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Author: Yasar Ajlouni

Seasoned program management professional and engineering graduate since 1982 LIT USA •35 Plus years of experience, in several industries including Aviation, Military, Manufacturing, Utilities, Nuclear, and Real Estate •Retired Brigadier from the Royal Jordanian Air Force ( 1982-2006) •Masters Degree in Engineering from Kings College London 1993 •Have almost 10 Plus years in PMO experience in MENA, UAE, and KSA ( 2008-2020) •Serval Certifications including, PMP, MSP, PMOC, PMO VALUE RING CP, Certified Innovation Manager, Digital Business Transformation Management, Accredited Customer Experience Master, Foundational Certification in Agile Scrum. •Author of several PM articles •Speaker and a member of PMI Thought leadership Committee •Passionate Father for two engineers.

Project Owner – Should we keep using that term?

Working as a consultant / Advisor in project management, taught me we can use different terms to mean the same thing provided we set the right controls. Unfortunately, I have seen less controls than expected when terminology has been used in building PM systems, PM Methodologies’ and PM systems when describing terms like owners.  In my view duplication of the meanings is not any shortfalls from the English language, it is more about different perceptions of contexts we see as normally we look from different angles or perspectives. My rule of thumb is the lesser the ways a term can be understood when working in Project management, the better the outcome is, or at least the better we are using a common language.

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Some enterprises may call the project manager as the project owner, although both take up responsibilities towards their projects – Still in my view ownership is one side of the big world of management, so why are we underestimating? I believe we are more focusing on the willingness to take initiative, hence we call her a project owner. But this deep sense of responsibility if I may call, can also come from a responsible manager, why do we insist on using the owner term.

I went further and found some enterprises or organizations naming the following: Project owner, Risk owner, Process owner, and in some cases best practice owner. The usage of such terms in my view is more about a relevant title that carries a standing a little higher than the name, sometimes to offset the lack of compensation for being an owner, in other occasions just because no one made a point as why it shouldn’t be that way. I do appreciate ownership myself very much and do believe an owner is there to enhance a practice or a standard, still, I managed to weigh those privileges with the confusion or perhaps lesser clarities, in addition to the fact that ownership regardless of how long it could take will eventually come to an end, simply based on new realities, new technologies and because the definition of success of the ownership changed.

I would not be in favor of using the project owner’s term or using it, I think it is more about putting the right controls when we develop our procedures, and when we write our policies, so we have them less ambiguous and it all helps to make our lives become easier when we manage projects.

How Much Business Acumen does a project manager need?

I doubt this question has one definitive answer, I will try to address this critical aspect from my own experience. Firstly why is this question important? Previously PMI looked at the technical project management competencies as the essential skills to have in a certified project manager. In 2015 PMI introduced the PMI talent triangle (leadership, Technical project management, and business management) to suggest the ideal skill set for a project manager.

In a few years later I was doing internal consultancy for a unit and used this model to assess a technical team who was embarking on new projects that needed a lot of business sense. I found the assessment realistic because we gave a good portion for business skills. However elevating business skills is not exactly having business acumen. In such case some leaders prefer to outsource strategic projects, as a matter of fact the last few years have witnessed and shown an increasing trend of customer projects compared with organizations’ internal projects. But why do project managers basically need business acumen skills? And what is business acumen in the context of project management? Simply put when a project cannot be successful without understanding and applying business rational and situation, business acumen skills are essential to have for the project manager. But projects are basically two types, internal projects and outsourced projects.

Outsourced projects have a buyer and a seller, for the seller the project budget belongs to a profit center, however the buyers outsources projects with a budget that is from a cost center, here the seller does the project for a profit, and the  buyer is more interested in the deliverables. Internal projects however might need business acumen perhaps on a smaller scale especially if the organization is not seeking profit or revenues from the project. Projects that have bigger budgets have to have a business case, and perhaps a feasibility study, the return of investment is usually behind why the business is requiring this project. Project managers who manage projects with such, need to be aware financially, and should keep revisiting the business case to qualify the ROI incrementally.

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Financial Acumen is one of the components I have seen to be essential as having business acumen, still this is not the end of the show.  The industry and sector experience are in my view as equally important, consultants are not generously paid for their MBAs only, qualified senior managers and partners know their industries inside out.  These professionals qualify to manage strategic projects if they have the credentials, the experience and successful project management track record. I do advice organizations to spend on qualifying their capable project managers to have the relevant business acumen skills needed.

I have seen many organizations generously qualifying the human capital, however I do recommend that smaller organizations who are reluctant to pay for the training can check the extra cost of a qualified business project manager, with the cost of a failed project, the calculated ratio is very convincing.  I do believe each organization is unique in several aspects, not only the industry or sector differentiation, but geography, culture, maturity and size all play a role in being so unique. Having said that, project managers who need to be qualified as business project managers, will need varying amounts of business acumen skill sets based on many triggers and drivers. however to make things happen for a client , you need to place more than a certified project manager , you will probably need a business project manager , with a relevant business acumen skills to the project context. I would classify financial ability , industry knowledge , leadership style ,  analytical skills and having deep personal emotional intelligence as the top five basic components of business acumen skills to have , the appetite for a project manager to top that is possible and I would strongly encourage such as each project has a unique business context.

Last but not least, Project Management is definitely proving its worth, by being able to adapt to work with the business. The pandemic has brought new businesses, and maybe some of them will not stay around for too long. Now more than ever we need to relate our projects to the business, make sure we are spending on the right projects and keep moving forward, certainly better times are ahead.

True North PMO leadership

Bill George wrote a book in 2007 about leaders who have internal compasses that guides them to life success.

The book was called True North. True north leadership was described as a fixed point based on one’s values, passions, motivations and satisfaction. If one is detoured out of her true north for any reason, the internal compass puts her back on track. As leadership is about growing others, motivating them and making each team member go for one’s best, true north leadership can be very helpful.

As I have been leading Project Management Offices for quite some time, my catch is about true north and PMO clients. I keep asking every time I have a chance, what is really one of the most important success factors for a PMO to succeed?  Almost the majority of the answers I heard revolved around happy PMO clients. These clients maybe organization functions, customers, or sponsors who all have expectations. Now what we as PMO leaders, Subject Matter Experts, consultants or advisors, provide them with; are simply PM benefits that they need to use.  This is the reality they perceive, their happiness is simply the ratio between expectations and reality. In a previous post, I have written on LinkedIn about PMO tipping point, I have suggested that probably every PMO has a different and unique tipping point value, the point where you feel, know and can demonstrate that your PMO have gained enough momentum to get support from its clients. This is where your network is growing quicker, this is when you and your team are delivering.

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Satisfaction of PMO clients is however never fixed, it changes with projects outcomes, and relative to the organization culture and in regard to several other factors. Bottom line is we need to keep it going steady regardless of all that change where sometimes the rate of this change is impactful to shake our PMO’s. What really could work here is visualizing and creating true north profiles for our PMO clients, we need to find out how our PMO benefits are sustaining these clients wants and needs, specifically their motivation, satisfaction and happiness. In Other words we need dynamic PMO leadership. Easier said than done , we need to keep prioritizing the PMO functions that deliver those changing PM benefits , so we need to act based on the true north of these clients , simply because their perception of satisfaction is based on how aligned they are with our most recent PMO benefits .  Once they become aligned again and again with what our teams deliver, we then get the best out of them, simply put we get to see the “real them” more often. Yes this is demanding, but who said PMOs never fail. Managing the relationship smartly is what I may call true north PMO leadership. It is based on keen stakeholder management related to those changing PMO benefits that we need to deliver.  Each client will then speak, listen and act from her true north, this is not a dream, and it is simply working towards those outcomes in dynamic modes that considers nothing is constant. This not only saves time spent on arguments, conflict resolution or politics but boosts efficiency and effectiveness of a PMO.

As humans and In our race with computers and machines, that are equipped with Artificial Intelligence, and “Machines Learning” and other digital technologies, we need to acquire new PMO skills, fresh innovative ideas and team members who can go beyond and to the end, and maybe new tools but most importantly we need to rethink how we think about our clients! 

Process and Project management joining forces

One can debate if project management was practiced before process management or vice versa, building the Pyramids was a historical project, unique and definitely with a start and an end.

Additionally and in ancient times; the Egyptian economy was a barter system where people paid the Government interest, crops and precious stones, and in return the Government kept the peace, and saved the food. This is perhaps one of the oldest processes from ancient history.

Regardless if process or project management came first, now a days, both contribute strategically to the success of any modern organization. As a matter of fact, project management is a process itself; PMI for example defines (Initiation, planning, execution, monitoring & Controlling, and closing) as process groups.

Stated differently, projects better succeed when the current processes are rightly managed. Moreover project deliverables are usually products, services or results, the latter can sometimes be in the form of new processes, as an example if we pilot an introductory Lean six sigma project , to introduce and test the practice ; we can after delivering satisfactory results , standardize the piloted process in conducting supplementary Lean six sigma projects .

Having shed some light of some of the possible interaction between processes and projects, one is now more aware of how interrelated both management disciplines are. The key difference between both practices is that any project is done once, while processes are executed on a continuous basis, other differences relate to optimization, processes are optimized for efficiency and consistency, while projects are optimized once the project is completed.

The real impact of process management and project management is challenged as the work gets done across departments. As organizations grow bigger in size, a process can cut across several departments horizontally, for example the supply chain process in an industrial organization links the sales process with the manufacturing process. Implementing an ERP System across an enterprise is an example of a cross functional project, looking at ERP implementation provides some illustration of process and project management joining forces. After selecting the vendor, the consultants start capturing the as is processes, the “to be” processes are “best practice processes” that giant ERP providers excelled in designing. Implementation is mainly migration to the new processes. An organization intending to implement an ERP solution is at greater advantage, if it already had its processes modeled by the BPM team, thus saving implementation time and costs. Additionally the BPM teams would take the process oriented approach, enhancing the ERP implementation success rate. Concurrently the presence of a project management capability in such organization intending to implement an ERP solution can strongly enhance the project success. It is not rare to find organizations with PMOs and BPM centers of excellence joining forces for automation and Artificial Intelligence projects. What are rare to find is organizations that have project and process management specialists working in one department.

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The ERP implementation example, can also be looked into to demonstrate how project and process management teams can work together in functional organizations; It is worth mentioning that the introduction of ERP systems in the 1990’s obligated organizations to consider their positioning to process, as the ERP solutions offered an alternative to the functional processes used commonly at that time. Since ERP modules are predesigned, organizations started focusing horizontally, this led to creating new process roles like process owners and process stewards, and in some cases process designers, architects, analysts and process mangers.

In essence combined process and project management practices are ideal management philosophies to overcome functional barriers , end to end process management is sometimes managed though contracts between the supplier process and the customer process , this concept creates an additional internal customer, whereby the supplier process must meet its obligations to the customer process . Other organizations use SLA’s between business units or divisions and align the SLA interaction with the concerned process. This alignment keeps expectations and maintains governance. Project management on the other hand created the matrix organization for project coordination, what the matrix organization provided over the functional one; was literally the right balance between authority and responsibility. Projectized organizations completely work in project teams.

Capability Maturity Model Integration CMMI is a process improvement approach consisting of a collection of best practices where its value has been established over time. CMMI for Development contains practices that cover process management, project management, engineering, and other supporting processes used in development. If we explore the constituent process areas under project and process management categories, we shall come across process areas like integrated project management and Organizational process performance, these process areas themselves are in a sense integration processes, joining the forces of these integrated processes adds value as a cumulative integrative force, Noticeably it is then not rare to find process and project management functioning together in a process improvement model.

Whatever benefits are realized through joining the forces of process and project management, the final judge is the customer. In their premise to achieve successful customer outcomes, organizations can build and design their businesses outside in, starting from the customer perspective , in doing so they opt to join forces of process and project management to design and execute processes that produce products or services that meets and exceeds customer’ s needs and wants .