Episode 355: The Executive Table Needs Project Leadership (Free)
This episode is sponsored by The PM PrepCast for The PMP® Exam:
It’s time. It’s time for strategic project management to be directly represented at the executive round table, in board meetings, and in the ‘C’-suite. It’s time for singular ownership and accountability for organizational strategic planning and execution. It’s time for dedicated focus on organizational resource planning, allocation and utilization. It’s time for focused attention regarding return on investment, earned value on execution, appropriate risk management and post-execution benefit capture. And finally, it’s time for single-sourced, unambiguous communication regarding strategic balance, allocation of resources and prioritization of the directives that constitute the portfolio of investments that the organization makes on its own behalf.
What you have just read is the opening paragraph of the article It’s Time for Project Leadership To Have A Seat At The Executive Table written by Paul Williams (http://www.thinkforachange.com/aboutpaul). In it, he emphatically argues that project management is just as important as any of the other more traditional business departments such as marketing, finance or operations.
In our interview, Paul and I review his general argument why project leadership needs a seat at the executive table, what the roles and responsibilities of our representative are, what skills he or she needs, and what you can do as part of your career planning to become that very person.
Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #355. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I'm Cornelius Fichtner.
It's time! It's time for strategic project management to be directly represented at the executive round table in board meetings and in the C-Suite. It's time for singular ownership and accountability for organizational strategic planning and execution. It's time for dedicated focus on organizational resource planning, allocation and utilization. It's time for focused attention regarding return on investment, earned value on execution, appropriate risk management and post-execution benefit capture. And finally, it's time for single-sourced, unambiguous communication regarding strategic balance, allocation of resources and prioritization of the directives that constitute the portfolio of investments that the organization makes on its own behalf.
What you have just heard is the opening paragraph of the article: "It's Time for Project Leadership to have a Seat at the Executive Table" written by Paul Williams. In it, he emphatically argues that project management is just as important as any of the other more traditional business departments such as marketing, finance or operations.
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In our interview, Paul and I review his general argument for why project leadership needs that seat at the executive table, what the roles and responsibilities of our representative are, what skills he or she needs and what you can do yourself as part of your career planning to become that very person.
Why don’t you lead the way? Enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: The Project Management Podcast's feature interview: Today with Paul R. Williams, PMP, executive managing partner of Think For A Change LLC.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Paul! Welcome to The Project Management Podcast™!
Paul Williams: Thank you! Thanks for having me, appreciate it!
Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah, you're welcome. Thanks for being here.
So our interview is based on your article "It's Time for Project Leadership to have a Seat at the Executive Table." But many of our listeners, they may not be leading projects that are strategic in nature. Maybe they lead small IT projects or a medium-sized product development effort. Is our discussion still valid for them?
Paul Williams: Oh yeah, absolutely! I think as project management professionals, we all have a vested interest in the growth and the changes affecting our profession. And while some of your listeners may not be leading strategic projects or running PMOs or need to face executive level stakeholders today, and I think those listeners to take the time out of their busy day to things like PM Podcast™ are learners and to me learners are leaders which means if the odd suggests like they will care about this topic in the not too distant future.
Not only that, leadership is one of those new key business skills under the PMI talent triangle so I think more and more of us will be paying more attention to this topic and get a little more interested than they may have in the past.
Cornelius Fichtner: What can our listeners expect to take away from our discussion?
Paul Williams: So it's my contention that as the business role starts to transition into the new knowledge-based era that the executive management board room table, the C-suite should really include one additional seat and that should be occupied by a single especially qualified individual whose entire sole focus is on accountability for the execution of a portfolio of strategically significant initiatives for the organization. So this person would hold essentially the highest level project management-related role in the company and would be responsible for the design oversight leadership of project management, and more specifically strategic execution for the entire organization.
Cornelius Fichtner: Can you define what you mean by executive table?
Paul Williams: Yeah, this is kind of like I said what's referred to as the C-suite of the executive leadership team. Typically, this is the direct reports of the CEO. This group almost always needs weekly to discuss things like issues and get status updates and review financial performance things like that.
And they also tend to dedicate special meeting time. Sometimes monthly, sometimes quarterly to discuss things like strategy, goal development, progress against goals and things like that. So it's one of those sort of leadership powwows at the very top of every organization.
Cornelius Fichtner: Who is sitting at that table today? Definitely, the CEO. You also mentioned finances so that points toward the CFO, right? Who else is there?
Paul Williams: I'm thinking about people like the Chief Operating Office, Chief Information Officer for sure. Some organizations have like a Chief Admin Officer, a Chief Marketing Officer. Some may not have that kind of lingo attached to it. As you may see the departmental executive vice presidents or senior vice presidents type folks there. But it's essentially that sort of top of every department head or main business line if you will for that organization.
Cornelius Fichtner: And when you say project leaders should be sitting there as well, which people person are you referring to?
Paul Williams: Essentially, I'm thinking along the lines of a Director of Project Management, PMO Director, sometimes even just Project Portfolio Managers or Directors because they, a lot of times, will be managing a portfolio on behalf of somebody at that level. So it's that kind of leadership level from a project perspective that I'm really talking about.
Cornelius Fichtner: And what's the general argument why project leadership needs to have a seat at this table?
Paul Williams: It's kind of the thing that is managed in sort of a hodge-podge shared fashion right now. I think if you were to put this kind of responsibility in the hands of one particular person, they will be able to bring a singular ownership or accountability for organizational strategic planning, in execution rather in spreading amongst everybody on the team.
I think it also provides a kind of dedicated focus on like resource planning, organizational resource planning, allocation, utilization, things like that. It brings some focused attention obviously to return on investment, earned value, on the execution activities, appropriate risk management strategies making sure that after the execution is completed, somebody is thinking about benefit capture and it really ensures sort of a single-sourced, unambiguous communication that come from one specific talking head at that level about strategic balance, allocation, resources, prioritization of directives and some of the investments that the organization is making via their project portfolio.
Cornelius Fichtner: In the article, you also mentioned failing projects and you say that these failing projects, perhaps, they may be caused by project management and strategic execution functions that they are being embedded in department structures that aren't the primary focus of that particular executive sponsor or leader. Can you give us an example of what type of projects we're talking about here?
Paul Williams: Yeah, I was trying to come up with some of the more famous project failures that we've heard in the news or literature, professional journals, but let me give you a more personal example. I once led a relatively large program made of twentyish projects over 4 years that was initiated to address some negative audit findings related to IT and operational general control processes that dealt with protecting financial and data integrity things. So things like information security, customer privacy, record keeping, those kinds of things.
Some of the projects in that program were essentially started up by the operations team. Others were spun up obviously from the legal team and a few others were actually started up by the finance reps. So you've got projects starting up in material lines of verticals all within the umbrella of a program.
In the meanwhile, the PMO where I reported into obviously, reported up through the Chief Information Officers who also had a number of projects that were slided into the program and that person whom obviously the vast majority of the resources that we're going to be worked on for the rest of the project. So you can take a guess which initiatives got prioritized and got resourced and got executed.
So the entire program basically devolved into turf wars, budget battles and a lot of culturally destructive behavior. So when you start to run strategic level things across multiple departments and you don’t have a singular owner for that in one particular area, those are the kinds of things that can devolve quickly and something that I think that a lot of us work in PMOs see on a regular basis.
Cornelius Fichtner: Why exactly do you think is there a lack of oversight and attention in situations like this? Is it just turf wars?