Better Leadership + Business Skills = Better Projects

What drives project success? Research has consistently shown that it’s having an effective project manager. Results from PM College’s latest research, “Project Manager Skills Benchmark 2015,” confirms this, showing that organizations with highly skilled project managers get significantly better project results.

This result is hardly a surprise, but the magnitude of the outperformance is. Project managers at high skill levels outperform those with project managers at low skill levels – almost 50% better. In addition, high-performing organizations appear to emphasize skills beyond project management tools and techniques. High performers’ project managers excelled at leadership skills, especially displaying integrity and honesty, building relationships, and building trust and respect.


There is a lot more insight in the report but let me highlight one key finding.  As one might expect, project managers in all organizations need to improve across all areas of the talent triangle: leadership, business, and project management skills. Their skills are good to excellent in 15% of organizations and inadequate to fair in 30%.

However, senior leaders are far more likely than project managers to see benefits realization, project alignment with strategy, and poor communication as challenges. This perception gap extends to skill improvement priorities (see graph). Note that the biggest gaps are in leadership, business, and strategy skills: project managers

The study is available for download now. Stay tuned for an invite to our upcoming webinar to review and discuss these results. Hold the date and time: 18 June (2 PM Eastern).

Why Project Management Expertise Isn’t Enough: Lessons Learned from Security Breaches

How many times have I heard that “a good project manager can manage any project?” Too often for my taste. My biggest issue with the claim is that it begs the question: he statement assumes we all agree that any project manager with a mastery of the profession’s tools and techniques can succeed anywhere.

We’ve finally learned better, and PMI has acknowledged this in its new requirements for PMP continuing education. As PMI itself puts it:

As the global business environment and project management profession evolves, the [certification] program must adapt to provide development of new employer-desired skills…. The ideal skill set — the PMI Talent Triangle — is a combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise. (PMI 2015 Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) Program Updates)

Our pending research on project skill gaps (stay tuned for a webinar invite) shows that executives and senior managers understand this much better than project practitioners. They emphasize strategy, business, and leadership improvements, while practitioners don’t.

Perhaps an example from the current headlines will help. As most of you know, security breaches have wreaked havoc on a number of prominent firms: Target, Home Depot, Sony are simply the most well-known. The sad thing is that the most famous failures could have been prevented.

One of my new favorite podcasts is from Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm. My most recent listen was an interview with Orion Hindawi of Tanium. I recommend listening to the whole thing — it’s less than 30 minutes — as Orion provides some great color to what, where, why, etc. on security attacks and vulnerabilities. The summary hits his sobering message on the head:

The paradox of security is we pretty much know what we are supposed to do most of the time — but we don’t do it. If you examine all the recent high-profile attacks, somebody in the organization knew something was wrong before it happened. They just didn’t have the ability to escalate the problem, or the ability to raise a flag that people took seriously.

In other words, we don’t lack the technical understanding of security risks, or the tools and techniques to mitigate them. We lack the leadership and business savvy to confront the challenge of communicating the risks, then deploying and using our toolkit effectively. The last two sentences show how these skills gaps drive the root causes:

  • Ability to escalate the problem” is a leadership challenge. This suggests that “somebody” wasn’t connected, articulate, or brave enough to get to decision makers.
  • Ability to raise a flag that people took seriously” is a symptom of weak strategy and business skills. If the threat isn’t framed, articulated, and understood in terms serious leaders get, then such warnings are ignored…or even worse, viewed as counterproductive scare mongering.

Sportsfolio Management: What Project Executives Can Learn From the Draft

Rich Hill is one of my favorite Twitter sports follows — @PP_Rich_Hill — though I only now realized I hadn’t been following via @crossderry until recently. He does a great job of melding a fan’s perspective with his analysis. The result is well-reasoned, yet approachable opinions and projections of football drafts, rosters, and of course, game performance. He’s also a Pats fan, so he must be a man of honor and distinction!

I like to use non-traditional examples to illuminate our more mundane dilemmas. Rich’s recent post on the allocation of NFL Draft capital got me thinking. Draft picks are indeed capital. They are assets that can be traded. Also, just like your production line, SAP ERP installation, or facility, the players selected provide capabilities to their organizations over time.

Value — expressed as capabilities over time — drives the worth of the assets or initiatives in a portfolio. And as you can imagine, the trick is to pick the most valuable asset available during your draft turn. How should you approach the problem? Rich breaks it down the essence of the choice:

The question with the draft is asking how a team can best game the talent in order to maximize the value of their draft picks, or draft capital. A simple breakdown is by position, where there are clear premiums for, say, a quarterback versus a punter. Taking the best quarterback in the league in the 1st round is way better value than taking the best punter in the 1st.

And of course, draft position by round, and within rounds, matters as well. You shouldn’t expect a 100th pick to be as valuable as a first pick. So position — both on the field and in the draft — drives relative value. Therefore, to value one’s options for a particular draft pick, one must, as Rich says: “look at a position’s expected value compared to others in the draft.”

He gives a couple of examples in his post — which has some clear graphs — so read the whole thing. Here’s one quick quote about how expected and relative value works. In this example, analysis uncovers interior offensive linemens’ expected value doesn’t decline evenly through the draft rounds.

What this means is that a player selected in the top 40 would have an expected value of an All Pro caliber player. Players selected 40th-90th have an expected value of a top tier starter. By the shape of the graph, interior offensive linemen selected from 90th through the end of the draft all have roughly the same expected value, that of a rotational depth player.

So if the Patriots are interested in an All Pro guard, they would likely have to use their first round pick to increase their odds. But if they would be fine with a top level guard, they could use their third round picks in the 90s to receive roughly the same expectation as if they took the player 50th overall.

This “lumpiness” allows for differentiated draft tactics. And differentiation is the heart of breakthrough strategy.

But this is just the foundation: choosing among alternatives of the same type of capability. We portfolio and initiative leaders must, of course, select alternatives across capability types. In my next post, I’ll leverage more of Rich’s work to illustrate how to approach that problem.

Crossderry Podcast #1 — 11 November 2014

Here is the first Crossderry podcast. I plan to do this roughly once a week. The topics are: Apple Watch as threat to Swiss watch industry, Quick hitter tweet review: Team size, platform category errors, and salespeople who do not know anything about their customers.



Strategy and Stories Redux

When we want to convey or convince, our first instinct is often ask to “tell a story.” It may be a joke or fable, but the ideas that we want to promote aren’t thrown out there randomly. We try to embed them in a plot and setting that engages the listener. It also brings together the teller and hearer in a way that fishing for a “yes” to an idea never can.

I was reminded of storytelling and strategy by a Jonah Goldberg piece about stories in our political culture. From his open:

There is an enormous amount of whining these days about our ideological debates. This gets the problem wrong. Ideological debates are fought over ideas, but politics is more often about competing stories, or, as the eggheads call them, “narratives.”

This insight — ideas ≠ equal stories — is one of the reasons McKinsey is the dominant strategy consultancy. The firm’s associates are great at sweating the narrative through dozens of drafts, yet they also hang the “footnote” details just out of sight. The details are out of sight of the listener perhaps, but available for the speaker to summon in a second.

I often relay the story of sweating the prep for a strategy presentation for a CEO under the tutelage of a McKinsey alum. Not only did we go through fifteen full drafts, but we carefully positioned our proof points in the appendices. Therefore, when the CEO questioned an assumption — one that underlay a key plot twist — I could then go straight to the idea that supported the assumption. In fact, those ideas were their own little story.

The result? The executive said “now I know why the story goes the way it does…I’m not sure I agree with that premise, but it makes sense now.” This careful layering of narrative and support bounded the problem for us. Now we could focus on refining and selling that plot point, not patching up scattered plot holes.

On the other hand, other consultancies don’t do this nearly as well. It’s either all story and no setting, or all setting and no plot. To tie this back to politics, I can’t say I was surprised that Bain founder Mitt Romney’s platform was a barrage of ideas, with little story to focus their aim.

Big picture = big map (HT @galleman)

Now that I’m somewhat out from under, I’ve caught up with some of the usual suspects on my reading list.  Glen Alleman is timely with another reminder (here) that an integrated master plan is essential.

Program-level plans are as welcome in IT circles as garlic on a Twilight movie set, and I’ve never quite understood why.  As Glen notes elsewhere, you need a map to know where you’re going.  But too many IT folk believe that such “high level” pictures are only needed because their managers as pointy-haired buffoons.  These “detail” men believe that the only valid plan is one derived from detailed task-level plans.

But consider the map metaphor.  How many of us would try to assemble an itinerary from the individual turn instructions?  We wouldn’t, naturally.  We pick where we want to start, how we want to travel (boat, plane, car, or on foot makes a difference), and where we want to end up.  Paper, Google, and program maps get built the same way: you need to know where you’re going to know when to turn (or not).

SAP’s product side is the problem

Dennis Byron here gives the most succinct gloss I’ve seen on the challenge before Hasso:

Hasso Plattner wants to drive a great deal of technological innovation at SAP, and did not believe it could happen under Leo’s leadership, and without Hasso’s very direct involvement…. The product organization is full of conflicting technologies, conflicting interests, and conflicting agendas. Driving change in this kind of climate will be very challenging for Jim [Snabe] and Vishal [Sikka].

Hasso stalks the product halls?

There’s one more challenge: SAP hasn’t been honest about what is working on the product side. BYD folks walked around like the cocks of the walk long after it was clear that BYD was in deep trouble.  And the leadership let them…

Hasso’s right: Leo couldn’t call BS on the product side effectively enough.  From what I can tell, he’s the only one left in SAP who can meld innovation with the market AND is credible and powerful enough to actually do it!

Unfortunately, I can imagine that many on the development time think that they’ve won and happy days are here again.  Hasso’s back and it’s innovation for innovation’s sake at SAP!  What…monetize?  Isn’t that what sales people are for?


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