Taking a quantum leap to super success — new perspectives for PPPM!

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Abe Meer, PgMP, PMP, PMI-RMP

Success in projects is traditionally described as achieving results. Delivering benefits and top-notch customer satisfaction, however, is Super Success! This paper presents five key principles project, program, and portfolio managers (PPPMs) can use in today’s competitive environment to lead their teams to make a quantum leap—to reach super success in their work arena. For each key principle, key ideas are presented to help practitioners generate their own action items that can be implemented for taking their projects, programs, or portfolios to a new level of success. Based on his past successes, the author provides real-life examples, and encourages today’s project managers to utilize the key principles and distinctions discussed in order to achieve quantum success.

In order to take a quantum leap in any endeavor, one needs to stand on a firm footing—a solid foundation. For project, program, or portfolio managers, that solid foundation is all the best practices, practice standards, and lessons learned from past experiences—that are available in the literature for our use.

There are also numerous books, workshops, templates, and checklists that are available to project, program, or portfolio managers to stand firm on that foundation. Proper application of the tools and techniques derived from this vast source of foundational knowledge is good enough for us to lead our project teams to achieve success in most project, program, and portfolio management (PPPM) endeavors.

However, given today’s challenges, in order to take a quantum leap and achieve super success in our field of activity, a few new perspectives and distinctions are necessary.

Success and Super Success

As managers, we had always been taught to focus on delivering the results on time and on budget, while making sure that quality standards are met. We follow best practices, practice standards, checklists, and lessons learned in order to focus our time and energy to meet the deadlines and deliver the goods and services as per the scope definitions. And this is traditionally considered project success. However, increasing global competitions, shrinking budgets, tougher economies, changing customer expectations—all of these conditions are now placing additional demands on today’s project, program, and portfolio managers (PPPM). The times have changed. It is not enough anymore to complete all activities on the project plan meticulously and to successfully deliver the goods and services on-time and on-budget. In today’s world, it is expected that we deliver the intended benefits and to ensure our customers are satisfied. While delivering the goods and services as planned on-time and on-budget is still important, to really succeed as managers, we will need to make sure that the intended benefits are actually realized and that the key stakeholders are satisfied with the results as well as with the benefits.

Triple Constraint and Project Success

All projects are carried out under constraints—traditionally cost, time, and scope. These three important factors, commonly called the triple constraint, are often represented as a triangle (see Exhibit 1). Each constraint forms the vertices with quality added as a central theme. As per this, if the project were to be considered a success, we must deliver the scope, as per planned, to meet the budget, schedule, and quality specifications.

Triple constraint and project success criteria

Exhibit 1 – Triple constraint and project success criteria

Historical evidence tells us there are a lot of projects and programs that were considered a “success” by these criteria, but were considered an utter failure since they didn’t deliver their original promises. From a project management perspective, the intended deliverables were completed on-time, on-budget, to the scope and to quality specifications; however, they are considered a failure because they didn’t deliver the intended “benefits” to the satisfaction of the stakeholders. Hence the proposal to review the definition and completeness of success, as traditionally understood by the majority of managers

Project, program, and portfolio management, as disciplines, have several commonalities. However, they also have key conceptual differences. While project management focuses on delivering results, program and portfolio management functions focus on delivering the benefits!

Project management deals with doing things right, while program and portfolio management ensure that right things are done.

The Project Management Institute (PMI), in its practice standards and other forums, emphatically asks managers to pay attention to this key distinction: not focus just on results and deliverables, but also on benefits and return on investment.

Therefore, in order to achieve sustainable super success, as project managers, in addition to the above success criteria, we must strive to achieve the following two: true benefits and true customer satisfaction.

Criteria for super success

Exhibit 2 – Criteria for super success

In order to help achieve that super success, we must develop a few new perspectives and distinctions. While the foundational knowledge discussed above provides us with a solid footing for the take-off, the five key principles discussed below will help us take that quantum leap to achieve super success in PPPM arena.

Five Key Principles for Super Success in PPPM

Key principle # 1

Exhibit 3 – Key principle # 1

Since our childhood, we’re been told: Seeing is believing. Nothing can be farther from truth when it comes to innovation.

For innovative pioneer project managers who want to take that quantum leap, that old saying is no good any more. They must also be able to visualize the end goal—in as much vivid detail as possible—and be able to articulate it to their teams successfully. All extraordinary achievements and cutting-edge discoveries made throughout human history have become a reality because someone first believed in it! Someone thought it was achievable. Someone had the courage to rally the troops to make it happen. Scientists, artists, leaders, and all super successful people in all walks of life have proven it to us: that believing is needed before we can create anything.

New research also tells us belief builds confidence in us and in others around us—to get past the obstacles faced, resolve issues, and accomplish the mission. In order to accomplish super stardom, we must believe in the final outcome, in ourselves and in our teams’ combined abilities to keep driving better, faster, and stronger towards our destinations.

Beliefs are in the realm of our thoughts. Empowering beliefs are an absolute must if we want to take our teams to super stardom.

Key principle # 2

Exhibit 4 – Key principle # 2

While empowering thoughts help define our destination (goals and objectives) and set our compass in the right direction, carefully chosen words will start laying the paths that take us to our destinations. Words convey messages, plans, action items, and the real purpose behind everything we need to perform as project managers. Words form the very fabric of communication. We need to engage our stakeholders, which as project managers we plan, generate, distribute, and store in order to accomplish our goals in the PPPM arena.

Words can inspire people to commit and perform at their peak, and words can also depress people and discourage them from being their best. Words can propel an endeavor into high gear by motivating the teams to reach super stardom, or dampen their spirits and send them in a downward spiral. In order to reach the heights of super success as project managers, we must use the incredible power that words have. Empowering words that arise from empowering thoughts, spoken with a purpose and clarity, can move our people to achieve super success in the PPPM arena. Let’s just think about the awesome transformation brought about by these super achievers we know: Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy and Mother Teresa, for example. And the way they used their words to propel ordinary people to achieve extraordinary outcomes.

Right words that arise from right thoughts, if communicated with conviction through the right channel to the right people at the right time empower ordinary teams to accomplish extraordinary outcomes.

Key principle #3

Exhibit 5 – Key principle #3

While empowering beliefs and words define the end goals and set the course we need to take respectively, actual action is what really takes us to the destination. Thinking and talking is a good start, but nothing happens without action.

In some of my past projects, I have seen teams spend an awful amount of time analyzing things to death and discussing things forever in meetings, emails, memos, reports, etc. While detailed planning is important, analysis paralysis can sometimes become hindrance to our progress. There are several examples in the literature, where organizations have spent millions of dollars and enormous amounts of person hours in just analyzing, discussing, and documenting stuff without actually doing much and producing nothing tangible or useful. It is essential to develop a certain amount of details and to document them (a project management plan, as an example); however, we need to balance that with action.

Once we complete developing the project management plan, we must start moving as per the plan through action—as per the plan. The sooner we get started, the better. Also important is monitoring the outcomes, measuring any deviations (plan versus actual) and be ready to adjust our plans and actions, as necessary. Adjustments include such items as: responses to issues, risks, and any change requests that arise during the course of the initiative.

Actions give shape to our thoughts and words. Adjustments help us keep on track.

Key principle #4

Exhibit 6 – Key principle #4

Having empowering thoughts (beliefs), speaking right words (communicating), and taking massive action with adjustments (as needed) is necessary. However, if there is no compatibility between our thoughts, words, and actions (TWA), we can only go so far and end up with a mediocre level of success. On the other hand, if we are able to operate with our thoughts, words, and actions totally integrated, we will acquire awesome power to accomplish much more.

Think of situations in your life when you had good intentions, and also had even spoken the right words but failed to take action that is consistent with those thoughts and words. Did you get the outcomes you wanted?

My personal example happened about 10 years ago. When my doctor told me that I was 30 pounds overweight, I wanted to lose that weight. I had good intentions. I thought about it every single day. I even talked about taking a membership at the local gym, so I could exercise three to four times a week. Nothing happened for three months. Nothing had happened because I didn’t do anything. My actions were not at all compatible with my thoughts and words!

Likewise, in business settings, we see executives making only mediocre success in their initiatives, largely due to the incompatibility that exists between their TWA. Conflicting priorities, confusing requirements, lower level of commitment by staff—all of these symptoms are usually due to incompatibility in TWA at some level. In one of the programs I was leading, all executives on the program governance board said the right things and nodded their heads in one priority setting meeting for the program. But when it came to lending the resources to support one of the component projects, one of the executives was not fully behind it. I received only half-hearted mediocre support. As a result, the quality of the deliverables related to that project suffered and we ended up getting only mediocre results.

Unless there is solid compatibility between TWA at every level of the organization, quantum leap to super success is not possible. Project managers, must develop TWA compatibility. In addition, we must strive to help our stakeholders at every level—team, mid-managers, and executives—realize the importance of TWA compatibility in order to really take a quantum leap in our PPPM arena.

Key principle #5

Exhibit 7 – Key principle #5

This last principle is the most important to achieve super success in PPPM arena. In order to take that quantum leap, as project managers, we must maintain the right focus at all times. In addition, we must ensure that our teams and executives also maintain the right focus.

As a project manager, you are unstoppable if:

  • You have a strong foundational knowledge: Practice standards, best practices, and lessons learned provide a set of tools and techniques you need on a day to day basis;
  • You are able to generate empowering thoughts, inspiring words, and consistent action: in your area of activity, not just for yourself, but also help your teams do that successfully;
  • You are able to achieve integration of thoughts, words, and actions: in your PPPM field of activity on a consistent basis; and
  • You are able to maintain the right focus: to keep yourself, your team, and your key stakeholders from faltering during rough times and in moments of crisis. Organizations depend on us to maintain that right focus.

In organizational settings, as we know, change is the only constant. When certain circumstances, priorities, conditions, or perspectives change, it is but natural for people to lose that initial focus they had when the initiative got started. It is essential to maintain the right focus to make sure that the accomplishments realized up to that point in time are not lost and that we keep making progress to reach the end goal.

What is “Right Focus”?

The nature of the PPPM initiative we are leading and the circumstances surrounding it determine what a right focus is, but from my past experience, I came up with a list of ten items that are likely to be relevant to most PPPM initiatives.

1)   Greater Good

Individual, agency, or departmental concerns are valid and must be addressed, but focus should be on the greater good of the enterprise. While addressing the individual, agency, or departmental level concerns, we cannot afford to forget about the greater good of the enterprise we are working for.

2)   Big Picture

During adversity, not getting stuck in the weeds and maintaining the big picture focus on our ultimate goals and objectives is essential.

3)   Not Taking Anything Personal

In large PPPM endeavors, it is natural for personality conflicts to arise. Avoiding personality conflicts and personal ego from derailing our efforts is an important part of maintaining the right focus.

4)   Validating the Assumptions

During conceptual and planning phases, project managers typically will need to make a lot of assumptions as they progressively elaborate the plans and other artifacts associated with their initiatives. Validating those assumptions at regular intervals and accounting for any surprises is the key to long-term PPPM super success. If this is not done, if any one of those assumptions turns out to be a bad assumption, it can kill an initiative.

5)   Always Pressing Forward and Always Doing the Best

Anyone can perform well when things are going well. It takes real winners to keep performing at peak levels—even in the midst of adversity. Realizing that things are not always going your way and not losing your enthusiasm when times are rough is essential for long lasting success. As project managers, we never give up. With the help of our key team members, we find ways to get past the obstacles and lead our teams to success. We keep pressing forward and keep doing best in every situation.

6)   Balancing Multiple Viewpoints

As project managers, we need to listen, understand, and consider all viewpoints as we make balanced decisions. In addition, each individual stakeholder and stakeholder group may have varying priorities and perspectives that some times are not aligned with your initiative’s priorities and perspectives. As project managers, our job is to balance those priorities and perspectives and keep them aligned with the big picture and ultimate goals of the PPPM initiative.

7)   Helping our Teams Grow and Succeed

My experience tells me that if I focus on helping my team grow and succeed in what they need to do, it automatically results in my success as a project manager. Right focus then is to have the best interests of the initiative, enterprise, and the team at all times.

8)   It’s All Good

During the course of every project, program, or portfolio initiative, we experience positive as well as negative situations. While positives make us feel good, negative situations tend to dampen our spirits. However, negative situations can become our stepping stones if we have the right attitude. Negative situations have seeds of opportunity embedded in them that can help us grow as individuals and teams. Developing the attitude that both positives and negatives are part of life and that utilizing them to help accomplish our goals is essential.

9)   Tapping into our Inner Core

All of us have incredible personal strength deep within us. We hardly challenge ourselves to use even a fraction of it. Realizing that we are capable of doing a heck of a lot more than we consciously know helps us accomplish extraordinary things in life. Great leaders and winners have tapped into their inner core for strength.

Those were my super nine items to keep the right focus as a project manager; I find them useful in most situations. I encourage you to come up with a few more that are appropriate for your situation. Once we have this list, we not only keep our focus, but we also must strive to keep our teams’ focus at all times.

Summary: Meer’s Model for Quantum Success in PPPM

Today’s tough market realities are dictating that project managers consider employing new perspectives and distinctions to help their enterprises and teams reach their goals. While success in projects is traditionally described as achieving results, ensuring that real benefits are delivered and customers are satisfied should also become our goal in order to achieve super success in our endeavors.

Model for quantum success in PPPM

Exhibit 8 – Model for quantum success in PPPM

While traditional management knowledge such as best practices help us lay a strong foundation needed to accomplish success in the PPPM arena, employing the five key principles presented in this paper will help us achieve quantum success. It is important to realize that our inner thoughts, spoken words, and outward actions play a significant role in our performance as project managers. Hence, it is essential to develop empowering thoughts, use inspiring words, and lead with appropriate actions and flexibility to adjust as needed. We must also pay utmost attention to ensure that our thoughts, words, and actions are integrated at all levels of the organization and that we maintain the right focus at all times in order to achieve quantum success.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2014, Abe Meer
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA

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