-based, created for a one-time publicity, marketing or celebratory event.


Project Flight Plans and Status Boards

The usage of aeronautical terminology and analogies are common in project management practice.  Perhaps it is because modern-day project management takes its historical roots from the early defense and space programs of the 1940s and 1950s.

Project flight plans are, in essence, a summary of the complete plan for the lifecycle of the project.  They are critical for ensuring that all of the pre-flight (execution) checks have been completed, the required waypoint (milestone or deliverable) plans have been documented, the necessary crew (team) are assembled and ready, and that all of the plans have been reviewed and approved by the control tower (PMO or Executive Team).


The project flight plan approach can also be extended to the concept of checklists.  Checklists are an invaluable time saving tool for project managers.  While typically not graphical in nature, when looking over a checklist, a user of the template can clearly see whether or not a task has been completed via “checked/not checked” visual capability.


Project status boards are simple, at-a-glance visual representations of real-time project status across a number of different projects or across multiple sub-teams/work streams on a single project.  Status boards range from the very simple to the very sophisticated.  Simple boards are often represented on a magnetic white board with project names written in and color-coded magnets utilized to signify status, or via a simple color printed spreadsheet.  Electronic project status boards have been developed in the last few years and are becoming more and more affordable as the technology costs decrease and product maturity increases.  While in use across multiple industry types, much of the development around electronic status boards are found in software development environments.

Panic Status Board

3D Project Environments

The utilization of 3D environments in project management practice is a very recent development and its usage is typically defined by the industry in which the projects are undertaken.  For example, new product development projects that rely on rapid prototyping are eagerly leveraging new developments in 3D printing technology.  Once limited only to concept modelers, artists and design teams, proposed product designs can be transformed from a 2D image on a computer monitor to a 3D physical object that can be “printed” in a matter of hours.  As 3D printers continue to become more and more mainstream (and affordable), usage of the technology for project tasks such as prototyping, modeling, testing and usability will become a reality within even the smallest product development shops.

For organizations that focus more on marketing, customer experience and product placement projects, complete 3D store layouts and virtual shopping aisles are being developed.  Product development and customer experience teams conduct focus group sessions and leverage high-tech eye tracking technology, testing various product placement strategies by soliciting direct feedback and recording the reactions and engagement of the “shopper.”


Finally, with an increasing number of project team members participating virtually from locations all across the globe, the creation of temporary virtual project “war rooms” have also been on the increase.  These electronic communities often include video conferencing technology, virtual white boards, screen sharing, access to a shared document repository, electronic “bulletin boards” for information sharing and other modules designed to allow a widely dispersed project team to communicate and collaborate “virtually.”

Use of visual project displays in project management, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication concepts, is explored in much greater detail within Visual Project Management, a recently released publication by Paul R. Williams, and now available to interested readers!


As An Executive, How Can I Tell if My PMO is Effective?

"Outstanding" checked on evaluation form, with red pen.

In many organizations around the world, the Project Management Office (PMO) has become an integral strategic business partner for project execution, strategic alignment and business benefit delivery.  And, while the PMO is traditionally charged with the responsibility of devoting much of its attention, time, effort and resources into monitoring the performance of individual projects, not as much time is usually spent on the performance of the PMO itself.  This is a true leadership disconnect, as there is a direct correlation between the health of a PMO and the health of the portfolio of projects that it is responsible for managing.  Failing to pay attention to the effectiveness of the PMO can lead to a lack of executive confidence in the PMO, the risk of enduring painful re-organization or cost reduction exercises, or even shutting the PMO down completely.

Unfortunately, PMOs have had a less than stellar survival rate over the past few decades.  In fact, in 2010, Gartner presented a comprehensive PMO study at the ‘Symposium ITXPO’ which showed that over the previous seven years, nearly 50% of all PMO’s had failed or been otherwise disbanded or dissolved.  They cited the main cause of failure as, “sponsors and/or executive leaders perceived that their PMO did not provide sufficient value to the organization to justify the cost and org structure.”  Read that again…”did not provide sufficient value to the organization.”  

This is precisely why it is very important for PMOs to have a process and/or scorecard to measure their own success and worth to the organization.  During every economic downturn, corporate executives go searching for things to cut.  Anything that shows up on their radar as being inefficient, ineffective, redundant or too costly to justify is immediately a candidate for expulsion.  If the PMO had a process to track meaningful metrics, communicate project successes, demonstrate positive project benefit payback and keep executives informed of the direct strategic business benefit that the PMO brings, it’s chances for survival would be greatly increased.

As the role of the PMO becomes more entrenched within organizations, and as the services they provide become more crucial than ever in supporting the delivery of key strategic business priorities, PMO leaders need to ensure that their structure, processes, people and expectations become more effective, efficient, accountable and demonstrative of their value to the organization.  Executives have every right to expect PMOs to develop and report upon a minimum set of key metrics to track PMO performance and value.

One of the key service offerings we provide at Think For A Change is an external audit on the effectiveness and efficiency of organizational PMOs.  Sometimes our clients are PMO leaders themselves, looking for help on how to capture a baseline of current effectiveness so they can develop an improvement plan.  Other times, our clients are executive team members looking for an independent review of their PMO’s structure, operations and performance.

In either occasion, we leverage our PMO Target Assessment Model:

PMO Target Assessment Model

Each ring on the PMO Target Assessment Model represents one of the four core performance themes we would expect any effective and efficient PMO to deliver as part of the their foundational services.  Within each ring, we measure four specific key metrics associated with the core performance theme.

Starting on the outside ring, we assess the PMO on the most basic of expectations for any PMO, Strategic Alignment.  In this theme, we measure:

  1. Organizational Strategy Awareness & Comprehension
    • Awareness and comprehension of strategy by PMO team members.  Effectiveness of strategic communications both inside and outside of the PMO.  Refresh rate of strategic changes.
  2. Existence of a Strategic Portfolio Alignment Grid
    • Classification of projects and programs across a grid of organizational strategic goals/themes (ie. Risk/Reward, Cost/Benefit, etc.)
  3. Strategic Investment Alignment
    • Classification of projects and programs across a grid of organizational investment and risk categories (ie. Maintenance/Keep the Lights On, Small Projects, Major Projects, Innovation/R&D Projects, etc.) to
  4. Strategic Resource Allocation Alignment
    • Classification of projects and programs across a grid of organizational work types and resource classes (Process Improvement, Maintenance, Departmental, Cross-Functional, Organizational, etc.)

Second, we assess the basic Operational Efficiency of the PMO across the following measures:

  1. Financial Management Performance
    • Review of forecast to actual budget performance for the PMO organization itself, not the projects and programs they manage.  Includes personnel salary/benefits, office expenses, travel expenses, recognition expenses and other business unit financial metrics
  2. Resource Turnover Rate
    • Percentage of PMO resource turnover.  Used to identify causation trending and/or uncover departmental cultural or management issues
  3. Resource Utilization Rate
    • Percentage of PMO resource utilization.  Used to determine how much time that PMO resources are spending on actual project/program management vs. administrative functions
  4. Project Initiation Time
    • Elapsed time spent gathering, documenting and preparing new project proposals from intake to presentation at approval body.  Used to determine basic process efficiency.

Next, the PMO is assessed on its Execution Effectiveness:

  1. Budget Variance Average
    • The average of the Cost Performance Index (Budgeted Cost of Work Performed divided by the Actual Cost of Work Performed) of all active projects
  2. Schedule Variance Average
    • The average of the Schedule Performance Index (Budgeted Cost of Work Performed divided by the Actual Cost of Work Scheduled) of all active projects
  3. Projects Exceeding Control Limits
    • Using Earned Value Management (EVM) methodology, and following the establishment of the upper and lower control limits for variance, the number of projects with EVA scores falling outside of those control limits.
  4. Estimation Accuracy
    • The accuracy rate (%) of project team work effort and budget estimation to actual hours and/or costs

Finally, we assess the core purpose of any effective and efficient PMO, its ability to deliver actual business value via post-project Benefit Capture:

  1. Cost/Benefit Accuracy
    • Measurement of the accuracy of the actual delivery of benefits, return on investment, rate of return and/or payback period as compared to the project initiation cost/benefit analysis forecast or estimation
  2. Average Number of Scope Changes
    • Measurement of the amount and causation of project scope changes to assess whether project benefits/deliverables were “scope changed out” of the project to satisfy cost and/or schedule targets
  3. Customer Satisfaction Scoring
    • A subjective measurement of customer satisfaction scores and/or survey results from the intended key stakeholders, customers and/or consumers of the project’s deliverables and proposed benefits
  4. Strategic Intent Validation
    • Did the project have the intended impact on the strategic intent of the organization?

There are so many more variables that go into determining whether a Project Management Office is effective, efficient, and ultimately, worth the organizational investment in the structure.  Every organization and every PMO will vary in their intent, mission and purpose.  The key assessment metrics included in our PMO Target Assessment Model are designed to provide a snap-shot view of any PMO against current best practices.  Smart PMO leaders track the effectiveness and efficiency of their own practices, design strategies for continuous performance improvement, and regularly present this information to the executive leadership team, all as a means to demonstrate and communicate their contributing value to the organization regardless of the economic environment that may exist inside or outside its walls.


Visual Project Management Isn’t Just Limited to Agile

VPM Banner

Sadly, there is a mistaken belief in many project management print and web media outlets that the concept of visual project management is somehow limited to a common set of data visualization tools utilized by the Agile, Lean and DevOps communities, such as agile/kanban boards or burndown charts.  A simple Google search on the phrase “visual project management” results in page after page of software vendors pushing their own spin on software and cloud-based visual work flow solutions for agile, scrum, kanban or some unique combination of these methodologies.  You’ll also find discussions, documents and links to sites that focus primarily on visual-based task management topics.  In essence, almost everything you see today dealing with visual project management is only about planning and tracking the work.

Unfortunately, this narrow definition tends to limit the view for the project management practitioner of a much larger world of data visualization, visual thinking, visual collaboration and other visual-based concepts that can be very advantageous for project management responsibilities such as leading project teams, promoting team collaboration, communicating effectively and tracking metrics that key stakeholders care most about.  Looking beyond these common representations of visual workflow management, what other data visualization and/or visual tool, technique and/or approach options are available to the project management practitioner?  Here are but a few of the most popular:

  1. Visual Thinking Tools that Support Project Management
    1. Mind Mapping
    2. Process Mapping
    3. Storyboarding
    4. Root Cause Analysis
    5. Charting, Diagramming and Graphing
    6. Drawing and Sketching
    7. Wireframes and Use Cases
  2. Visual Project Reporting Tools
    1. Earned Value Analysis
      1. Traditional EVA Diagramming
      2. Tolerance Limited EVA Diagramming
    2. Dashboards
    3. Road Maps
    4. Lean Concepts
      1. Kanban Boards
    5. Agile Concepts
      1. Scrum Boards
      2. Sprint Burn-Down Charts
    6. Infographics
  3. Visual Project Collaboration Tools
    1. Project War Room
    2. Project “Science Fair”
    3. Visual Project Displays
      1. Project Display Walls
      2. Project Collaboration Wall
      3. Project Showcase or Exhibition
      4. Project Flight Planning and Status Board
      5. 3D Project Environments
    4. Project Social Media
    5. Gamification in Project Management

Let’s face it, project management is an extremely “data rich” business process. At any given time, project management professionals are capturing, manipulating, transforming and communicating hundreds of individual data points. These data points include labor estimates, capital and operational expenses, task lists, performance metrics, calendars, cost-benefit analysis worksheets, risk profiles, trending data and a seemingly countless number of project documentation artifacts.

As the speed of business continues to increase, and as focus on an ever growing number of 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 invest money and resources. Visualization of data and complex processes has proven valuable in serving those needs.

In reality, a project manager’s world is already full of data visualizations, designed to transform complex and voluminous data into simple, effective communication tools. Traditional visualizations such as Gantt charts, work breakdown structures, process flow diagrams, project team calendars, project stakeholder organization charts, network diagrams and the like are beneficial in their own way, but they don’t tell a collective story on overall project status and/or performance.

These facts have led to the creation of a new niche within the project management community known as “Visual Project Management.” And it goes way beyond just visualizing work flows.  When it comes to improving project communication and collaboration, as well as visualizing processes, scope concepts and risks, visual project management has emerged as one of the best new methods for leading and managing projects.

The key benefit of this new approach is speed, as critical project information can be produced, replicated and digested in more effective and efficient ways. Taking this new approach also provides additional distinct benefits to project managers, team members and, most importantly, key stakeholders:

  • The status of project planning, execution, monitoring and control activities are available in a single, at-a-glance and easy to understand view
  • Improves clarity, visibility and understanding of the scope and overall operational plan of the project effort
  • Resource allocations, or over-allocations, across the project, or multiple projects, are clearly visible
  • Impacts of changes to the scope, plan, priority or resource allocations are available in real-time
  • Information is delivered in such a way that anyone can consume it at a time, place and manner that is convenient to them

Today’s project manager has more to manage than just project scope, deliverables, communications and teams. They are also expected to manage large volumes of project-related data. And the expectation goes beyond just managing the data. It extends into creating great visualizations that allow stakeholders to fully digest that large volume of data in a manner that is quick, effective and clear. They are also expected to serve as facilitators in the use of visual thinking tools as a method for working through project issues, risks and problems. These new expectations require new skills. The era of multi-page, text-based project status reporting is over. The era of visual project management is here.

We have been recognized as the global leader of comprehensive visual project management concepts, tools and techniques.  If you would like to learn more about our approach to Visual Project Management, we invite you to obtain a copy of our book, Visual Project Management, or simply CONTACT US directly and we’d love to have a conversation, and perhaps even have the opportunity to engage more formally on how to bring effective and efficient visual project management to your organization!


What is the “Messy Back End” of Innovation?


No doubt you’ve heard the term “fuzzy front end” of innovation at some point over the course of the past few years.  It’s that unstructured, undisciplined and fuzzy “ideation” period where solutions to business problems and potential new product or service opportunities are identified, mashed together and prototyped.  More specifically, it is a collection of processes and business activities where the organization formulates conceptual ideas and, through a number of different analysis methodologies, decides whether or not to invest resources in further development.

The fuzzy front end’s lesser-known, blue collar, back-office cousin is known as the “messy back end” of innovation.  This term isn’t as prevalent because it is in this stage of an idea’s life cycle where the fun of inspiration and creativity meets the rigor of execution and managed implementation.  In short, its where the best of the ideas generated during the front end are turned into revenue and margin through the messy back end of execution processes and speed to market discipline.  The work isn’t nearly as glamorous as brainstorming or off-site idea retreats or “what if…” workshops where they hand out squishy balls, Lego™ sets or have everyone write with a Crayon™.  But without it, there would be no “innovation” at all!

Let’s take a quick step back and re-orient ourselves to the accepted definition of innovation…”The development and application of a new idea, device or process that meets new requirements, unarticulated needs or existing market demand.”  First, the idea or concept must be new.  Don’t forget that “new” can really mean a never before used combination of two existing concepts!  Stopping only with this simple requirement for innovation, however, produces an invention, not innovation.  Second, the new idea or concept must address an actual market need.  An invention that no one needs or want is a novelty, again…not innovation.  Innovations solve problems that people need or want solved.  Finally, a new idea or concept that addresses an actual market need must also be developed (produced), applied (released) and prove that the need was met (market acceptance).  That is the real definition of innovation!

Another important distinction to remember is that both the fuzzy front end and the messy back end of innovation are only a part of a much larger innovation and product development life cycle.

Innovation Life Cycle

It’s in the messy back end of innovation where the entire innovation process comes to life and begins to take shape.  In essence, it delivers upon the strategic execution approach of the organization.  Starting with the leadership’s strategic vision for the company, an organizational structure is developed to effectively and efficiently produce products and services.  This structure requires management-level oversight and supporting processes that can come from any number of different methodologies or a customized, hybrid-based model:

  • Project Portfolio Methodologies (PMI, Prince2, Critical Chain, etc.)
  • Product Development Methodologies (PDMA, NPD, PDM/PLM, etc.)
  • Lean Manufacturing and Process Improvement Methodologies (SixSigma, Lean, PDCA, Kanban, etc.)
  • Traditional and Agile Software Development Life Cycle Methodologies (Agile, SCRUM, XP, CoDev, etc.)

Finally, commercialization, marketing, product/service launch, support and continuous improvement processes come into play and serve as feedback loops to start the entire innovation life cycle process all over again!

Here at Think For A Change, LLC, we have developed our own strategic execution model that incorporates many of the key processes of the innovation road map.

Innovation Portfolio Management Model


As you can see from the model, we place a significant amount of emphasis on both portfolio management and execution-focused activities.  It is at the portfolio layer where the strategic intent of the organization is joined and aligned with the concept development work being conducted at the “fuzzy front end.”  And it is at the execution layer where tactical planning, design and implementation activities bring the idea to life.  The natural interactions that occur between portfolio management activities and execution (project) management activities run iteratively until all intended features and functionality of the product and/or service are ready for delivery.

If you are interested in learning more about fuzzy front end and messy back end of innovation concepts, there are two great conference events available, produced by IIR, that provide presentations on new thinking regarding these disciplines, case studies put on by organizations working to implement these concepts, and exhibitors anxious to demonstrate their technical tools designed to support the innovation management process:

For those of you who are project and portfolio management practitioners, know that you are already regular participants in the messy back end of innovation.  You play a integral part in helping take something that was once only an idea in someone’s head, and leading it through a process that transforms it into a tangible, meaningful, needed and hopefully profitable product, concept and/or service.  You are a crucial piece of the strategic execution puzzle!

Visual Project Management – Drawing and Sketching


Drawing out concepts or thoughts is one of the simplest and most efficient means of communicating visual ideas.  Using quick hand drawn scenes or sketching out a product design can quickly bring clarity to complex issues and provide insight into confusing concepts.  Drawings are many times a “spur-of-the-moment” capture of “what if…” thoughts or ideas.  This makes them exploratory in nature, with considerable emphasis on direct observation, problem-solving and current context.

There are many different methods of drawing that are formally recognized, however sketching and doodling make up the bulk of drawings in the business environment.  Sketches are quick, unrefined drawings used to record or develop ideas for later use.  Because they are not intended to accurately depict a final working idea, it is a quick way of graphically demonstrating an image, idea, concept or principle.  Somewhat similar, doodles are rudimentary drawings at an even more abstract level.  Typically taking the form of shapes or concepts, doodling helps to organize thoughts, aid in memory recall and stimulate create problem solving.


One of the biggest hang ups people have with sketching or doodling is the thought, “I can’t draw!”  Quite frankly, artistic ability has very little to do with effective sketching.  In some cases, having a detailed artistic eye can even be a hindrance!  The whole point of a sketch is not how well a person can draw, but what kind of information they are trying to convey.  A sketch is simply a representation of the “visual” a person has in their mind.

Despite all of the idea management and organizational software, mobile applications and cloud-based product suites available in the marketplace today, drawing is still the easiest and fastest way to facilitate discussions that spark a wide variety of ideas and examine alternative options.  Sketch-based collaboration is also frequently a group effort.  It is not uncommon to see one person in the group start a drawing of an idea and then have two or three others either build off of the original drawing or add their own idea to the sheet.

One of the more recent trends promoting sketching and doodling in the workplace is the concept of napkin-based drawing made popular by Dan Roam in his book, “The Back of the Napkin.”  His basic premise in the book is simple, that any problem can be solved with a simple picture drafted on nothing more complicated than a cocktail napkin.  By drawing out the various components of a problem, the “Back of the Napkin” sketch becomes the spark that leads to productive creative problem solving.


While perhaps based more in myth than reality, take the story of how Southwest Airlines was conceived with a simple napkin drawing.  Founders Herb Kelleher and Rollin King figured out how to beat the traditional hub-and-spoke airlines using a bar napkin and a pen.  The two men drew three dots to represent Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.  Then, using arrows to represent direct flights between the cities, the idea was born for a low-cost, ultra-efficient airline.

Similarly, a hand-written drawing exists in the Walt Disney Company Archives, purportedly drawn by Walt Disney himself on a restaurant napkin during one of his site visits to the central Florida area, of a rough layout for EPCOT and the Disney World Project in Florida.  Remarkably, the actual layout of today’s Walt Disney World property bears a striking resemblance to this original sketch-based concept.

Of all the varied visual project management methods, drawing is one of the easiest and cheapest to undertake.  Here are some ideas on how to get started using sketches and doodles in the workplace and among project teams:

  1. Paper
    1. While this may seem self-explanatory, it is actually a good idea to utilize a number of different kinds of paper: blank, lined, graph, butcher, multi-colored construction, easel pad, etc.
    2. Encourage project team members to carry and use a sketch pad or project journal to capture ideas and drawings when inspiration hits
  2. Writing Instruments
    1. Again, aim a bit higher than the plain old No. 2 pencil or the ball point pen. Try using colored pencils, markers, crayons, highlighters, fancy pens, etc.
  3. Drawing Tools
    1. Drawing guides/templates, shape stencils or drafting tools like a compass, protractor or triangle
  4. Group Drawing Tools
    1. Sticky notes, white boards, conference room wall with erasable marker paint finish, “old school” chalkboards, easels with pads, etc.
  5. Electronic
    1. Smartphones, Tablets, electronic note taking or sketch pad capture devices, etc.

Drawing is perhaps most commonly used in project scoping sessions where the project’s overall look and feel is still under development.  But, when issues arise or risks are triggered on projects, don’t overlook the value that sketches or doodles can provide in problem solving and alternative solution development.

If you’d like to learn more about using hand-written drawings, sketches and doodles in project management, or would like to learn more about the concept of Visual Project Management, please click HERE for more information!

7 Tips for Communicating with Executive Sponsors and Stakeholders

Business meeting in The New York City Office

For many project management professionals, nothing strikes a more paralyzing fear than being asked to present in front of an audience of executive-level sponsors and/or stakeholders.  For a myriad of reasons, communicating at the senior level of the organization can be viewed as a daunting task.   Sometimes the fear can be based in reality, such as a past negative experience or the existence of a leader with a well-known irascible demeanor.  Most of the time, however, it is instead based on urban myth (or corporate lore), unfounded internal fears and erroneous assumptions.

Whether presenting a project status briefing, requesting approval to proceed at a funding gate or providing an update on a particular project risk, these occasions are a regular part of a project manager’s life.  Rather than focusing on the negative and being apprehensive about presenting to organizational leaders, project management professionals should instead view these events as opportunities to make a significant, positive impression with key leadership, perhaps even boosting career and advancement opportunities.   Of course, to make that kind of impact, you’ll need to make sure you are both well prepared and have a solid understanding of your audience and their unique perspectives.

These seven (7) tips for communicating with executive sponsors and stakeholders should improve your confidence and help you look forward to, rather than lament, the opportunity to engage with the key leaders of the organization.

  1. Start with the understanding that presenting information at the senior leadership level is not the same as providing regular project status updates.
    • Think about the status reports that you draft and review at weekly project team meetings. Are they loaded with jargon specific to the technology or business process that your project is addressing?  Do they take a very tactical view of tasks, resource allocations and technical issues?  Quite frankly, executive-level folks don’t care about that level of operational project detail.  Well okay, yes they do, but not directly.  The truth is, the executive leadership team doesn’t have time to focus on the minutia of how to execute the project, build the deliverables or resolve the day-to-day challenges the team may be facing.  Instead, their interest lies in how close the project is operating to the original scope, budget and schedule, validating that the return on investment still applies and determining how soon the projected benefits will begin.
    • HOW: Ask your project leadership team, your line of business leader and/or your peers in the PMO for suggestions on how to best communicate project-related information with the current executive team.  You aren’t the first to take this journey, so learn from those who have “been there and done that.”
  2. Focus specifically on why you are there.  Don’t prepare or bring up anything you haven’t been asked to provide or present.
    • Executive calendars are insane. They would not have asked you to make an appearance just because they are trying to fill some empty time.  You are there to present specific information needed to make a decision, take some kind of action, validate progress or share with other audiences.  Find out why you are there and then focus your presentation only on that information.
    • HOW: This one should be easy.  Typically, executive leaders requesting your presence will give you a reason or purpose for being there.  If not, try to tap your project leadership network for news that may have precipitated the request.  If you are making regularly scheduled visits that make up the project approval and gating process, you’ll have the advantage of knowing exactly what you need to deliver.
  3. Find out their preferred communication style(s) before the meeting.  This isn’t about how you prefer to deliver information; it’s about how they prefer to receive information.
    • Does the CEO like (or hate) bulleted-slide decks? Does the CFO require that any proposal or change come with a return on investment calculation?  Does the CIO like to see the detail behind the topic, or will a graphic work better?  Does the Executive Team have any favorite (or hated) buzz words?  Remember, the more you speak in their language, and equally important, the less you speak in your language, the easier it will be for your audience to understand and retain the information you are presenting.
    • HOW: Again, tap into your project leadership network or PMO peers.  Most of the time someone on your project leadership team is a direct report, or not too far down the food chain, to someone from the C-suite.  They should be able to provide some guidance.  Failing good advice from those channels, make friendly contact with the administrative assistants for the C-level team and inquire about likes and dislikes.  Over the years, I’ve found admins to be an invaluable source of information and establishing a good relationship with them is critical to your success!
  4. Executives have short attention spans and hate drama, so don’t have a presentation that slowly builds up to a big reveal or conclusion.  Get straight to the point!
    • Nothing will annoy an executive audience more than a presentation that either starts with a lengthy overview, covers material already provided in other forms or doesn’t get straight to the point.  Executive leaders got to where they are because of their ability to make quick, confident decisions based on available information and data.  Skip the background and get right to the findings, performance metrics and/or recommendations.  Believe me, if they have any questions, or express interest regarding where the supporting data came from or need any foundational information, they will ask!
    • HOW: Once you know the purpose behind why you are there (see #2 above), design your presentation to give your audience exactly what they want and need.  Assume they know the basics about the project and why it exists.  Don’t feel the need to share every single project performance metric just because the data exists.  Focus on what was requested and get right to it.  Doing this will ensure that there will be enough time in the agenda time box carved out for your project to allow the executives to ask questions and gather any additional detail needed by the team.
  5. Be prepared!  Be prepared to be taken off course or to suddenly be dropped from the agenda.  Be prepared for seemingly random questions and for scrutiny of figures and data.
    • First and foremost, know your material and practice your pitch.  Make sure your presentation addresses their need, in their language and is communicated crisply and clearly.  Practice your delivery with yourself first until you have it nailed cold.  Then, give your presentation to your project leadership team and ask them to provide you with feedback.  Secondly, be prepared for anything!  Bring printed copies in case the technology fails.  Thought you had 15 minutes to make your case?  What happens if that is cut down to 5 minutes?  Are you prepared to defend your data sources?  Have you triple-checked your calculations?  If you have intimate knowledge of your project, you will be prepared for even the most random of questions.  Finally, if you’re asked something that you don’t know, DO NOT attempt to bullshit them!  They will see right through it, call you on it and make your visit rather unpleasant.  Sadly, you will also have limited your career prospects.  Instead, tell them you’ll take note of that request and get back to them before the end of the day.
    • HOW: Practice makes perfect, so follow the advice above on giving your presentation to a number of test audiences.  Also, sit down and make a list of any questions you can think of that the executives might ask and develop responses to each.  Review your data sources, check your formulas and even bring project metric detail with you in case you need to refer to it during the meeting to properly address a question.
  6. Unless you are asked to prepare something from a template, limit the amount of material you provide to the executive team.  Focus more on visual summaries and less on verbal or numerical detail.
    • No one likes to suffer through a “death by PowerPoint” experience.  Reading bullet points as you lead the group through your presentation doesn’t work.  Showing them a Gantt chart is just asking for trouble.  Instead, communicate using a dashboard, infographic, road map of deliverables or any number of other data visualization tools that condense the information in a way that facilitates immediate understanding and provides clarity surrounding complex project data.  Also, try to avoid providing all of the material at once, or even in advance of the presentation, if possible.  This will prevent the audience from reading ahead, which will limit their attention and focus on the points you are trying to make via your presentation.  Executives are used to being provided with dashboards and executive summaries of material.
    • HOW: Learn about and leverage data visualization tools for communicating project status or for representing complex project details.
  7. Respect their time.  Don’t be the reason that someone else on the agenda had to limit their remarks to fit in a smaller time slot.
    • The average day of an executive is planned and managed right down to the minute.  In many instances, the executive has little to no control over their calendar.  They are also unable to prepare much in advance for the meetings that appear on their calendar, so the quicker you can get them up to speed and oriented to your project the better.  If you are given a 15 minute time slot in a meeting, make very, very sure that your presentation not only fits in that slot, but also allows for some brief Q&A.  If the leadership team gives you more time, great…but taking more time than allowed is a big no-no!  If the meeting is all about your project, try as much as possible to end the meeting early.  Nothing will make you more of a hero to the executive team than to give them precious time back in their day!
    • HOW: Practice, practice, practice!  Similar to the advice provided above in being prepared, make sure you are able to deliver what needs to be delivered within the time allowed.
  8. BONUS TIP!  Executive leaders are just regular people.  They aren’t monsters and they don’t have super powers.  They aren’t looking to purposefully give you a hard time.  In fact, they want you to do well.  At the end of the day, they are just regular people, tasked with doing a job, just like you.  Don’t be intimidated.  Be confident in your skills. Deliver the facts, open and honestly.  Do what you do so well that they find respect in you and trust what you have to say.

Finally, understand that executive and senior-level leaders are tasked with the responsibility of creating the strategic direction and delivering profitable operational performance for the entire organization.  Based on that strategic plan, they have invested valuable organizational resources in the project you have been assigned to manage in order to receive whatever benefit it was the project promised to deliver.  Remember that their focus is not in the tactics, but in the strategy, and in the delivery of a product, service or feature that addresses that strategy or market/customer need.  Take these opportunities very seriously.  You have a rare chance to showcase your talent, capability and professionalism.  If you prepare appropriately and deliver an effective and efficient presentation, it will absolutely help your career advancement!


Celebrating 15 Successful Years in Business!



Think For A Change, LLC. was founded on May 1st, 2000 with the original vision of becoming the world-wide leader in project and innovation management training and consultation services.  While we’ve tweaked our services, products and delivery methodologies as the market has evolved over the past fifteen years, our primary focus on delivering high quality, high return-on-investment client engagements has never wavered.

We’ve come a long way since our initial product offering of simple, online training modules dealing with innovation management concepts, creative problem solving techniques, project management basics and idea execution strategies.  Since then, Think For A Change, LLC has grown and evolved into an organization with a strategic focus on short and long-term PMO leadership consulting engagements, executive coaching, project war room design services and, most recently, being in the unique position of highly sought-after, world-wide leader in visual project management communication design concepts.

We cannot properly express our overwhelming gratitude to the 47 (and counting!) clients who have placed their trust and investment in the products and services of our organization over the past fifteen years.  During that time, our clients have represented a broad diversity of engagement types and organizational sizes.  Starting in 2000 with our first paying gig, a presentation provided to a tiny regional non-profit, to our most recent work in providing visual project status dashboard guidance to an international leader in paper converting products.  From the smallest of “mom and pop” shops, to the immensity of a Fortune 100 corporation.  From delivering online training modules for project managers, to coaching senior executives on alternative project portfolio governance approaches.  It has been an honor and privilege to have worked with all of you and we thank you for your business and trust!

We look forward to the next fifteen years with great anticipation and high expectations!  Whether through continuing engagements with our current and past clients, or by establishing exciting new client relationships, our vision and mission remain the same as when we originally hung out our shingle in May of 2000:

Vision: “Imagine The Future…Make It Happen™”


Mission: We exist to serve organizations that seek to excel in strategic execution through effective and efficient innovation and project management discipline


thank you


Visual Project Management – Road Maps


The exercise of “road mapping” is the development of 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.  As a graphical representation of the framework for the delivery of multiple interdependent platforms such as technology, product development, marketing, sales, etc., the road map serves as a guidepost to ensure that the entire organization remains aligned, over time, to both the larger, over-arching strategic goals and the smaller (relatively), tactical completion of the individual road map components.

Pioneered by Motorola in the 1970s, road maps were developed to encourage strategic alignment, dialogue and product planning across all functions within the organization, most notably work that had traditionally been independently planned and managed by the separate business units.  Road mapping brings together functional experts from each business process and, using a set of graphical tools and templates, visualize and develop strategies, goals, interactions and deliverables for the road map.

The concepts and approach behind building a good road map are flexible enough to be customized across a number of different business unit uses:

  • Strategy Development
  • Product Development
  • Technology Planning
  • New Business Development
  • Services & Capabilities Planning
  • Process Planning
  • Integration Planning
  • Project Portfolio Management

Strategic Roadmap Sample

In order to develop a road map, the team must first break down higher-order systems into subsystems, and then ultimately into individual components.  It is at this component level that the road map is generated, so that individual components can be interchanged, re-sequenced or added/removed as the right balance is sought for the overall road map.  Conducting these alternative scenario exercises allow for additional analysis with respect to the potential impact that each alternative, or combination of alternatives, will have on the overall timing and/or effect of achieving the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.

This decomposition of higher-order systems into sub-components is very similar to the project management activity of generating a work breakdown structure.  In the case of the road map, however, the itemization of components is not centered on the work needed to produce an individual deliverable, but rather across business, product or technological lines.  The visual nature of the road map clearly delineates when contributing components must be ready to support future events, or coalesce in a specific sequence to meet the overall strategic goals at the end of the proposed timeline.

CSP Roadmap Sample

Road mapping workshops, and the road map documents they produce, have four main objectives:

  1. Reach agreement on goals and objectives (current and future) of the organization
  2. Break down the processes, technologies and other resources needed to achieve the goals and objectives identified
  3. Seek to predict future developments and environmental changes that may affect the existing set of processes, technologies and resources
  4. Build a tactical plan to integrate existing approaches with likely future scenarios, including strategic visions for process, technology and other resources

Road Map Example


While the usage of road maps and road mapping techniques in the management of individual projects is not particularly common, they are occasionally used to show summary milestones or key deliverables, along with organizational resource dependencies, over time.  Where road maps are quite useful in project management practice, however, is at the portfolio and/or program management tier.

Because project portfolios and programs need to take into account additional complexities such as market forces, technology stacks, business/manufacturing processes or product life cycles in order to make key prioritization and funding decisions, the usage of road maps help to bring order to the multiple pieces that make up the overall organizational strategic and execution puzzle.  When done correctly, road maps are 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.

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: or call us at: 920-445-8858