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Will PM/PPM Software Solve Your Project and Portfolio Management Problems?

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I remember a conversation I once had with a Chief Operations Officer (COO) of a federal government agency involved in several megaprojects, i.e. the projects with budgets exceeding $1 billion. The situation at the organization was really bad: enormous budget overruns, missed milestones and unhappy stakeholders.

The following exchange took place between us:
Me: I heard about your challenges and your CEO has requested that I come in and help you with establishing proper project management processes …
COO: Yes, I know. We do have serious problems with our projects. But I just don’t get it; after all we have MS Project software installed on every desktop in this office! Even receptionists have it!
Me: You know what? You better come to my project management training too, at least, to the first module …
But all joking aside, I have been asked this question on pretty much every consulting engagement of mine:
Can we address our project (portfolio) management deficiencies by installing appropriate software?
The short and not very diplomatic answer to this question is unequivocal NO. And here is why:

Imagine that you can’t play a piano. As a matter of fact, you know nothing about music. Will the purchase of the best piano in the world address your inability to play? Probably not …

Another, more technical example. Imagine that you know nothing about accounting to the point that you can’t tell the difference between the debit and the credit. Will the installation of the most advanced accounting software on your desktop or laptop instantaneously make an accounting expert out of you?

Having just a project management or portfolio management software installed on your computers will do nothing to help you with your project-related challenges. As a matter of fact it is very likely to have an opposite effect as have been witnessed by me at many organizations. What is likely to happen when people who have a very vague understanding about project management are suddenly forced to fill out endless timesheets and create cumbersome Gantt charts? They will probably fail to appreciate the importance of this and find very creative ways to ignore these tasks.

Now, having said all that, both project management and project portfolio management software implementations after the proper methodologies have been developed and fine-tuned to the company needs can be very helpful. The executives just have to sequence those tasks properly.

About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @


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What is a Project? A Simple Question with a Very Difficult Answer

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Written by: Jamal Moustafaev

This is a seemingly simple question, at least, for a certified project manager. After all we all know that a project is an “endeavor that has a definite start and an end, undertaken to deliver a unique product a service”. Usually this definition is followed by a couple of illustrative examples:

  • Creation of the first prototype of the Formula One car is a project since it does have a defined start, an end and produces a unique product.
  • Mass production of, say, canned soup is not a project, since while it has a defined start it does not have a defined end. Also, thousands of cans can’t be considered a unique product since all of them are identical.     

These examples unfortunately do not reflect the complexities that are usually encountered when deploying project management at various organizations. I remember a consulting engagement when we were working together with a focus group of the employees at a large government organization. One of the tasks on our agenda was to determine what would be considered a project by the company standards and thus require the application of the project management methodology. The following conversation took place between one of the employees and me:

Me: Project is an endeavor that has a definite start and an end undertaken to deliver a unique
product a service.

Employee: Wait a second! So, according to this definition the act of sending an e-mail is a project, right? It has a defined start and an end and represents a unique product …

Me: Well, you can look at it this way …
Employee: Does this mean I have to write a project charter, requirements document and a project
plan every time I intend to create an email?  

Although I appreciated the humor in his inquiry, the “what is a project?” issue is one of the most hotly
contested topics during the project management implementation initiatives at almost all organizations. The standard approach is to establish some kind of threshold expressed in terms of dollars or man-months and agree that an endeavor exceeding this threshold would be treated as a project. For example, any initiative with a budget of more than $100,000 (or with an effort of more than 10 man-months) shall be considered a project and will require adherence to the project management methodology.

Discussion of these thresholds usually takes a long time especially at the organizations where metrics gathering is not a very popular practice. Some of the questions that arise are:

  • We do not estimate the cost of our internal projects. How do we apply the threshold rule?
  • We do not estimate or plan the total human effort for our projects. How do we apply thethreshold rule?
  • Should we include the human effort required into the overall cost of the project (i.e. do we assume that the employees are free or calculate their daily/monthly cost to the company?)

Another issue that is very frequently brought up is the size of the threshold. Put it too high and the company will end up with too few projects that will require project management methodology. Put it too low and you will discover that you need to hire between 30 and 50 professional project managers!
The way to address these questions is to involve the executives into the discussion and to work closely with the employees of the organization in order to find the optimal solution.

About the Author:

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @ If you have a Twitter account, please follow Jamal there:

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The Art of No

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Written by Todd C. Williams2013-11-22-TheArtOfNo-NoSigntrans250

1    The Art of No

There I was, in a nice Montreal hotel conference room, two customers on one side of the table, and my client and me on the other. Taped to the back of my laptop lid was a conference-center supplied piece of paper with a hastily scrawled note on it. The entire message consisted of only two letters followed an exclamation mark. The letters were “N” and “O.” They sent a succinct message that was hard to ignore as the customer incessantly strove to get a little more functionality brought into the project’s scope. For every request, I would drop my chin slightly, look over the top of my glasses, tap my right index finger on the top of my laptop, and they would eventually relent. Instead of being a pessimistic curmudgeon, I was bringing realism about the budget and timeline and doing what leaders do—making hard decisions.

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It’s Project Leadership, Not Management

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Written by Todd C. Williams

1    It’s Project Leadership, Not Management

We have all heard it before… “Project management is easy. We have been managing people for hundreds of years. Just take any manager, give them a project, and tell them to get it done.” Experienced project managers will quickly predict how this story will end—there is an overwhelming chance this project will fail. Leaders deliver project value on time and within budget, they do not “manage.” To distinguish the project manager further from functional managers—the latter only needs to manage subordinates, while successful project managers lead extended project teams. This fundamental difference drastically increases the responsibility of the project manager, since the extended project team includes an entire herd of stakeholders.

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Earn 30 PDUs in Your Car. For Free.

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You worked hard to earn your Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. You studied relentlessly, you passed the exam, and you put in your hours. Surely you’ll do whatever it takes to keep that PMP behind your name once it’s there. But who has time to complete those recertification requirements--60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) every three years? You’re probably not jumping to register for a night class on earned value management at the local college. Do you have time between your kids’ soccer practice and swim lessons to write a paper for the local Project Management Institute (PMI)® chapter? Is tonight the night you’ll sit down and author a book on project management? Do you really have the bandwidth to volunteer your service as the project manager for the new neighborhood park?

We get it. That’s why we’ve made it easy to earn those required PDUs when you’re on the go - or, just as likely - when you’re stuck in traffic. You can earn half of your PDU recertification requirements - 30 Category C PDUs - from the comfort of your car - or anywhere else. The best part is… it’s completely free and you won’t need to take an exam, make any presentations, write a novel, or deal with strong-willed neighbors.

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Successfully Juggling Multiple Projects

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By: Brad Egeland

With the common failure rate of the projects we manage coming in at more than 50%, managing just one project to success is enough of a challenge. In reality though, rarely does a project manager have just one project on his plate – unless it’s a huge project that requires 110% of this time. A more likely scenario finds the project manager usually managing anywhere from 3 to 6 projects at time…maybe more.

If we are going to have any chance of experiencing regular success on the projects we manage, then a few things really need to be in place from a PM infrastructure perspective. The overall list could be incredibly long, for certain, and I welcome reader input on this subject as to their own thoughts and experiences. Here I present my list on what our organizations – and project management offices (PMOs), if applicable – should provide to help ensure ongoing success on the projects we manage.

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Project Management Concepts for Enterprise 2.0

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Dennis Brooke has been using web based project management communications tools since the late 1990s. In his recent interview on The Project Management Podcast he discussed how Enterprise 2.0 project management tools can make the most of communications between team, sponsors and stakeholders. PMPs can earn 30 free PDUs by listening to the entire series of podcasts

Effective Distribution

Once you complete a report, distribution is the next step. Most people send it as an attachment to an email but that isn’t the most efficient way to make sure that everyone sees it. This is because email, although very convenient, often gets lost in the maze of folders that people use to organize their inboxes. They will read a report, file it away and often forget where they put it when they want to refer back to it. Thus, the PM will receive repeated requests for duplicates which will, again, be filed away and lost!

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