If You Don’t Go Within, You Go Without

Guest blog post by Mark Bashrum, ESI International

Organizations would be well advised to remember this adage, not for its metaphysical implications, but for its significance on a project management level. Finding external talent is important to any staffing strategy, but the latest ESI International Annual Project Manager Salary & Development Survey shows project organizations need to look inward and focus more on developing the talent they already have. As the following reasons demonstrate, it’€™s better to develop and promote from within rather than hire from the outside.

Time is Not on Your Side

The salary survey shows that the ramp-up time to get an experienced project manager up to speed in a new environment can take longer than you might expect. On average, bringing an otherwise experienced project manager up to a level of effectiveness in a new organization takes between six and 10 months depending on the size and complexity of the projects they are managing.

Time to Proficiency

Cost of Buy vs. Build

There is a definite cost advantage to developing and promoting young and mid-level project managers. Results from the salary survey show it costs nearly 11 percent more to “€œbuy”€ entry level talent than to build it from within, and nearly 8 percent more to buy mid-level talent. This advantage dissipates for senior-level talent where it costs about the same to hire as it does to develop and promote them from the mid-career project manager level. But when you consider the difficulty in finding and hiring senior project professionals today—€”the survey shows 89.4 percent report that it is very difficult or somewhat difficult to find senior talent—€”organizations may be left with little choice but to develop existing talent.


You’€™ll Reap What You Sow

Another reason to go within is that investing in training to develop project managers pays off at all competency levels. The survey shows that factoring in metrics including average salary, ramp-up time to manage projects and training cost, the return on investment for project management training at the entry level is 501 percent, 268 percent at mid level and 358 percent at the senior level.

The growing business needs of organizations demand a more strategic view of the staffing, development, and promotion of their project managers. The evidence shows that going within is a strategy well worth contemplating.

Read ESI’s Annual Project Manager Talent & Development Survey.

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5 ways to boost your AND your PMO’s value (Part 1)

value_introMany PMO Directors want to provide value and actually think they are based on their “inside-out” view of the world. The “outside-in” perspective tells a completely different story, one that for many unsuspecting PMO Directors will have a very bad ending: their PMO will be disbanded and they will be looking for work. For the past two years, ESI International has conducted comprehensive global surveys of the State of the PMO, and analyzed scores of others. For more than four years it has engaged PMO Heads from every industry sector in round table events.

And what the surveys reveal will startle, and educate, PMO Heads in every geography and industry sector. In short, what a PMO Head thinks they should be doing is, in fact, the last thing they should be spending your time on.

I’ve taken those findings and boiled them down to 5 key takeaways; ways, in which value can be boosted. In today’s post I’ll address the first; namely

Measure and monitor the PMO’s performance on a regular basis

tape measureIn ESI’s most recent global survey on the PMO, the findings revealed that only 54% of project and program managers reporting directly to the PMO said that their PMO measured its own performance. Thirty-two percent said their PMO did not measure their performance, and an alarming 14% said they did not know if their PMO measured its own performance. It is difficult for to comprehend that 14% of the project and program professionals who report directly to the PMO Head did not know if their PMO measured its own value. Obviously, these are project professionals who are not in the communications loop as regards their own PMO’s activities. Clearly, PMO Heads need to do a better job of communicating activities to the staff.

I see two problems here. First, every, and we mean EVERY PMO should be measuring itself on a wide assortment of metrics to see if they are providing value to the organization. Second, it is absolutely imperative that all project professionals know whether their PMO is measuring itself, and if so, what metrics are being used. And, it is the clear responsibility of the PMO Head to make sure everyone knows what those metrics are.

It is incomprehensible to me that a PMO can claim to be providing value to an organization if it doesn’t measure itself. It’s a data driven world today. Anecdotal evidence, “gut feeling,” and “hearsay” just don’t count when a PMO Head is talking to an executive. Executives want facts to make “data driven” decisions. A PMO Head who cannot produce the facts will not be able to convince or persuade any executive that the PMO is performing as planned. There is an old saying in the quality management business that goes something along the lines of “what gets measured gets done.” Measure your PMO and what you measure it on will get done. What are those metrics? In my next post we’ll look at Number 2.


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Who determines the PMO’s value?

It is clear from my work in the area of PMO startup and development that there are three key stakeholder groups that determine the PMO’s value. They are the─

  1. Executive(s) under whose organization the PMO function and responsibility reside
  2. Project and program managers who either directly report to the PMO or who are heavily influenced by it
  3. Clients (internal or external) who are serviced by the project and program managers who deliver the new product or service resulting from their effort

What does each group value?

The key question each PMO Head has to answer is “what do each of these groups value?” In other words, what are they looking for from the PMO to facilitate their work and provide contributions to the organization?  In my experience, PMO Heads often fail to answer this question either because they think they know what each group needs, or, they assume that all key stakeholder groups’ needs are the same. In fact, this is not the case.

The needs of the executive are entirely different from those of the project and program managers; in fact, the executive’s perspective is actually more aligned with those of the clients than with the project and program managers whose view tends to be somewhat more focused on the work effort itself rather than broad organizational goals and outcomes.  Thus, this difference of perspective is where we can look to gain helpful insight into ways that the PMO Head can boost not only his or her own value in the organization, but the PMO’s as well. In fact, the two are generally considered inseparable.

meeting about the PMO

Which group is the most important?

PMO Heads must always keep in mind that the most important stakeholder, at least in many peoples’ mind,  is the executive; after all, it is the executive who supports the notion that a PMO is an important organizational asset and who provides the needed funding so that the PMO can hire the professionals necessary to its operations as well as invest in tools, processes, and methodologies to support organizational project management. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) without executive support, the PMO would not exist.

While the executive group “calls the shots” and provides funding for the PMO,  this group can be strongly influenced by the comments and opinions of the other two groups as well. For example, if certain business unit heads begin to seriously question the value of the PMO the executive must be concerned about what the PMO is, or is not doing. If there is a sufficient groundswell of protest the first action would be to remove the PMO Head; and perhaps the second would be to terminate the PMO itself. This, in fact, is done all the time.

ESI studies have shown that the average life of a PMO is roughly four years. Clearly they are not going out of existence because their work is done! They’re going out of existence because they’re not doing what the executive or other stakeholder groups needed them to do. One key question to consider is the root cause or causes of why PMOs are not as effective as the organization needs them to be. There’s always more than one reason.

With this as our context and perspective, over the next several posts I will review the 5 ways a PMO Head can increase value to the organization while boosting his or her own value at the same time.

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6 ways the PMO can become the hub of PM development


PMO’s looking to increase their value proposition, which many need to do, can make a big impact by becoming the hub of professional development for the project and program managers in their organizations whether those folks report directly to them or not. Based on my work with PMOs in many different industries here are ways any PMO Head can make this happen.


1.  Make a concerted effort to “own” the core competencies and skills profiles for project and program management 

If H.R. will not relinquish control, then make sure you work closely with them in this area. After all, if the right core skills are not defined, there is no basis for a structured and systematic approach to developing these professionals. Professional development will be ad hoc and may miss the mark completely. 

2. Provide equal training opportunities to both PMO-Managed and Non-PMO-Managed professionals

Not doing so creates a “two class” hierarchy of professionals that only promotes deep dissatisfaction in the ranks.

3.  Provide training in a wide variety of content areas important to project and program professionals

Do not simply focus on methodologies and tools training, areas where most PMOs spend their time. Executives among our clients lament the lack of leadership ability among the ranks of their project managers, yet ESI’s surveys show that organizations provide far more training in the area of methodologies, tools, and the hard skills of project management than the “soft,” or leadership skills.

4.  Start softs kills training at the beginning of an individual’s career

Most everyone can benefit by soft skills training, especially those new to project management, or indeed, the workforce itself. Colleges and universities educate students in the technical subject matter of their major interest. But little is done formally to develop an individual’s leadership and interpersonal skills until they start their professional career.

5.  Measure training’s impact

In a 2011 ESI survey only 20% of the respondents reported that the training offered by their PMO was measured for its effectiveness. Others reported that the only vehicle used to measure impact was the simple, and now outdated, end of course “smile” sheets. The discipline of measurement, especially as it relates to training, has advanced tremendously through the years. There are now ways to predictively measure ROI for training just weeks after the participant has attended a course. A PMO Head who needs to demonstrate value to an organization had better begin using much more sophisticated tools to measure training’s effectiveness than those instruments which ask “how did you like the chocolate chip cookies?” and “was the classroom temperature comfortable?”

6.  I f your PMO is involved in PPM software implementation provide ample support and training in it

ESI’s 2012 Global State of the PMO survey revealed that 88% of the PMOs responding have implemented PPM software in their organization. Yet, only 69% offered support in its use.  What are the other 31% supposed to do when they need help? Organizations are leaving many people to figure it out for themselves by watching YouTube videos or “Googling” the problem. Others just say, “read the user manual.” Software user manuals (whether hard copy or online) are laborious, complicated tomes whose sole purpose seems to be to discourage anyone from reading them. We need to give our project professionals a head start in using this sophisticated software. They need training at the outset and support along the way. If a PMO Head is expecting value from the use of a PPM tool to help make the case for the PMO, it has to be used properly.

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Is template-driven project management the same as “paint-by-numbers”?

As a member of PMI, I receive several emails a week from Projectmanagement.com notifying me that certain templates are available for free for a limited time. I receive such notices because I’m a member of PMI, and PMI as many of you may know, acquired Projectmanagement.com just a short time ago. The most recent email I received told me that there were 9 new templates and that I’d better act quick and download them right away before “They’re back in the PREMIUM library!” It’s as if the genie was only going to be out of the bottle so long and that if I didn’t act, I’d never see her again.

That got me to thinking about the use of templates in project management practice. Templates can be very helpful but only in the possession of someone who knows how to use them. Just filling in the blanks doesn’t mean someone knows how to use a template. But given the hype and hoopla some organizations seem to place on the use and value of templates I think they may be oversold in our field. In my view, templates don’t make someone a project manager any more than a “paint by numbers” set makes someone an artist. In both cases, they’re just “filling in the blanks,” but in the paint by numbers set at least you’re told what color to use!  Templates are tools and for a tool to be used to great effect it has to be used by someone who already knows how to use it. And, the right templates are the ones used by your organization for the kinds of projects you’re working on.

This doesn’t make a project manager……
any more than this makes an artist!

From my point of view, given the number of books, CDs, and websites now promoting and providing tools, both free and for a subscription fee, a couple of things come to mind. First, corporations and their PMOs are only deluding themselves into thinking that project management performance improvement is directly proportional to the number of tools they provide to their project managers. In fact, PMI continues to report a decline in project success at the same time the number of tools is growing exponentially.

Second, to be effective, the tool has to be used by a knowledgeable person who understands when and how to use it and then actually uses it when required. Training practitioners on the use of the tool, and placing that use in the context of a project life cycle,  will ensure it is used when it is supposed to be.

why talk

Don’t get me wrong templates are very helpful when used by people who know what they’re doing. However, no one in their right mind would commission me to paint their portrait because I know how to “paint by numbers” any more than someone would hire a project manager because they had a quiver full of templates (sometimes called a methodology). There’s a lot more to project management than a zillion templates, and that’s the mind of a well-trained project manager who knows when and how to use them.

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IT business cases and project schedules….a new perspective

Investing in new technology has always been a risky business, but that hasn’t stopped many organizations from forging ahead with grand plans. The reason is the payoff for such systems is enticing. For years, technology investing, and therefore business case development, has shown anywhere from a 3-5 year ROI. That just happens to match the depreciation schedule of such investments but I won’t bore you with accounting details here.

woman yelling

But the rules of the game have changed, and changed dramatically. Technology refresh cycles are becoming shorter and shorter, and are now approaching 2 years. This means that any legitimate business case supporting such investments needs to span no more than 2 years as well. The ramifications for this are quite dramatic from a project management perspective.  As the average useful life of most information systems introduced to the market is compressing, the implementation schedules of these projects must also be compressed to meet the business case ROI. So how do we do it?

One way to compress an IT project’s time frame is to “optimize” it’s execution through shorter release schedules and a faster cadence of releases. If you’re working on a software development project, here’s where Agile practices will be helpful. If the project is more of a systems solution (combination of hardware and software) certain Agile practices can certainly be applied as well but we need to think of different ways of completing the project.

Another method is to not “boil the ocean” with a grand design but rather implement in pieces, phases or waves. Business users typically want everything at once so it will take some collaboration, and perhaps a bit of arm twisting, to get them to agree to a phased approach. However, the CFO can be a great ally in this effort by demanding to see business cases that now align with technology cycles and to also see that the project schedules will produce the expected ROI.

A successful PM in IT these days is going to have think harder and harder about ways to compress schedules yet deliver outstanding results. Challenging times ahead to be sure.

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Will PMI’s new requirements credential (PMI-PBA) prevent problems like these?

By “these” I am referring to the Mars Climate Orbiter mission failure of 1995.

The pics below tell it’s sad tale.

Designed to help scientists understand Mar’s water history and potential for life, the $125 m spacecraft completed a nearly 10 month journey to Mars where it was to go into orbit around the “red planet.”


It was launched on 11 December 1998 at 18:45:51 UTC aboard a Delta II 7425 rocket from Cape Canaveral SLC-17A


It was a successful launch and everyone at Mission Control congratulated themselves on the beginning of such an exciting mission.


On September 23, 1999 all communications with the spacecraft was lost.


The spacecraft encountered Mars on a trajectory that brought it too close to the planet, causing it to pass through the upper atmosphere and disintegrate. In NASA’s language it “unintentionally deorbited.” The question was “Why?”


The ground based software, developed by Lockheed, a contractor, was written using English foot-pound units, instead of the metric units specified by NASA in its contract. A classic case of failure to meet the requirements otherwise known as a pretty big screw up!


NASA did a complete investigation and lessons learned to uncover why such a critical requirement was completely missed. And, to be sure, NASA is not alone in such instances where a critical, and obvious, requirement was not met, even with all the safeguards, review meetings, reports, dashboards, risk reviews, audits and other controls in place.

Will PMI’s new requirements management credential going to prevent such disasters as these? We can only hope.

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5 things you can do to speed up decision-making

In my prior three posts I discussed what is needed to help make better, faster project decisions. However, the WHAT you need to make decisions is different from the way a Project Manager and his or her team goes about making the decision. In discussing what seems to work well with many folks over the years, including my own colleagues, here are the 5 things you can do right now to accelerate your decision-making.

1. Put real choices “on the table”

Too often when we have decisions to make, people know which one they want to pitch to their sponsor. However, they also feel they need to offer other alternatives, even if those alternatives are actually very poor choices and, in all likelihood, will never be selected. Yet, to make it seem as if there are real choices to make they include those other alternatives in the discussion. This is a charade and a waste of time. If  you have only one alternative, and that’s the one you think is best, talk about it and nothing else.

2. Focus on decisions not discussions

If you call a meeting make a decision distribute all the relevant information for consideration to the participants BEFORE the meeting and make sure they read it and they come ready to discuss the issues and make a decision. Tell the participants this is a DECISION-MAKING meeting. I’ve seen way too many times where the information is distributed in the meeting which leaves little time for substantive conversation. In such meetings which last an hour, 50 minutes is spent reading and perusing the information with the last 10 minutes spent rushing through a decision. I bet you’ve experienced this as well.

3. Apply risk management through MBWA

We make decisions in the present to affect our future. Everyone wants to know the future, but many are afraid to ask. The way you ask your team members, sponsors, and others about the future is to couch it in the language of risk. As you see various stakeholders always have one or two questions about risk, such as “what do you think the likelihood is that the material won’t be delivered on such and such date?” or “what’s the possibility that Raed will take that job in Dubai and leave the project?” or “what’s the financial impact of missing the end date by 3 weeks?” If you are armed with such questions and ask them repeatedly, your team will, just like you, start focusing on the future. When you’re ready for the future, your decision-making will be ready too.

4. Establish a “lean” governance structure

You may not have much choice about the governance structure that is imposed on you from the top, but you have all the control on earth on the governance structure you establish for your project team. Don’t micro-manage them. All that conveys to your team is you don’t trust them. Take a hint from Steve Coburn co-owner of California Chrome who just won the Kentucky Derby. He told his trainer Art Sherman to do what he thought was right. Art Sherm told the winning jockey Victor Espinoza to ride the horse the way he (Victor) thought was best. And when Victor was asked by a reported what his strategy was? He said something like I just let the horse do what he thought was best. Everyone trusted everyone else, including the horse, to do the right thing. This is definitely pushing decision-making down to the most appropriate level.

Victor Espinoza on California Chrome as they win the world’s greatest horse race the Kentucky Derby

5. Identify your project’s leading indicators

In the U.S. economists use the index of leading economic indicators to try to determine what the future state of the economy is going to be. Reports of the past, such as the ones we receive as Proejct Management, are lagging indicators. Not much we can do about the past. But if we see something “over the horizon” we can make better decisions in teh present to affect our future. What are you projects “leading indicators”? One idea: create a Stakeholder Confidence Index similar to the U.S. Consumer Confidence Index. By surveying your stakeholders on a regular basis you will gain a deep understanding of whether your project is on target to produce success, dissatisfaction, or outright failure. Project success is not exclusively determined by adherence to the triple constraints. In many cases, it’s all about client satisfaction.

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The 3 things you need to make better, faster project decisions (Part 3)

In my third installment we’ll look at the third “thing” any project manager needs to make better, faster project decisions. That is:

A project governance structure that allows decision-making at the appropriate level 

Even though we as project managers are paid to make decisions, there are certain decisions we do not have the authority to make, or we’re unsure how to make the decision. In such cases, we need to escalate the issue to a “higher authority” to have the matter resolved. Mature organizations establish very clear project governance structures and rules which become just a part of doing business. But many organizations, especially those with immature project practices, do not necessarily think through project governance very well. Accordingly, project managers may not know who to go to, or worse, feel as if they need to go to too many “higher ups” to resolve their issues.

How about you? If you need to resolve matters do you know who to go to? For many, when asked to graphically depict their project governance process they draw something like this……

If you had to describe your project governance structure would it look like this?


Still other project managers feel as if they’re on trial when they escalate matters to their executives. Why? Because the executives or project sponsors believe they have all the right answers and don’t put a lot of faith and trust in those that manage projects. They micromanage so much the PM feels the need to escalate darn near every decision.


Do you feel as if you’re on trial when you escalate issues?


As Thomas Friedman pointed out in his excellent book The World is Flat, even the U.S. military (and other countries’ as well) is pushing decision-making down to the lowest appropriate level. The thinking is that it is at that level where there’s the most knowledge about what to do. And, as it relates to the military, during combat there’s not much time to analyze data and consult with others! When you’re getting shot at, you’ve got to make a decision FAST!

In fact, as the pic below illustrates the warfighter today is packed with advanced technology and has an almost equal amount of information being provided to them as is being sent to the General overseeing the battle who literally may be thousands of miles away. Isn’t it appropriate then for the soldier to make certain key decisions without the need to seek approval? In today’s military the thinking is the leader tells the troops the intent (the “Commander’s Intent”) of the mission, and those on the ground figure out the best way to accomplish it.


What’s your governance structure for making better, faster project decisions? Is it crystal clear as to how key decisions need to be made, and do you as a project manager have the necessary authority to make those decisions that you should be making? And, one more thing, do you push decision-making down to your team members so you’re not slowing them down?

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3 things you need to make better, faster project decisions (Part 2)

In my previous post, I defined the three “things” any Project Manager needs to make better, faster project decisions. They are—

  • Good data, at regular intervals, from trustworthy people (or sources)
  • The ability to make a timely decision under uncertain conditions
  • A project governance structure that allows decisions-making at the appropriate level

I wrote about number one, Good data, in my last post. Now, let’s take a look at number 2:

the ability to make a timely decision under uncertain conditions

Making timely decisions can be tough for some people. They never seem to have enough data and are always searching for more. Without reams of data, they just can’t bring themselves to decide. Do you know someone like this?

Some people struggle with making decisions

If you do, you know how extremely frustrating this can be to a project team, the project sponsor, the client, and anyone that is associated with the project. Studies have shown that in many instances having more data does not result in a better decision, but it does help to boost the confidence of the person making a decision.

We live and work in a world where we need to make decisions all day long, day-in and day-out. When we are slow to make decisions, we slow down our project. And when we do that we can put the project at risk for schedule and other problems, such as team morale.

Following are four tips/techniques to help you, or those around you, speed up decision-making.

Number 1: Apply the U.S. Marine Corps concept of the 70% solution.

When you’re in battle and getting shot at, you need to make quick decisions. The Marines know they will never have 100% of the information they need in such critical, pressure-filled situations. That’s why they teach recruits to get as much information as they can and then “go with it.” If you have 70% of what you need, that’s good enough.

Number 2: Ask yourself some “Zen koan” type questions such as

  • Is doing something better than doing nothing?
  • What’s the worse that can happen?
  • Will I lose my job if it doesn’t work out?
  • Am I batting at least 500?

Thinking about these questions will hopefully release you from the fear that you’re going to make the wrong decision.

Number 3: Use your network

Many project managers I know are proud individualists. They don’t like to rely on others preferring to forge ahead and get the job done. But we create networks for a reason don’t we? One reason is to seek counsel and guidance from those around us. When you’re in a tough spot and are finding it difficult to reach a decision, ask those you trust and respect for advice. By doing so, you will gain multiple perspectives on the issue at hand. While greater perspectives can sometimes complicate matters, those additional insights often lead to a wider view of the issue at hand making decision-making easier.

Number 4: Use your tools and techniques 

As project managers we have a multitude of tools and techniques in our “kit bag” of options. We can use affinity diagramming, brainstorming, Monte Carlo, earned value management, and various decision-making models to help us chart the best course. We can reach out to internal experts in change management, contracting, procurement, or engineering using the Delphi technique to help make a decision. If you look hard enough, there are plenty of other tools and techniques available to help as well. There’s a good chance you’re not the only one that ever faced the type of decision that’s staring you in the face. Put these tools and techniques to work for you right away.

Some PMs resort to “alternative” techniques to help make decisions


If, after all of this, you still find yourself struggling, then perhaps it’s time you find another line of work. After all, we’re paid to make decisions, and the faster we make them the better off we, and everyone who works for us, will be.



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