Want to be a good Project Sponsor? Show up!

Woody Allen (actor, producer, director, clarinetist), one of the funniest guys around (in my humble opinion), is quoted as saying “80% of life is showing up.” The meaning is quite simple, if you want to be seen as being involved, trustworthy, and reliable show up where you supposed to, when you’re supposed to. (Of course, one could argue he showed up in the wrong place as regards his adopted daughter, but that’s another story).

But where should you show up? Here’s a short list.

You should show up:

  • At weekly meetings with the Project Manager to make sure things are going along as planned
  • When the team goes out bowling to blow off some steam
  • During critical stage gate reviews
  • When issues cannot be resolved by the Project Manager and she escalates them to you for help
  • To talk to your peers to help the Project Manager recruit for badly needed resources
  • When the Portfolio Committee meets to make sure the project remains high on their list of priorities
  • To adjudicate a dispute between the project team and a vendor when contract disagreements threaten to derail progress
  • At any place, at any time, the Project Manager asks you to

While just showing up doesn’t mean everything will work out fine, it’s the first step in making sure it does. After all, a Project Sponsor who has “gone missing” is as useless as an umbrella in a Category 5 Hurricane. It’s just too bad we have more than our fair share of these folks.

Where else should a Project Sponsor show up?

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The Gantt Chart as “eye candy”

Henry Gantt. He gave us one of the greatest communications tools of all time. He also gave some the easy way out!

Henry Gantt is a giant in our field. He developed a format for a report that can take the most complicated set of interdependent activities and graphically depict them in such a way that even executives can understand what’s going on! And even though it’s not a precedence diagram, a Gantt chart, easily created by the touch of a button using high-powered software, can show a certain level of dependencies between and among activities. Needless to say, when used appropriately, it is an effective tool for project communications that few reports of its kind can match.

But where a Gantt chart become mere “eye candy” (defined as visual images that are superficially attractive and entertaining but intellectually undemanding) is when there is literally nothing behind what you see on the report itself. For example, any one with a limited knowledge of, let’s say, Microsoft Project, and even less knowledge of project management, can develop a list of activities, assign some start and end dates,hit a button, and create a beautiful Gantt chart (in color no less). The output would make anyone believe that a great deal of thought and planning was spent on the project when that may never have occurred.

When I say nothing behind it, I mean the person did not actually think through exactly how these tasks and activities relate to one another, their interdependence if you will. To put it bluntly, they did not, either alone, or with a team, develop a precedence diagram (you know, a PERT or CPM chart).

For a project of any significant size, if a precedence diagram is not done, no one can say for certain just how the project is really going to get completed. They have a general sense of what needs to be done, but not the order in which the activities will be done. They sort of dream it up as it goes. Not the world’s best planning technique to be sure.

Looks great and in color no less…..it may be nothing more than “eye candy”

As an executive, if you have been presented a Gantt chart your first comment should be show me the precedence diagram from which this has been produced (even if you don’t know how to read it, at least you know the PM did one). If the project manager can’t produce one, you’re staring at “eye candy.” And, while “eye candy” is great to look at, it won’t do you much good beyond what you see.






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Diversity: different perspectives, better project teams

When you read the title of this post I bet you thought I was going to write about the demographic makeup of our project teams. Well, I think many know that forming an inclusive team with a wide variety of folks of different ages, genders, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationalities, and the like strengthens a team by giving it multiple perspectives inherent in such a collective. I know how important this is and I strongly support such diversity.

But I’m not talking about that type of diversity in this post, as important as it is. There is also another dimension of diversity that is equally important. And that is the diversity of your team members’ professional backgrounds. Are we thinking broadly enough about who could actually be of assistance on our projects?

In an entertaining article in IT World entitled 15 geeky places to visit before you die, one such place  was Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, UK. Why? Because it was there that a group of dedicated professionals eventually broke the “unbreakable” encryption of Germany’s Enigma machine.

Let’s take a look at who was on the project team. First, there were more than 12,000 members. Among them were mathematicians, linguists, chess masters and crossword puzzle experts. Yes! crossword puzzle experts. Makes sense, doesn’t it.  If you’re trying to break an unbreakable code you need all kinds of people who work with words and language from all different angles on your team.

How are you building a diverse team for your project? For example if you’re an American architect designing a building in Hong Kong for a local corporation perhaps you should have a Feng Shui expert on your team. If you’re in charge of a software development project building a medical records system having a Doctor on board can be a big help. And, if you’re managing a significant organizational change project for a Global Fortune 500 corporation your team will be stronger if you also include an anthropologist.


Oftentimes we keep going back to the same well for the same kind of folks to be on our teams. But by doing so, we keep getting the same perspectives. In today’s world, where our projects are more complex, that simply is not sufficient.

Diversity is the human manifestation of systems thinking simply because the broader our team is in demographics and professional skills, the more comprehensive our collective view will be about how to get things done.

There’s an old saying that goes “there’s strength in numbers.” I think that’s outdated. I think the greater strength is bringing all different kinds of people with varied backgrounds to help us achieve excellence in our projects. What do you think?


This post is being published on Veterans Day in America (and Remembrance Day in Canada). I wish to thank all the veterans past, present and future, for their heroic efforts in the defense of the United States. Both my mother, Rita, and father, Roy, are Army veterans of WW II who held the rank of 1st Lieutenant. My father served in Africa and my mother was a nurse in hospitals in the UK and Germany. Below are their pictures during their time of military service. My father passed away in 1977, but my mom, who was 95 on the 4th of July, is still with us.

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4 Ways to Boost Team Performance

We all know that throwing a bunch of people together and calling them a team doesn’t make them a team. But teams in the workplace are more common than ever. In the cross-functional, matrix-oriented project environment, teams are a way of life. If we don’t work well together, the project suffers as a result.

A recent survey (1,072 employed US adults) conducted by Harris Interactive for the University of Phoenix indicates that teamwork, whether it be in projects or not, is suffering. Here are some statistics from the survey that really caught my attention:


  • More than 4-in-five adults find it difficult to work in teams
  • When asked why the situation seems so bleak, 45% felt there is an “in-it-for-oneself” mentality
  • 40% of adults cite that fewer employees are doing more work
  • 35% say that electronic communication (e-mail, IM, texting) is a barrier because it has reduced face-to-face communication
  • More than 52% feel that a clack of clearly defined roles contribute to poor teamwork
  • Of working adults who think teams struggle, 61% say there is not enough training on how to work as a team
  • Only 26% of the respondents who are college graduates said teamwork was a focus in their university education


So, what do we do with this information? We can do four things right away.

First, we need to make sure make sure that the roles and responsibilities on our team are clearly defined. There’s nothing worse than a group of people confused about their roles and everyone elses. One way to see if things are amiss is to go to Hui Yen and ask her to explain what Mario’s role on the team is. Her response will clearly tell you if folks are confused.

Second, we have to make sure that everyone is pulling their own weight. Allowing a team member to skate along and not holding them accountable reflects more negatively on our managerial ability than the sub-par performance of the slackard himself. Your team expects you to make sure that people do what they have been assigned to do.

Third, and I admit this might be tough given certain HR rules, but I would look for ways to incent and reward the “team” based on their collective effort, in addition to whatever personal incentives they have. This recognizes the value of teams, but it also has the benefit of having teams police themselves.

Finally, if you believe your team could benefit from insights into high-performing teams, you might want to think about a workshop or some other form of development, apart from the more typical team-building activities in which you are already engaged.

Teams are the bedrock of how we do projects. We need to spend time shoring-up and supporting that structure. It not only will yield better project outcomes, people will look forward at a lot more to coming to work.

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Eric Jenett: The Man…..and the Award

Eric Jenett–a giant in our field

Eric Jenett was a giant in our field. He was one of PMI’s five original founders, was PMI’s first Project Management Professional, a PMI Fellow, PMI’s President in 1971, Chairman in 1972 and Secretary from 1975 to 1976. He was also a founding member of the Houston Chapter as well as a thought-leader in the field. As evidence of this Eric went on to author more than 30 publications and presentations.

Eric gave freely of his time to advocate for project management and to help build the world’s largest professional association of project managers. I met him once many years ago and chatted with him at a PMI conference. He didn’t know me from “Adam” as the old saying goes, but he spent a good bit of time talking to me. Even though a generation separated us our interest in project management was a great common bond.

As the years went by I would see him at every PMI North American congress. I was always impressed that here was a man, well into his 80s, taking an active interest in project management, and the association he helped build. It was, to say the least, inspirational.

All this is why when my friend and colleague Dr. Ginger Levin told me she was going to nominate me for PMI’s 2013 Eric Jenett Award for Project Management Excellence I was extremely flattered. It was also why I thought I didn’t stand a “snowball’s chance in you know where” of winning. But she persevered in spite of my pessimism.

In addition to her letter advancing my candidacy, 6 colleagues “penned” very complimentary letters of support as well. They included Ed Phelps, the founder and former owner of ESI, my employer; Nicholas Schacht, President of PetroSkills and also a former colleague and boss; Matts Larsson, Director, Training & Development, Tetra Pak, our client; Larry Bull, former PMI Director and OPM3 Certification Director; Paul Travers, Managing Director, TD Ameritrade and former client; and, Carl Pritchard, President Pritchard Management Associates, a former colleague at ESI and long-time friend and co-author.

The package was sent to PMI and I had nothing left to do but wait (for my rejection!) Well, that never arrived.

Much to my never-ending surprise, on July 19th at 1:50PM I received an email from Donna Huber who runs PMI’s Professional Awards Program notifying me that I had been selected  as the winner of this prestigious award. I could hardly believe it.

Receiving the Eric Jenett Award at PMI in New Orleans.


Ginger Levin and I at the PMI Awards Ceremony


Of course, winning this award is really a thrill given the man after whom it is named.
But even had I not won, what has been most gratifying, and humbling for me, was that Dr. Levin and all the other good folks who supported my nomination, felt I was worthy of such an honor. That really means more to me than anything. Thank you so very much.

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How to sell project management to Execs….Screw up BIG TIME

Many project professionals I’ve met through the years complain that their executives don’t support project management. They try to make the case for PM but just can’t penetrate the exec mindset that it’s not worth it.

Sadly, the only time execs will listen is when something bad, really bad happens. So, one sure-fire way to get the execs to invest in improving project management performance is to screw up BIG TIME! How big? Well look at two examples from history; granted, these weren’t  necessarily projects but you get the idea.

An otherwise capable General, he went down in history for one of the biggest strategic military mistakes of the Indian Wars. A really Big Screw Up!


“Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” became a business phrase meant to describe an otherwise futile situation. Couldn’t sink? What a Screw Up!


Organizations that suffer these kinds of fiascoes will certainly find executives very willing to pour money into project management.

But, there’s also another way to sell PM to execs, and that is to point out the multiple, repeatable, Screw Ups, that individually aren’t quite so shocking, but in the collective indicate that something is really wrong with organizational performance. Let me give you a couple of examples.

We have a client who traveled around the world videotaping their key client contacts lambasting the company for poor project performance. The video was then played over and over again to the executive ranks in this global organization. From that point forward things changed and now they have one of the most rigorous project management systems and training in the world.

Here’s another example of a thoughtful professional who successfully got everyone’s attention regarding the deteriorating state of customer service in the organization.  When Ryan McInerney rose to the head of J.P. Morgan Chase’s consumer-banking division (he’s currently the President of VISA at 38 years old) overseeing 76,000 employees,  its Chase branches trailed in consumer satisfaction. His solution? He gathered all the district managers in one room and played customers’ complaints over a loud-speaker for an hour and a half. By the time he left, Chase had climbed in the rankings.

I can tell you that as a Chase customer they literally fall over you as soon as I step into my branch bank on 1st Ave. (btw 54th & 55th Sts.) in Manhattan. You can read more about it in the October 7, 2013 edition of Fortune magazine.

Let’s face it, screwing up is not something we want to do. But screw ups can be very helpful, but only if we learn from our mistakes.

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This is what happens when you don’t have a Plan B

Long time readers of this blog know I live and work in New York City. The ESI office is located on the corner of Water and Wall Streets in the Financial District. It was an area hard hit by Super Storm Sandy  one year ago. In fact, we had 5 feet of water in our office building lobby causing us to relocate for 4 months.

The area around my building has not fully returned to normal. Following are some pics I took today at lunch of some of the lingering affects caused by that massive storm. The reason they’re “lingering” is that no one had a Plan B for such a Black Swan event.

A mobile boiler still provides power to a building hard hit by the storm


I used to go here for my visa and passport photos. Marty was a nice guy, but evidently he just didn’t have money to re-open. Many small businesses simply went out of business.


Extremely popular with tourists, South Street Seaport is just returning to normal


Popular with tourists and New Yorkers alike, the europa cafe is still trying to get its act together


I really missed au bon pain. They serve 8 different soups everyday, 365 days a year. It’s my favorite lunch. Hopefully, they’ll be open soon!


Just completed directly outside our building. It’s Plan B for the next storm!


Not having a Plan B really made an impact on a number of businesses. We still don’t have the high speed internet service we used to have. Our provider went out of business.

While many of our political leaders now know you’ve got to have a Plan B, I think they’re still missing the point. Every good project manager knows it’s not enough to have a Plan B. You’ve got to have a Plan B for your Plan B!


Need better risk management practices for your projects check our course of the same name here. And for those of you in IT check out our IT Risk Management program.

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Pay project managers bonuses BEFORE they earn them

I just read a very interesting, and counterintuitive suggestion, in the article “Why Make Them Wait” on the thebuildnetwork, a favorite web site of mine. In it, researchers Adam Grant from the Wharton and economics professor Roland Fryer from Harvard say a company might be better off giving rewards before the employee (in this case our project manager) achieved anything. (Boy, I like the sound of this. I think I’ll bring it up in our next management meeting….NOT!).

Here’s what they did. Fryer’s research divided some teachers into groups of two each of which received bonuses based on the improvement in student test scores on a standardized math test. The first group received their bonuses at the beginning of the year, and were told they would lose that money if the students’ test scores did not improve. The second group would get the bonus at the end of the year, but only if the students’ test scores were better.

What happened? Those that were paid upfront saw test scores increase by approximately 10%, whereas the second group achieved very little improvement.

Seems like people are more afraid of losing something they have rather than gaining something they don’t.

Anyway, we’re not likely to see this very different practice in Corporate America, or any other corporate on earth, and we won’t certainly see it in any government agency! It’s just too radical.

But what about all those small start ups out there? I know you’re luring the “young and the restless” to slave away 24/7/365 in your techno sweat shops with visions of being the next Zuckerburg,  Sergey, or even old guys like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or Canada’s greatest investor, Prem Watsa. But those visions are oftentimes nothing more than illusions. Let’s get some real money on the table for these folks! This just might  be the way to do it.


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“Project Managers are the Real Money Makers”

That’s the title of a brief article in Harvard Business Review’s The Daily Idea. The article was referencing a blog post written by Ethan Molick entitled Research: Middle Managers Have an Outsized Impact on Innovation.

Here’s an excerpt:

Why do project managers have such a large impact? The answer has to do with the difficult, but often critically important, situation they find themselves in. Higher-ups don’t give them the resources they want, and subordinates are annoyed by the directives the project managers are mandated to promulgate. Squeezed from above and below, they have to make do. Some people are very bad at this and destroy value. But some are really good at it. The best have a knack for turning restrictions on resources into creative solutions. It’s almost magical.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call what we do “magical.” Read the entire blog post. I think you’ll really enjoy it.

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The Six Deadly Sins of Project Management Leadership

IT Business Edge published my Six Deadly Sins of Project Management Leadership turning it into a really cool slide show. Thought you’d enjoy it. Go here to check it out.







One of ESI’s most popular courses is Project Leadership, Management and Communications. Check it out.

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