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The new age of globalization, information, and communications has prompted executives to seek ways to improve on the delivery of products and services. The quest to execute on strategies in an efficient and effective manner has been, for the most part, an elusive goal for organizations in all aspects of business, government, and academia. In part this quest has been a challenge because executives have been unable to demonstrate success in achieving key operational objectives through proper implementation of strategic projects and change initiatives. This challenge has been the primary drive behind the demand for the Project Management Office (PMO) as a corporate transformation driver.

Launching a PMO in the organization is often a complex project however, that results in confusion over process, structure, and even terminology. While the profession has been somewhat divided over the concept of PMO and what it is intended to do, this course takes a different approach. The premise is based on a “how to” approach for establishing a PMO by implementing two simultaneous work streams for building and operating the PMO. Through a 12 week journey, the PMO leaders can implement a fit for purpose PMO that can grow based on the needs of the organization. The approach is based on a “building block” mentality that allows the PMO to become operational as quickly as possible through a scale-able design. The concept of “RapidStart” is ultimately focused on a pragmatic model as opposed to an “all or nothing” paradigm. This is a unique approach that almost flies in the face of other approaches that address the topic which tend to focus on designing the “ultimate” PMO as opposed to the pragmatic one. Finally, the course leverages examples of how these building blocks were used in real life situations and projects from across the globe.

Organizational Success and Excellence: Four Cornerstones

In working with organizations over the last 20 years, we have noticed that while each organization’s problems are unique, the cornerstones required for success remain fairly constant.  In the organizational context, it is possible to succeed without any of the four of these cornerstones, but each one that you get right increases your chances of success and your ability to weather distressed markets.  (more…)

The Myth of the Economic Downturn: Abundant Resources

Economic downturn equals abundance of excellent employees, right?  Business folklore holds that times of distress are an excellent opportunity to pick up great employees at a fraction of the cost.  However, this business fallacy can be a dangerous mindset for leaders. (more…)

In Times of Crisis, Is Strategy Still Relevant?

During these uncertain times, many executives are faced with deciding where to spend valuable resource energy.  Is it still worthwhile to define strategic objectives when the business landscape is changing so rapidly?  Should I spend my time on defining where we’re going when I can’t even see 6 months into the future?  These are some of the queries that executives are pondering. (more…)

Defining Success

Every leader is concerned with getting the best results from their team.  Often, however we fall short of the mark.  In part, this is because organizations and leaders fail to spend enough time defining success.  How will your team know if they’re doing the right activities?  How will the organization know if the resources expended were best aligned to deliver value?

Success Starts With the Strategy

Far too few companies view success measures as something that start with the strategy and end with the people.  The foundation to achieve goals is understand what the end state is.  With the strategy, a vision is defined.  A well defined vision will provide a mental picture, literally a visceral view of the desired end state.  Rather than the pie in the sky statement many companies build during brainstorming sessions, visions should provide specific detail on the end state.

After the vision is understood, the organization should define how it will measure progress toward the vision.  There are many tools that can be used to make progress and to measure that progress.  One of the most popular is the Balanced Score Card (BSC).  The BSC allows the organization to move the strategy from the high-level overview into the detailed implementation.  However, the BSC does not do an adequate job of translating success down to either project or individual performance.

Building Success Project By Project

The path of building success in the organization must be clearly identified a the project level.  If project success criteria are unclear, the project is likely to achieve many aims, most of which will not advance the strategy or the organization’s aims.  Many organization pay much more attention to defining success on customer projects (which often feed into sign-off) than internal projects.  However, much of the organization’s “expendable” resource pool is spent on internal intiatives.  As such, defining how the organization will know they’ve been successful is key.

Personal Success Stories

The true bottom line in the organization, is defining success at the individual performance level.  This topic provides the foundation for not only moving the organization closer to its strategy, but engaging and retaining employees.  We will look at this topic more closely in the future.

Organizations have many different means and tools available for measuring success.  On a project level, ROIs may be helpful, for HR projects, human change many be more appropriate.  Across the organization, using a tool like the Balanced Scorecard or Management Objectives will help know if the organization has been successful in its aims on an annual basis.  Regardless of the specific tool, it is vital that organizations define a robust tiered approach to assigning success criteria.  It is by defining these criteria that the organization taks an abstract concept – success – and makes it human.

Manager/Employee Relationships

I have often wondered about the concept of the ideal employee.  What do managers look for in their direct reports? 

Do managers prefe someone who is a “yes” person?  Do they prefer someone who fights with them in terms of ideas or implementation?  Do they want someone who seems to offer a different perspective but in reality is offering nothing but more of the same?

All these are worthy questions when trying to deal with complex organizational issues, especially if your team is dealing with change management topics.

The bottom line I believe is seeking a person who is able to respect the chain of command while at the same time be willing to voice a disagreeing opinion.  However, if that is the criteria, perhaps this question has to start with the manager and not the employee.  Perhaps the manager needs to ask him/herself a simple question.  What type of manager am I and what type of manager do I aspire to be?

More later

Aligning Leadership

In order to benefit from integration within an organization, it is vital that the leadership of the company be aligned.  In fact, strategy development is all about aligning leadership.  However, having a great strategy does not align the leadership.  It is fully possible to have aligned leadership without a documented strategy.  It is also possible to have a clearly documented strategy and unaligned leadership.

Aligned Leadership

Aligning the leaders of the organization is about two key things.  The first is identifying who the leaders are. The second is identifying what the key alignment points are.

Who are the Leaders?

Often when we enter an organization to talk about leadership, we are presented with an organization chart.  To set the stage clearly, I’d like to differentiate between leadership and management.  Organization chart detail the management structure in an organization.  The leadership of an organization can not be seen on an organization chart.  While building leadership skills among management is vital, leaders sit at all organizational levels and in all positions.

I expect that, like me, you have worked with colleagues who could inspire you to give your all assisting them even though what they were asking wa far outside of your job description.  They simply painted such a compelling picture of the future that you wanted to be a part of it.  Often they reside in other parts of the organization.  They aren’t your boss or even your direct co-worker.  They are, however, leaders.  Leadership is the ability to inspire others to willingly follow you.  The successful organization will breed leadership from the top to the very bottom of the organization, knowing that each leader influences a part of the organization.

What are the key alignment points?

Identifying key alignment points is where strategy may come into play.  Clearly, most organizations begin without a clearly documented strategy.  Entrepreneurial start-ups are typically based on the compelling vision of the founders.  When Microsoft started work, it didn’t have a fancy strategy document.  Instead, there was a leadership with a well-articulated vision.  However, as companies grow and expand, each new person that is brought into the organization must be made a part of the vision.  This challenge leads to the need for a documented strategy.

Each organization will have different key alignment touch points depending on its long term goals.  Bringing these into the onboarding process for each new employee is a challenge that the entire management team must embrace.

Integrating work across the organization requires each team member to be working with the other toward a single goal.  This goal is brought alive to the stakeholders of the organization by the leadership – at all levels.

Integration, An Over Used Word or Critical Reality?

I suspect if one where to do a look up on the most over used words in business today, the word “integration” would rank right up there with the word “solution.”

Yet it seems that for most of my career I have noticed that the difference between high performing organizations/teams and those who are struggling is the ability to manage through an integrated.

At the mos basic level integration is about bringing together for the purpose of coordination.  If one were to look up the definition of the word integrate in a dictionary, they would discover that it is described in themes of unification, blending, and coordination.

For me, the word integration in an organization (not IT) realm means simply unifying approaches.  Without integration each part of an organization or a team is operating independently and in a non-optimized fashion.

However, in order to truly achieve integration in the organization, there must be a foundation of alignment.  Without alignment there is no integration.

More about alignment later.

Judging Success

A radio show a few days ago was talking about how different ethnic groups in the United States of America judge progress. The show cited a study that stated that one ethnic group evaluated the country according to how far it had come.  Another ethnic group evaluated it according to haw far it had to go.

What an amazing and insightful way of understanding a group of people’s thinking.  I started to question my own philosophy.  How do I judge an organization?  How do I evaluate success of a given strategy?  Is it based on how far we need to go or how far we had come.

I realized that the right answer has to be both.  Our measures of success need to include both elements, even if we have a bias toward on philosophy.

More later

The Foundations of Sustainability

A few weeks ago I participated as a panel member in the Arabian World Construction Summit in Dubai.  The focus of the panel was around the issues of leveraging global organizational talent in the region to support sustainability. 

One of the participants pointed out the fact that as the topic of sustainability evolves, there has been a convergence between environmentally friendly action, corporate social responsibility, and economic/business model sustainability.  He refered to these three elements as a three legged stool.  I remember that it made a lot of sense to participants as organizations have to have a plan that takes into account all three to ensure that there is a return on investment associated with sustainability actions, regardless of whether this return is monetary or otherwise.

As I reflect further on this, I have to state that I believe that sustainability starts with individual leadership.  Having leaders within the organization who have a strong sense of civic responsibility, personal accountability, and ethical comittment, is imperative to build a foundation for sustainability within the organization.

Leaders who are not able to be good stewards of the environment, marketplace, and society that they live within are actually not likely to be good stewards of shareholders’ money.

Who knew, sustainability starts at home!

If You Always Manage in Crisis Mode, What Happens When There Really Is A Crisis?

In today’s corporate climate, with serious challenges facing companies, crisis management has become something of a watchword. However, a shortfall that many organizations must face is that dealing with crises is business as usual. That’s good, right? Actually it’s not. It’s very, very bad. There are, essentially, only two reasons that a company continually deals with crises…

  1. Proper processes are not in place to proactively handle every day business causing constant last-minute back-ups and the stress of urgency.
  2. It rewards firefighters. If the CEO and top management make a practice of recognizing heroic effort in recovery of a project gone wrong, consistently demanding immediate turn-around on needed projects or information, or ignoring phone calls unless 20 are received in a single hour, the organization will have excellent firefighters.

The reasons that this approach is unhealthy are myriad. Among them are:

  • Rewarding firefighting builds a culture where all levels of management are unable to prioritize. Each one places unrealistic levels of urgency on items causing everyone to scramble to address the.
  • No incentive is in place to systematize processes. If the organization values firefighting, then the employee doing a solid, consistent job will not be rewarded as handsomely as the hero.
  • Team members are likely to fail to look forward into the future at either the consequences of decisions they make or the trends coming down the line. This places the organization firmly in a continuing cycle of responding to rather than planning for upcoming issues or crisis.

In this climate of global crises in financial markets, organizations that do not have the inculcated processes to manage day to day business are likely to have difficulty managing the various offshoots that will impact their business. Managing by crisis caused many negative offshoots in the organization. Those that are left standing after the current round of business busting issues pass will be the ones that are able to manage both daily business and crises that arise appropriately. After all, organizations that reward firefighting, also breed arsonists.

Managing Styles

During a professional retreat a few years ago I jokingly gave each attendee a magic 8 ball.  The idea behind the gift was that no one can predict the future and strategic planning is often seen as if one is attempting to get answers from a magic 8 ball.  So many managers out there seem to direct their company’s activities as if they are relying totally on a magic 8 ball.  Do you work for a boss who has this style of management?  What are some key behaviors?


I can recall vividly in almost every business course that I studied in college and during my MBA program the subject of ethics coming up. The concept being that there are a certain set of ethical standards that we as business people must follow. Interestingly, even after completing the MBA program, my employers often had long policies surrounding acceptable ethical standards. The issue of “bribes” or “gifts” or “tips” always came up in dealing with ethics and international business. The corporate policy was always clear, that being “we do not provide gifts in return to being awarded contracts.” It seemed though that many American companies were willing to have a policy on the books while turning a blind eye while their employees paid whatever was necessary to process red tape issues or to be awarded contacts.

Luckily I have not been put in this position, greatly because my work experience has been based in the USA. Most of my international projects have taken me outside of the USA only on a virtual basis through managing extended teams across geographies. I must admit though that since I’ve been back in Amman I have thought many times about how I might act in the face of blantant requests for “gifts or tips.” I have always thought that ethics are universal and just because it is generally acceptable to give a bribe in a specific country, it does not make it ethical, moral, or for that matter legal. On the contrary, my general thoughts have been forming around how I can navigate through a potential business minefield while not offending those who I do business with. Again, I have been fortunate that I have not encountered this as of yet, but several of my friends tell stories around these issues.

This brings me back to the question, are ethics universal?

Success and Failure

I was watching a movie the other day and one of the characters said something that resonated with me. He said “the worth of a life can not be measured by a single success or a solitary failure.” In times of extreme difficulty and failure it is hard sometimes to put that event in perspective. Similarly, the joy of a singular success is challenging to comprehend when the task is particularly difficult. Take for example the basketball team that has a losing season. Out of the blue, they play the championship team and beat them. The game they play is practically inconsequential, yet it is difficult not to celebrate the moment. The problem arises however if this losing team thinks that this single win serves something greater than the actual moment of joy.

Similarly, project teams and business teams in work environments are often challenged with the same concept of winning versus losing. An example of this would be a sales team within a company celebrating the fact that neither they nor their biggest competitors won a certain bid. The fact of the matter is that both teams are losers. In this case the sales team is celebrating for the wrong reasons.

Although I believe that the bigger challenge if with failure. Understandably, at the moment that failure takes place, people tend to not look at the big picture. They often forget that failure can be a great teacher and motivator.

Over the past several years I’ve attempted to do two things. In moments of success, I try to remember what it was like to fail, so that I don’t let the success go too much to my head. Conversely, in times of failure, I try to remember what it will take to success so that the failure does not become a serial one.

On Leadership and Service

I am reading this interesting book on leadership by James Hunter. The title is “The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle.” The focuses on the concepts of servant leadership which build on a previous book by the same author titled “The Servant.”

I came across quote in the book by Jack Welch the former CEO of GE. I am not a great fan of Welch but I really liked this quote. Jack said “while employees are looking up the food chain worshiping the king and queen, they’ve got their asses to the customer.”

I think this statement describes the vast majority of businesses and indeed ones who are in the service sector. So many of our employees in the modern corporation are worried about what the boss wants them to do (so that they can get the promotion), very few are worried about the customer.