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Project Management for Beginners and Experts

My Projects are Constantly Late, Over Budget and Deliver Low-Quality Products. What Can I Do?

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I get asked this question all the time. My consulting engagements start with it. My trainings – whether public or on-site – start with it. Sometimes, I even hear it during casual conversations with my friends. Usually this inquiry is followed by the following statement, “Well, you are the project management expert! Care to share your opinion on the subject?”

In reality the answer to this question is not that simple and exists in a two-dimensional space, so to speak.

First, if the company is experiencing these problems, there is a good chance that their project management processes are deficient. The word “deficient” in this context can mean a number of things: lack of proper methodology and templates, absence of experienced project managers or insufficient executive buy-in for project management just to name a few. Any combination of these factors severely limits the ability of the organization to scope, estimate, schedule and control their endeavors potentially leading to missed deadlines, overrun budgets and poor quality products and services.

But there is also an additional dimension to this problem called the strategic resourcing. The question that needs to be answered in order to solve the strategic resourcing predicament is very simple:
“Do you have too many projects in the pipeline and too few resources at your disposal? And if the answer is yes, then which projects are you going to cut or how many resources are you going to add to your pool?”
Let me demonstrate this concept using a seeming unrelated example.
Let us assume that you are a student in one of my project management courses. You are an A+ scholar that knows everything there is to know about project management. To make a long story short, there is no question I can ask that you would be unable to answer.

Let us further assume that the average number of questions on a two-hour final exam for this type course is five. How well would you realistically expect to do on the two-hour exam if I were to decide to include a hundred questions of the same size and complexity on the final test?

Obviously, no matter how smart and well-prepared you were for the exam, you would no doubt fail.
Interestingly enough, when professionals and, especially, executives are provided with the “final exam” case study, they unanimously agree that there is absolutely no chance that any student in the classroom would be able to answer all 100 questions in the course of two hours. But as soon as the concepts of “questions” and “final exam” are replaced with “projects” and “fiscal year” respectively their attitude changes completely and they start thinking something along the lines of, “Well if I somehow make them work a bit harder …”

The lesson here is a company must have an appreciation of its own throughput capacity and ensure that the total size of its ventures corresponds to the size of its project pipeline - meaning the number of projects your employees can handle and deliver successfully is a finite number, which falls under the project portfolio management domain.

So what is the conclusive answer to the question mentioned in the title of this article? If you organization is experiencing project delivery challenges, the root causes of this situation are most likely concealed in both inadequate project management and project portfolio management.
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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Case Study – Portfolio Scoring Model - Western European Pharma

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Company assets were in dozens of billions of dollars in 2012 whereas its income was measured in billions of dollars. Despite an overall strong position of the organization, the executives of the company were somewhat concerned with a slow growth in revenues (4-8% per year) and net income (1-3% per year). Consequently they felt that the company was been falling behind the competition and, in the long-term, in danger of losing the leading position in the pharmaceutical industry.

The case study below is focusing on the organizational R&D projects – both pharmaceutical and diagnostics – while ignoring the maintenance and stay in business ventures.


Just like in the previous example the company executives have developed a very clear unequivocal strategy void of any ambiguous goals. The strategy consisted of four pillars:
•    No OTC products – the company decided to avoid the generic drug market altogether and focus on the prescription drugs only due to IP protection and higher profit margins.
•    Five research areas – the company decided to focus its R&D efforts on five key pharma field including cardiology, cancer, infectious diseases, diabetes and neuroscience.
•    Focus on personal healthcare - attending to the physical needs of people who are disabled or otherwise unable to take care of themselves
•    Personalized drugs -  drugs that can customized exactly to the needs of a particular patient, including the exact dosage and combination with other medications.

Scoring Model

The portfolio committee decided to employ the following variable in the construction of their scoring model:

•    Market Attractiveness (How many patients are out there?)
•    Strategic Fit
•    Innovativeness
•    Risk (both technical and market)
•    Effectiveness
•    Cannibalization
•    Core competencies
•    Competitors
•    Financial (Revenue)

Table 1

Selection Criteria

Points Awarded (Maximum Possible 135)

Joker 136 points

  1 point 5 points 15 points Kill?
 Market Attractiveness (How many patients are out there?)  Number of  patients < X  X < Number of  patients < Y  Number of  patients > Y Yes
Strategic Fit  Fits only 1 of the strategic fit criteria Fits 2 of the strategic fit criteria  3-4 of the strategic fit criteria  Yes (if scores zero) 
Innovativeness Generic approach Mixed approach Unique approach No
Risk (both technical and market) 10% < Probability of success < 25% 25% < Probability of success < 75% Probability of success > 75% Yes (if less than 10%)
Effectiveness Low Medium High No
Cannibalization Will compete with several other company drugs Will compete with 1 other company drug No competition with other company drugs No
Core competencies No in-house knowledge Some in-house knowledge All knowledge is in-house No
Competitors More than 3 competitors with similar products 1-2  competitors with similar products No  competitors with similar products No
Financial (Revenue) Revenue < $A $A < Revenue < $B Revenue > $B Yes (if revenue minimal)

The first category considered was directly tied to the potential number of patients in the market. The project proposal received one point for less than X potential patients, five points for between X and Y patients, and fifteen points for more than Y patients (note the decision to award fifteen rather than ten points for best performance; this way a company can skew their portfolio scoring to reward really good projects). Furthermore this category has been designated to be a “kill” variable for the project proposals targeting a very small number of patients.

In the strategic fit category the management, encouraged by the facilitator, to go with a simple measurable model: one point is awarded to proposals that fit only one of the strategic criteria, five points are given to the endeavors including two criteria and fifteen points – to the projects that incorporate three or more of the strategy goals. This criterion has also been selected as a “kill” category for the projects not including any of the strategic goals.

Innovativeness category, a fairly unique variable has also been introduced by the company’s management was supposed to echo the   strategic goal of developing more personalized drugs, since this particular field required the organization to partially part ways with the traditional approaches to the new drug development. The points breakdown was as follows:

•    Generic approach to drug development – 1 point
•    Mixed approach to drug development – 5 points
•    Unique approach to drug development – 15 points

Risk factor has also been included in the model and the executives decided to incorporate both technical and commercialization aspects into this variable. While this factor will almost always remain a subjective measure, the management made a decision to award one point for the probability of overall success between 10% and 25%, five points for the probability of success between 25% and 75%, and fifteen points for the probability of overall success over 75%. Projects with a probability of overall success less than 10% would be killed.

Perceived effectiveness of the drug was another fairly subjective category that was very difficult to accurately assess at the beginning of the project. However, it was hoped that as the product development nears its end, it would become more apparent to the management as to whether the drug possesses desired effectiveness.

The cannibalization category has been introduced to measure the effect of the proposed product on other company produced drugs. If the product was expected to compete with more than one of the existing company medicines, it would get a rating of one point, if only one medicine – five points, and the products that had no cannibalization effect on any of the company’s drugs – fifteen points.

Core competencies factor has been included with the following parameters:

•    No in-house knowledge - 1 point
•    Some in-house knowledge – 5 points
•    All knowledge is in-house – 15 points

Number of competitors category has been included in the model to assess the competitive advantage of the proposed endeavor. The points have been distributed in the following manner:

•    More than 3 competitors with similar products – 1 point
•    1-2 competitors with similar products – 5 points
•    No competitors with similar products – 15 points

And finally, the project revenues category has been broken down as follows:

•    Revenue < $A – 1 point
•    $A < Revenue < $B – 5 points
•    Revenue > $B – 15 points

Revenue has also been designated as a kill category for the projects promising to generate minimal cash flows.

To sum up the above model, the maximum number of points a project can generate is 135 and the minimum is seven. Four out of seven categories have been designated as “kill” factors making the above scoring model a very aggressive filtration mechanism.

Furthermore, considering the fairly large number of variables in the model (seven) future assessment and ranking exercises could have become a bit tedious, especially if there was a multitude of project proposals to analyze. Having said that, the executives of the company were made aware of this fact, but decided to keep all the variables, hoping to calibrate and cut the model if necessary in the future.

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

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. WilliamsThe Art of No

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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Earn 30 PDUs in Your Car. For Free.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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