Larry Pendergrass has been a leader in the high tech industry for over 30 years, with 17 years in management and 14 years in science and engineering, working for companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Agilent Technologies, Keithley Instruments and Tektronix. He has worked in a wide range of industries such as Semiconductors and other Discrete Devices, Materials Research, Test and Measurement, Wireless, Medical Products and Software. His experience spans a diverse set of technologies such as Electronics, Optics, Acoustics and Magnetics. He has spent much of his career in Research and Development, but has also worked many years in Manufacturing and Marketing. learn more
In last week’s blog I stated that every good PPM process must start with a clear understanding of strategy. While the PPM process will influence to some degree both the strategy and the execution of projects in an iterative way, the PPM process must start with a solid baseline expectation of strategy, including corporate, business unit, product line, technology and process strategy. In this second blog in the series, I will discuss the critical nature of requiring alternatives when presented with an opportunity in which to invest.
Through discussions with key thought leaders and from my own experience in high technology industries, I have developed the following Ten Tenets of Project Portfolio Management. These Tenets are the essential elements that I try to keep foremost in my mind when cultivating a new portfolio management process, improving or improving an existing process. These tenets are:
- Align strategy first.
- Demand alternatives.
- Create common valuation.
- Apply uncertainty.
- Balance goals.
- Use visual analysis.
- Design tiered portfolios.
- Improve flow.
- Monitor rigorously.
- Institutionalize learning.
Project  Portfolio Management or PPM is critical to every firm, and yet it is perhaps one of the most overlooked elements of business processes. Wedged-in between your strategy processes and your project execution processes, PPM has elements of both. The inputs into the process of PPM include essentially every form of customer facing strategy and internal operations strategy in your company. Inputs also include current execution status and critical issues facing projects in the portfolio. With all of this information, leaders in the PPM process must cut through the noise to make essential decisions about balancing the project portfolio to reflect the overall goals of the firm. PPM is not a one-time event, but rather a continuous process of identifying, monitoring, nurturing and sometimes even killing projects.
Tenet #10: Be visible. Be involved.
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” — Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela’s words are rephrased but echoed by many leaders, writers, thinkers and philosophers from Lao Tzu to George Patton. In times of ease, the leader leads from the rear, perhaps taking a little risk by pushing others forward, but enabling ownership, growth and development. In times of great danger, a leader leads from the front, clearing the path and showing, not just telling the way. Periods of great change are seen as periods of danger in a business organization. In your change management project, you must be out in front, fully visible and highly involved. It is not enough to stand and the rear and point the direction. Remember that you are charting a course into scary and uncertain territory for your organization. Many will fear for their jobs, or at least fear the way their tasks will need to be performed after the change. Having a leader that is as fully committed to the success or failure of the project as the change management team, one who has the same agenda and stands to lose or gain in the same way is essential to obtaining the necessary dedication from the team.
Tenet #9: Recognize that some will not make the change.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Not everyone can live the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, allowing change to flow into their lives without resistance. As hard as Lao Tzu’s advice sounds to follow, your people must eventually accept the changes imposed upon them. Those who are not able to do so will become a drag on your forward movement as an organization. Your role in the process includes bringing as many people as possible forward into the new vision. But no matter how you have recognized and appreciated the past, how you have painted a compelling vision, how you counsel, who you enlist to carry the message to the masses, how consistent you are with that message, and how often you recognize progress; there will still be some people who will not come along for the ride.
Tenet #8: Expect, identify and validate the grief process.
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is perhaps best known for the five stages of grief model. While originally formulated to help in counseling during the grief process for death and dying, this model is transferable to expected stages for any kind of emotional upset or personal change. Examples of these kinds of traumatic change are layoffs, forced relocation, personal injury, sudden financial hardship and relationship break-up. The grief cycle can also be seen in lesser events such as reorganization or new reporting structures, changes in tools and processes, and new expectations due to offshoring or outsourcing.
Tenet #7: Plan, recognize and celebrate short term wins.
Tenet #5 encouraged you to break your change project down into phases, but you should go further. You should assure that within the phases you have milestones to recognize, ways to encourage and reasons to celebrate. Your team needs to see progress, to know that their efforts above and beyond the normal day’s work are paying off, and the more frequently you are able to demonstrate and recognize this progress, the more effective you will be in encouraging your team to continue in the fight for change.
Perhaps an example will help. When I began working for a well-known company with a long history in innovation, there had been a period of very few new product releases and an overemphasis on specials for customers. While this company had been very successful in its own right over the years, it was clear that to reach its new growth goals, it needed to further improve by a focus on portfolio management and improving product development execution. There was much that we could do, but we choose to break the change program into phases that went something like this (with a few modifications to present a clearer picture):
Tenet #6: Empower decision making consistent with the vision.
As Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” All too often leaders set themselves up to be the only decision maker for their change management projects. For well-intentioned reasons, leaders take on the mantle of ultimate judge for ideas and tactical implementation details of all kinds in a project. In fact, our new world of Sarbanes-Oxley accountability rules has made this situation worse, driving many leaders to pull back on delegation. The investment community and the law require a level of scrutiny and direct decision-making for accounting from our key leaders that have caused some to behave in a similar fashion nearly all decisions. The result in some firms has been that top management is now the bottleneck on many decisions.
Tenet #5: Over-communicate. Be consistent. Make it simple.
No matter how many times you think you have given the same message during a significant organizational change, give it again, and again, and again! Remember that while the future is crystal clear in your mind and in the mind of your guiding coalition, most of the organization is entrenched in their current paradigm. Even if you have given the single most eloquent speech of your life, once, the impact on the average worker has a short “half-life of decay”. As they walk out of your turning-point meeting and go back to their day jobs, the message is fading away with every step. The tyranny of the urgent takes over. Most of the people in your organization are worried about fulfilling the daily expectations of the firm using current processes, tools, roles and responsibilities. They are living in the present day, being mindful of what they must do to complete existing customer or administrative needs. What is to come, the vapor-ware you offer, the future you are presenting will be believed when it impacts them. But sooner or later it will impact them. You need to prepare them for that time. Give your message over and over again.
Tenet #4: Break it down into phases.
Your plans are grand. You can see the future and it’s bright for your organization. But it’s very different from what you see today. You know it will take a lot of work and dedication, but you are confident you can get there, and you are anxious to achieve these goals. You may even have significant pressure from your sponsors to reach new heights, and to reach them fast. You are charged up and motivated, and if you have done your job right, you also have a highly motivated and cognizant guiding coalition, as discussed in Tenet #3. Your people are behind you 100%.
So why do they seem so worried? Why are they groaning at the thought of all of the hard work?
Tenet #3: Create a guiding coalition.
Even the most capable of leaders seldom achieve significant goals alone. No matter how bright our ideas, those ideas fall flat without a group of people to help implement them. Leaders drive change through other people and, for many of the leaders reading this tenet, change is driven through other leaders. Along with the first two tenets (“Fully understand and respect the current situation first” and “Learn together why change is necessary”) leaders need to enlist the help of influential and respected people that will refine, guide and execute the plan. A leader banging the cadence drum alone, without the clear support and involvement of other key personnel from around the organization will lose impact, sounding detached from the reality of day-to-day business. A leader driving change must gather and charter a powerful guiding coalition. A properly selected group will add vitality and validity, and extend the reach of the leader into all corners of the organization. Depending on the size of your organization, this may or may not be the same group of people who have jointly diagnosed the issues with you.