Webinar Reminder – Key Take-Aways and Lessons Learned from the 2015 PMI Global Congress North America

Just a quick reminder that I’ll be a guest panelist on a live webinar tomorrow regarding the key take-aways and lessons learned from our ‘Strategic Business Management Skills’ focus area sessions that were presented at the PMI Global Congress North America held last month.  The webinar, which is available only at ProjectManagement.com, is scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, November 18th at 12pm Noon (EST).

Structured similar to the pre-Congress webinar this same panel presented in September, Joanna Newman will moderate the discussion among myself and two other panelists to explore the key themes, take-aways, lessons learned and discussions stemming from presentations we delivered at this year’s Congress:

  • Ori Schibi will discuss his presentation on Project Sponsorship and Senior Management’s Role in the Successful Outcome of Projects
  • I will walk-through my presentation on Visual Project Management and reinforce the main visual thinking and data visualization concepts as they relate to project management
  • Muhammad A. B. Ilyas and Mohamed Khalifa Hassa will share their key take-aways and discussion points from their session, Negotiate to Win Across Cultures

It should be a great learning opportunity and I am looking forward to the Q&A session at the end of the webinar.  I hope you’ll take the opportunity to participate!


REGISTER HERE to participate in the webinar.  Please note that the panel discussion and registration is hosted by ProjectManagement.com and you may need a PMI, ProjectManagement.com and/or Facebook account to complete the registration.

Mind The Strategic Execution Gap


In many organizations, there is a familiar gap between what should get done and what does get done. This gap is commonly referred to as the “execution gap” and it represents an organizational leadership issue that is difficult to overcome. Organizations that acknowledge a need for systemic innovation face a similar situation known as an “innovation gap.” The desire (or demand) for more breakthrough thinking and innovative new products espoused by senior leadership is disconnected from the safe, incremental innovations actually built and delivered by the front line.

The strategic execution gap typically results from a lack of clarity and action between the strategic direction of the organization and its frenetic attempt to balance keeping the lights on and the customer happy. In most organizations, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will typically work in conjunction with his or her leadership team to define and communicate the need for innovation and new product development. With the strategic vision established, he or she will direct operational teams to establish an organizational structure, or modify an existing structure, to produce the desired innovative outcomes of this new growth-focused approach or model.

“Companies typically realize only about 60% of their strategy’s potential value because of breakdowns in planning and execution

– Harvard Business Review

Unfortunately, once this mandate cascades down the management chain, it becomes diluted to minimize “change panic,” or is force fit into existing operational behavior rather than the establishment of new organization structures or operational processes. These adjustments, via “organizational change anti-body reflex,” result in incremental, rather than breakthrough, ideas and solutions and do not match the original mandate as directed by the executive leadership.

Busy executives and senior leaders, focused on their own priorities, also don’t take the time to verify that their strategic direction is being followed until far too late in the process. At the time the lack of adherence is discovered, the opinion that “some action” is better than “no action” typically prevails and the bold strategic vision is officially abandoned for something safe and completely ineffectual.

In order for execution to be successful, regardless of the business discipline in which it is applied, it must have a number of fundamental elements in place:

  1. Clear and consistent vision of the strategy
  2. Clear and consistent leadership commitment and attention from executive leadership ranks through middle / operational management
  3. Defined goals, tactics, milestones, deadlines and metrics to support execution of strategy
  4. Effective and efficient tracking mechanism to report against goals, tactics, milestones and deadlines
  5. Clear and consistent responsibility, authority and accountability
  6. Performance measurements tied to execution strategy

From an innovation standpoint, the aforementioned execution fundamentals align very closely to the Four Keys of Innovation Management Success[1]:

  1. Direct Executive / Senior Leadership engagement
  2. Allocation of appropriate amount of resources:
    1. Financial
    2. Human
    3. Space
    4. Time
  3. Consideration of innovation management as a business discipline rather than a singular event
  4. Disciplined processes, approaches, methodologies and techniques

If strategic innovation, and the execution of that strategy, is so important, why then does innovation fail to take hold in organizations? Actually, upon further examination, this failure results from two “gaps” that exist in every organization. Although the width of the gap may vary from firm to firm, these gaps prevent the free flow of ideas, an execution mindset or consistency of strategic focus throughout the organization.

The first of these gaps lies between the front-line employee and the middle/operational management layer. This gap is primarily an “Idea Gap,” as noted in the figure[2] below.



Research conducted by the American Institute for Innovation Excellence[3] in 2011 indicates that ideas conceived and developed at the front-line employee layer, where the vast majority of the customer-facing interaction occurs, are most frequently “lost” when moving up the chain of command through the middle/operational management layer due to a number of common causes:

  • Lack of idea submission process
  • Lack of problem solving and/or idea campaign focus
  • Failure to act on ideas
  • Outright obfuscation
  • Overcommitted / fractionalized resources
  • Lack of perceived “permission” to innovate or execute

The most common reason for idea execution failure at this layer, however, is the self-culling of ideas by idea generators themselves. Surveys, interviews and other individual-focused research repeatedly show that idea generators have a fear about sharing their ideas with others. These fears can include:

  • Fear of ridicule for a “crazy” idea
  • Fear of being punished for going outside of the normal process
  • Fear of failure and/or success based on the eventual disposition of the idea
  • Fear of rejection because if it really was a good idea, someone else would have thought of it already
  • Fear of theft or lack of credit for the idea once it leaves their “possession”

All of these fears, irrational or illogical as they may be, are real experiences and emotions expressed by real people. It is a large “gap” in the harvesting and processing of potentially great ideas that may lead to solving a strategic need.

“82% of Fortune 500 CEOs feel their organization did an effective job of strategic planning. However, only 14% of those same CEOs indicated that their organization did an effective job of implementing the strategy”

Forbes Magazine

The second of the two “gaps,” seen in all organizations struggling with the execution of an innovation strategy, exists at the intersection of the Executive or Senior Leadership layer and the Middle / Operational layer. This gap, known as the “Execution Gap,” typically exists as result of weak leadership, ineffective performance / reward mechanisms or poor communication. Specifically, additional research on this topic discovered the most commonly cited causes for the existence of the gap were:

  • Failure to link strategy and operations
  • Failure to link performance goals to strategy / innovation
  • Lack of common language and understanding of innovation for the organization
  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of metrics or system of measurement
  • Lack of executive leadership engagement
  • Failure to create time/space away from operations

Causes of this behavior may be the result of a lack of foundational training in execution and/or strategic planning. Another cause may be the way middle managers are rewarded via their performance and bonus structures. Lawrence G. Hrebiniak[4], Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Making Strategy Work,” summed it up rather succinctly, “Managers are trained to plan, not execute.[5]

In other words, “A failure to innovate is a failure to execute…and a failure to execute is a failure of leadership.”

Paul R. Williams

Fortunately, the obstacles and blocks caused at the middle management layer can be quickly and effectively resolved using a number of strategies:

  1. Provide innovation leadership training and a hands-on practice lab where they can both identify and eliminate unsupportive behaviors as well as build supportive skill sets
  2. “Incentivize” or otherwise structure their pay, bonus and other performance based goals to align with the desired outcome
  3. Establish an idea and/or innovation management process that allows ideas and information from both directions to by-pass the middle management layer entirely
  4. Hold middle / operational management accountable, including punishment for non-conformance, to executive directive

Although much “blame” centers on the middle / operational management layer as one of the major causes of the innovation strategy execution gap, it should equally be noted that they are not the sole cause. In fact, the single common thread throughout all of the research in this area identified the number one contributor of the failure to connect innovation strategy with execution: day-to-day operations.

Even when front-line employees and/or middle managers understand the organization’s strategy, and fully intend to integrate and execute upon the new strategy, they often admit that their failure to actually follow through resulted from “day-to-day operations” disrupting their plans. In essence, firefighting ruled the workday rather than planned tasks or strategic focus.

It seems that day-to-day operations always seem to get in the way or supersede, not just strategic innovation execution, but practically any initiative-driven, project-based activities beyond standard operating procedures. Due to cost pressures, resources are overscheduled and fractionalized across daily work, project work and administrative tasks. The perceived reality is that there simply isn’t enough time in the day to drive strategic execution to the top of the stack.

This obstacle too can be overcome with the appropriate leadership awareness and via leveraging the following tactics to re-balance work effort:

  • Reduce day-to-day operational responsibilities
  • Increase resources
  • Design performance incentives / disincentives
  • Remove work flow and/or process-based obstacles
  • Establish frequent and focused communication on work balance
  • Design a roadmap, plan or other structure and make it visible
  • Be honest about changes and share both the benefits and the risks of the strategy
  • Establish a specialized team to work outside of the day-to-day operations

So what does it take to bridge the gap between innovation strategy and innovation execution? The simple fact remains, innovation cannot happen without some kind of execution.  Ideas are not real and do not exist until they are “executed.”  That’s why every definition of innovation contains an action of some sort.  Most organizations do not suffer from a shortage of ideas.  Employees, management, vendors, partners and customers all have ideas on how to make products and/or services better, faster and cheaper.  But again, ideas are the easy part, they mostly just happen.  Step two takes action or execution.

  • Figuring out what problems you want to solve…takes execution
  • Collecting ideas from employees, management, vendors, partners and customers…takes execution
  • Filtering ideas and deciding which ideas you want to commercialize…takes execution
  • Committing resources, both financial and human, toward commercialization…takes execution
  • Developing a solid project plan to move the idea to reality…takes execution
  • Marketing the product/service and making the idea known to the world…takes execution
  • Making a profit on an idea…takes execution

Remember…to be a good innovator, you need to excel at execution!



[1] “Four Keys of Innovation Management Success” – © Copyright, American Institute for Innovation Excellence, 2010

[2] http://www.thinkforachange.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/OrgTierGapDiagram-Obstacles.jpg

[3] Exploring The Innovation Execution Gap – Fall 2011 Research Report – American Institute for Innovation Excellence, http://www.thinkforachange.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/White-Paper-Bridging-The-Innovation-Execution-Gap.pdf

[4] Lawrence G. Hrebiniak bio at Wharton School Website: http://mgmt.wharton.upenn.edu/people/faculty.cfm?id=1329

[5] Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change, Lawrence G. Hrebiniak, Wharton School Publishing, January 2005

Visual Project Management – Project “Science Fairs”


The notion of applying the “science fair” concept within project management practice is admittedly on the cutting edge for most in the profession. Their use, however, is not entirely unfamiliar. Project management offices (PMOs) and portfolio management leadership in large organizations have used project science fairs, also referred to as project expos or project forums, to showcase projects that have produced new products and/or services, along with projects that have made significant financial, process or operational impact on the organization.

In the traditional sense, science fairs are events, sometimes competitive in nature, where school-aged participants design and present visual-based information in the form of display boards, models, exhibits or reports regarding a particular scientific topic or research initiative. These fairs showcase student knowledge, stimulate creative problem solving and innovative thinking, and allow for friendly competition among schools or teams.


While creating an individual informational kiosk in a corporate common area is typical for sharing the results and benefits of a large, individual project effort, project science fairs are now being leveraged when the goal is to showcase a number of key projects, programs or portfolios that have been successfully executed over a recent period of time.  These fairs serve as effective, informative, informal and fun internal marketing events where employees, at any level of the organization, can learn more about key project-based initiatives occurring within the organization.

Additionally, project teams, stakeholders and sponsors can use the science fair concept as a way to showcase their contributions to project planning and execution activities throughout the year. Other benefits that the science fair concept brings to an organization include:

  • A significant increase in awareness across the organization regarding project-based efforts and how they align with corporate strategies
  • Increased visibility, recognition and expressions of appreciation for project team members
  • Provide a sense of closure and celebration for the project team
  • Demonstrate effectiveness of project-based management approaches
  • Internal recruiting mechanism for people interested in working on future project teams


How Do You Determine Who Participates?

  • Application-Based Participation

    • Project teams apply for inclusion in the organization’s annual showcase event and are either selected by event organizers or are voted in by fellow employees
  • Selective or Portfolio-Based Participation

    • Projects are selected by the organization’s executive or portfolio level management team to represent key project initiatives within each of the strategic or product portfolios
  • Full Showcase Participation

    • All organizational project teams are invited to participate in the event
  • Individual Participation

    • Single projects with significant organizational impact or benefit are showcased ad hoc to celebrate project completion, recognize noteworthy project benefit delivery (financial, societal, other) or to highlight other success factors important to the organization



Logistical Considerations for your Project Science Fair:

  1. Space Considerations
    1. Individual or Small Events
      1. A table or kiosk located in a common area like reception, the break room, employee lounge, etc.
    2. Larger Events
      1. Board room, large conference room, auditorium, etc.
  2. Technical Considerations
    1. Power availability
    2. Projections or display monitors
    3. Networking/WiFi/Internet access
  3. Exhibit Considerations
    1. Keep it simple and fun
    2. Cardboard project display boards
    3. Video or electronic presentations
    4. “Show and Tell” models or exhibits
    5. White papers or reports
    6. Candy or give-away items

Again, this concept may be a bit “out there” for some of the traditionalists, but the concept is being increasingly promoted by PMOs to raise awareness of important organization projects completed, currently underway or ready to launch in the last year. Why not give it a try?  Quite frankly, these are a blast and it provides some great recognition opportunities for your project teams!

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

Recap – Visual Project Management at 2015 PMI Global Congress North America

Wow!  That’s the first impression I had strolling into the opening keynote session that kicked off the 2015 PMI Global Congress North America last week.  I don’t know what the official attendee count was, but it was easily a couple of thousand people.  The energy of that room was amazing.  I even tweeted out that the common analogy of PMI Congress being the “Super Bowl” of project management events might actually be an understatement!


Over the course of the three-day event, I met, networked, discussed, shared, commiserated and debated with dozens of people on the latest in project management.  We learned about new practices, tools, techniques and lessons learned from some of the best in the business.  And while it’s hard to teach some of us old dogs new tricks, I left with a bunch of new ideas and, more importantly, the initiative to put many into immediate practice with my clients!



I didn’t realize until about a week before the Congress that interest in my presentation on Visual Project Management was large enough to dictate a move of my session into one of the larger rooms at the conference center.  In fact, the 200 seats available for pre-registration SOLD OUT three days before the Congress actually started!


I really had a blast walking the attendees through the salient points of visual project management during the one hour session:

  • Introduction to Visual Thinking
  • Common Tools & Techniques in Visual Thinking and Data Visualization
  • Visual Tools for General Project Management Application
  • Visual Tools for Project Reporting
  • Visual Tools for Project Collaboration



The session volunteer told me afterwards that the number of people who had their badge scanned to enter the room totaled 247.  To be fair, some people came and went during the hour, but there were a number of folks standing in the back.  A pretty humbling experience to say the least!


The session attendees had some fantastic questions and showed an incredible amount of interest in the topic.  Unfortunately, I only brought fifty copies of the hand-out materials and they went fast after the Q&A session.  I was also glad to be able to give away five copies of the hardcover version of Visual Project Management to those brave enough to ask the first few questions, and even had the opportunity to hand out a few copies of the new paperback version to a few eager attendees who continued the discussion a full two hours after the session!


It was exciting to see the book at the on-site book store in the exhibit hall (aka The Solution Center).  How cool is that?  Speaking of the Solution Center, I had so much swag from the vendors that I almost had to pay the extra baggage fee going back home!  Lots of great stuff and, even more valuable, lots of great conversations with people who are actively producing products and services that make our lives as project management professionals better!



Finally, I had the opportunity to lead two different topical breakfast discussions known as PMI X-Change Breakfasts.  On Monday, I facilitated the table through a great discussion on strategic business management that covered such topics such as portfolio management, strategic execution, benefit validation/realization and PMO participation in organizational strategic planning.  The Tuesday table group topic was Communication Management and you can probably guess the most popular topic…Visual Project Management!  But we also discussed strategies and tips/tricks on a number of communication planning and execution methods.

All in all, PMI Global Congress North America was an amazing event that I would strongly recommend every project management professional attend sometime during their career.  The Congress Team was absolutely the most professional and helpful I have ever had the privilege to meet.  I’ve established an overwhelming (but wonderful) number of new contacts, a few new business relationships, some new coaching and consulting work from old clients and friends, and a wealth of new project management knowledge.  What more could you ask?

So what’s next?  There will be a series post-Congress webinars in the middle of November that will communicate key messages from a number of Congress sessions.  I am honored to announce that I will again be participating in one of the webinars to walk through the main take-aways from my presentation and to share some of the discussion topics that came up during the session.  More information to come on the exact date and time of the webinars…

Visual Project Management Now Available in Paperback!


We have had numerous requests over the last six months to provide Visual Project Management in paperback format and we are pleased to announce that effective October 1st, 2015, Visual Project Management is now available in paperback across all of our publication release markets:



Direct from Lulu, our printing house (15% Discount)








Barnes & Noble



For those who still prefer the hardcover format, we are celebrating our paperback release with an expanded discount (30%) on the hardcover copy via Lulu.

For additional information regarding Visual Project Management concepts, please click HERE!


Project War Room Design Fundamentals

War Room

One of the more popular and unique services we provide here at Think For A Change, LLC are design services for organizational-level project war rooms.  As you may recall from a previous post, war rooms are centralized and purpose-built project meeting spaces that provide a dedicated location for project teams and stakeholders to co-locate and visually communicate the activities associated with the execution of critical projects.  The idea of a war room is to physically gather an entire project team into a ‘single location’ to facilitate communication, problem solving, risk mitigation and status reporting.  The single location can be physical, virtual or some combination of the two based on the specifics of the organization’s business structure and/or resource model.


Over the past fifteen years, Think For A Change, LLC has designed dozens of project war rooms, PMO command centers, critical situation rooms, innovation idea centers and other similar collaboration spaces for public, private and governmental organizations of all sizes and industry types.  During that time, we’ve picked up quite a few “lessons learned” about what makes up a good war room layout, what tools and features are most effective, and leveraging the concept to reach peak project team performance.

There is a blend of art and science that goes into designing and building a war room.  Team dynamics, organizational culture, physical limitations and financial considerations all dictate a certain uniqueness for each and every war room layout, tools, rules and etiquette.

To provide a starting place for discussions your organization may want to have regarding war rooms, we offer the following design, maintenance and best practice considerations:

  1. Physical War Room Facilities
    1. Large main table with comfortable chairs
    2. Small semi-private work spaces
    3. Small collaboration or huddle spaces
    4. Appropriate high-tech tools
      1. PCs/monitors, laptops, tablet devices, flat panel display(s), projection units/screen(s), digital camera(s), networking/wireless connectivity, etc.
    5. Appropriate low-tech tools
      1. Whiteboards, markers, easel pads, pencils/pens (including color), notebooks, sticky notes, stickers, sticky flags, office supplies, etc.
    6. Lots of wall space
      1. Cork bulletin boards, magnet boards, foam boards, mounted white boards, erasable wall paint, tape, tacks, pins, removable adhesive, hanging strips, etc.
    7. Environmental
      1. Kitchen items, coffee machine, a place for food, a small refrigerator for drinks, a snack basket, comfortable chairs, creativity “toys” and games, etc.
  2. Design and Operation Best Practices
    1. Co-locate all project team members into the war room, even if some are virtual or remote
    2. As a team, come up with a set of “Rules for the War Room” and stick to them
    3. If possible, create a separate schedule/calendar for project team members so they are not distracted by other projects or daily operations
    4. Reserve work spaces for visiting or transient key project stakeholders that are not co-located with the rest of the project team
    5. Develop a method to reduce distractions by allowing the team to hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign when focused work or critical meetings are taking place
    6. Create a real estate map of the project war room to define what visual information will be displayed where:
      1. Announcements and Key Communications
      2. Rules of the War Room
      3. Status Reports
      4. Project Schedule
      5. Project Budget
      6. Issue/Risk Board
      7. Design Diagrams, Process Maps, Wireframes, Storyboards, Photos, Drawings, etc.
      8. Parking Lot Area (for out-of-scope or later phase consideration)
      9. Blank Spaces for New Concepts/Discussions
    7. Provide plenty of snacks, healthy alternatives and beverages where possible
    8. Allow the project team to design and decorate the work space to match their personality and to encourage a sense of comfort and ownership
  3. War Room Etiquette
    1. Keep visual displays up to date and meaningful
    2. Maintain a war room that is a “living,” constantly changing space and encourages open discussion, healthy debate and cross-functional problem solving
    3. Do not remove or cover-up someone else’s work in the display area(s) without first consulting with them
    4. Do not attempt to have private or confidential conversations in the war room


Remember that the main purpose of any war room is to facilitate real-time visual communication and collaboration activities.  It must simultaneously centralize focus, increase awareness, aid in decision-making and facilitate project execution actions.  Consider the design of your project war room successful when a person unfamiliar with the project can enter the room and grasp the current status and next steps of the effort within five minutes.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the design of effective and efficient project war rooms is a very unique niche, and one that we are proud to provide to our clients.  If you would be interested in having a discussion about your plans for a project war room, please CONTACT US and we’ll be happy to schedule a discussion about your specific goals and ideas.  Additionally, this visual collaboration concept, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication tools, is explored in greater detail within “Visual Project Management,” our newest publication and now available via paperback!  

Get a great discount via our book distribution provider Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu., or visit your favorite online book retailer to purchase a hardcover or eBook version!


Sneak Peek into PMI Global Congress 2015 – North America: Strategic Business Management Skills


On Tuesday, I was honored to serve on a panel discussion with a number of other PMI Global Congress 2015-North America presenters, who are also sharing their expertise and knowledge within the “Strategic Business Management Skills” area of PMI’s Talent Triangle.  The panel discussion was really more of a sneak peek into our respective presentations, with my focus being on visual project management.  Panel members were asked a number of questions, not only directly about their presentations, but also follow-up inquiries designed to provide a deeper dive into the subjects themselves.

PMI PreConf Webinar Page

The session moderator was Joanna Newman, a globally-respected Senior Program Manager from the UK.  Joanna did a fantastic job of helping the attendees obtain a great preview of our presentation topics, including offering up some challenging follow-up questions that I know added benefit to those listening.  She also led the group through a great “live fire” Q&A session following the panel discussion.  This was definitely an engaged and smart audience…lots of awesome questions!

PMI PreConf Webinar Snapshot


In addition to my preview of the Visual Project Management session, the panel consisted of Ori Schibi from Toronto, Canada, who discussed his presentation “Project Sponsorship: Senior Management’s Role in the Successful Outcome of Projects,” and Muhammad A. B. Ilyas and Mohamed Khalifa Hassa, both from Kuwait, and both sharing their work via the Congress presentation “Negotiate to Win Across Cultures.”

You can now listen to a recorded version of the webinar, and earn PDU credit, (Disclaimer…PMI PDU rules apply!) by either clicking on the webpages above, or by using the following link: http://goo.gl/vqcs0M

PLEASE NOTE:  This webinar is considered ‘premium’ material at ProjectManagement.com.  If you are a member in good standing of PMI, you are automatically granted Premium Access to everything on the ProjectManagement.com site via easy registration or even your PMI login!  Alternatively, you can also register and subscribe to premium access HERE.


Again, it was a great honor to share the virtual “stage” with Joanna, Ori, Muhammad and Mohamed!  I am very much looking forward to meeting up with them at the Congress!  And, while I know that not all of the 675+ people who attended Tuesday’s webinar will be able to be present, I hope to meet as many of those who are able to make the trip to Orlando next month, including the readers of this blog!

If you are planning on attending, please send me a note so we can connect in person!  Looking forward to it!

Project Management: Connecting The Dots Between Strategy and Execution


“Strategic Execution” is one of those nebulous concepts that everyone claims to understand, but no one can really define.  It seems self-explanatory that effective strategic execution should start with a well-defined strategy, but this is unfortunately where many executives lose their way.  Rather than focus too much on strategy, everyone wants to jump directly into “execution,” because that is where leaders think they can have the most immediate and direct impact.  But executing anything without following the strategic reason for it is like putting the cart before the horse.

Strategy isn’t really all that difficult.  It is simply the purposeful decision to be something by a certain time in the future.  Seriously, its that simple.  If your organization decides it wants to be the recognized market leader in widget distribution by 2020, you’ve just established your strategy.  Good strategy is really about setting a goal, picking a niche, considering internal and external factors and establishing a deadline.  Strategies can take many forms across the spectrum of time.  Long-term strategy is usually a “softer goal” that defines the organization’s intended place in the market, while mid-range strategies are typically more focused and include specific areas of operational improvement or adjustment, milestones and more detailed plans or objectives.

By the time a strategy has been thought out, defined and planned, it begins to take on more of an implementation or execution-based look and feel.  Rather than statements of intention, execution plans define specific actions, approaches, timeboxes and resources being put to task in making the strategy real.  Sounds a lot like project management all of a sudden doesn’t it?  That’s not by accident.  In fact, that is why project management exists!  To bring order to a set of activities that are purposely designed and planned to bring about organizational strategy.
Roadmap-Telescope Graphic

Projects, and project management approaches, are the ultimate mechanism through which organizational strategy is delivered.  For most, the execution of strategic direction requires that a number of projects be initiated, each with a unique and varied impact across the entire organization.  This requires a high degree of skill and knowledge in the areas of organization, prioritization, compromise and planning.  Many companies tackle this challenge through the use of project portfolios.

Portfolios serve as a great “middle man” between strategic intent and actual delivery.  They are commonly used to organize all of the project-based work needed to meet strategic plans and then seek to optimize available organizational resources by establishing a schedule or roadmap of project execution.  The goal of any portfolio-based approach is maximize the value of the overall portfolio investments and to balance the strategic fit, timing and sequencing, investment risk, operational capability and resource capacity.

Innovation Portfolio Management Model
Within a portfolio, the actual work is completed via individual projects and by following project management discipline.  The execution of any great organizational strategy happens at the project level.  Because of the delivery-based discipline, the control mechanisms used for potential changes, the measurement of performance metrics and the management of risks and issues, project management serves and a vital tool for strategic execution.

As I mentioned in a previous blog article, Project Management *IS* Strategic Execution, “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 strategic goals and objectives.  Successful project execution also results from activities that are well planned, communicated, aligned from top-to-bottom, monitored, controlled, managed and rewarded.”

Strategic execution remains both a buzzword and a legitimate focus for executive management teams.  Strategic planning and roadmapping activities are often much easier than the bare-knuckle hard work that comes with executing those plans.  But smart executive teams, the one’s with an effective project portfolio system and highly-skilled Project Management Office, will be able to leverage those tools, resources and experts for successful competitive advantage!

There are a number of great resources available today regarding strategy, strategic execution and leveraging project portfolio management.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Great Online Learning Opportunity from Udemy and Think For A Change, LLC

College Homework

The folks at Udemy, one of the largest online learning marketplaces in the world and a significant provider of project management professional development courses, have graciously offered fifty lucky visitors of Think For A Change with the opportunity to try one of their PM courses free of charge!  The course is titled “The Common Sense Approach to Learning PMP Project Management,” and includes 7 hours of content spread over 83 lectures!  This course is normally valued at $47, so this is indeed a generous offer from our friends at Udemy!

The course, developed by Marcos Garcia, PMP for Udemy, is a very comprehensive overview of the 5th Edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) published by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), and would be extremely beneficial to anyone pursuing their PMP® certification.  Even if you’re not a certification candidate, the course is a great introduction to the core of project management discipline and would be a fantastic opportunity to forward onto project stakeholders or sponsors who might benefit from better understanding the fundamentals of project management.

This offering from Udemy is limited to the first fifty (50) people who use this link:

The Common Sense Approach to Learning PMP Project Management

When you land on the course site, click the ‘Redeem a Coupon’ link as shown here:

And enter the redemption code: thinkforachange

Again, this opportunity is only available to the first fifty (50) people who register on Udemy and use the coupon code.

As a disclaimer, Think For A Change, LLC is not directly affiliated with Udemy and does not receive any compensation as part of this offer. We are exploring ways to use Udemy to develop our own set of instructional materials and are vocal champions of project management professional development, so we appreciate Udemy offering this great learning opportunity to our readers and visitors!

“Practice Makes Perfect!” – Project Management Simulations

practice image

Practice, practice, practice…that’s the key to success!”  How many times have you heard that phrase?  I know a lot of people who think nothing of putting in hour after hour of practice to get better at their personal passions such as golf, horseback riding or tennis.  But when I ask them if they apply the same drive for improvement into their professional life via the concept of “practice,” they look dumbfounded!  Look, if you want to get better any anything, personally or professionally, you have to gain experience. Real improvement requires you to face a wide variety of scenarios and learn from making various decisions.  What better way to fast-track the acquisition of that experience than practice?  And for project management professionals specifically, “practice” typically involves a concept known as simulation.

Simulations involve putting people into a realistic, simulated environment that allows them to experience complex situations or best practices, while creating deeper understanding of available choices, analyzing potential risks and/or benefits, and learning from expected results versus (un)intended consequences. Simulation-based learning has shown to be the most effective, long-term method for learning any new skill.  Supporting this theory, the National Training Laboratory (NTL) Institute for Applied Behavioral Science published a study of their findings regarding learning retention rates. They found that students retain on average:


National Training Laboratories Institute for Applied Behavioral Sciences, “The Learning Triangle: Retention Rates from Different Ways of Learning,” Bethel, Maine, 2005.

The purpose of simulation-based learning for the project management professional is to impart to learners the necessary competencies (i.e. knowledge, skills, and attitudes) needed to improve their project management performance and delivery results.  It challenges participants with the types of situations and problems that arise in real world projects.  One of the primary advantages of this approach is that the simulation provides a safe environment for learners to confront typical project problems, select a solution, make mistakes and analyze results.  Additionally, they gain insight (in real time) into the longer-term consequences of decisions they make. Through the simulation, participants learn how to track the evolution of key project parameters: scope, costs, schedule and quality, as well as human dynamics that project managers must face in leading teams and managing the expectations of stakeholders.  Further learning opportunities exist via simulation for key skills such as:

  • Determining the scope, goal and objectives of a project
  • Estimating costs and the impact of change on budgets
  • Breaking down work, planning tasks and allocating resources
  • Hands-on usage of different project management tools and templates
  • Learning to monitor and control the pace and progress of a project
  • Helping project teams make decisions under stress
  • Reacting professionally and appropriately in typical project management “crisis” situations

However, possibly the largest benefit that simulations bring is that they promote close team collaboration and communication.  Simulations provide significant impact to all organizational teams whether they are project-based, process-based or technical.  They are typically conducted in a group setting via classroom-based scenario “games” which portray projects in various stages and facing specific issues, risks, challenges and/or barriers to successful project delivery.  The simulation allows participants to work together as a project team to practice collaboration, communication and problem solving around the various obstacles presented in the scenario.  Constructive feedback, self-awareness and group discussions then help the team discover how their decisions resulted in certain results, as well as learning about alternative options and approaches they may not have considered.

In some process improvement focused simulations, players are guided through the same situational scenario numerous times, but different approaches or methodologies are deployed in each successive round.  For example, current organizational processes are applied in the first simulation, then industry best practice processes are used and finally, innovative new approaches are tested.  These repetitive scenarios allow the teams to learn the pros and cons of each approach as they relate to common problem sets.  Simulations are essentially “live-fire” feedback sessions where the participants capture lessons learned as the impact and result of each potential decision is made.

“Amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” – Percy C. Buck

Beyond project management methodology or process training, the concept of simulation is completely applicable to scenarios generated from actual projects as well.  When projects encounter thorny issues or risks, simulations can be leveraged to test certain risk mitigation options or issue resolution approaches.  Simulations can also be used to provide the project team with better understanding of product usage or business process outcomes.

To help set up these practice sessions, a number of consultancy-based and online project simulations are now available in the marketplace that facilitate the design, execution and data gathering from project management-related simulation exercises.  These offerings range from project management skill building to realistic training environments for emergency scenarios.  Just conduct a web search for ‘project management simulation’ and you’ll receive a number of good options.

As project management practitioners, we all want to improve our skills and bring greater success to our projects.  While the concept of practice is nothing new to the sports world, it is still a relatively rare event in the business world.  The realities of the work day and schedule commitments often prevent taking time out to practice our professional skills.  But if we are to truly improve ourselves, our projects and our organizations, that is precisely what we need to do!  Simulations and other organizational practice-based activities provide just that opportunity.  Make the time for it today!