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The Project Charter’s Value Proposition

"If I identify the value proposition for the project, then I provide direction for downstream decisions, but I don’t have any standard way to clearly state it accurately."

The content of some of the boxes change depending on the project, but the placement of the 9 boxes of the Business Model Canvas is the same. I suppose just how you place these boxes isn’t as important as deciding and then sticking to it. A common look between projects helps identify patterns and facilitates comparisons. The critical thing is to address these characteristics about your projects, and provide a quick summary for comparisons.

The first step in the project charter based on the Business Model Canvas is getting to the value proposition. Your project may have other documents like the governance plan, communication plan, and vision scope document; all part of the larger Project Charter. In that case, this might become the summary of the business section of the assembled Project Charter. Depending on your needs this can be stand alone, or a section of a larger document.

Completion of these boxes may be the result of an extensive strategic planning effort, or a 30-minute interview. Get what you can, and then focus efforts on finding the answers you’re not feeling comfortable with.

Within the Value Proposition box, there is the optimal type of proposition to identify and the CORE proposition. Our first step is to decide what type of offering this project will be delivering. Granted, most projects have more than one deliverable. If this is you case, then think of the aggregate of all the deliverables. What is it that you will truly be delivering? Why are the clients coming to you for that deliverable? You want to simplify the answer down to one of three types of value proposition; Unique, Intimacy of familiarity, and cost.

UNIQUE: This is when your project team can deliver a product or service that cannot be acquired anywhere else. An example might be found in an IT organization that provides security credentials that can’t be gotten from anywhere else. You must go to the IT Department for the credentials. Another example could be a sales person’s rolodex full of past clients that can be called on. The company can’t get that unique set of names that can be called on from anywhere else. I’m not convinced of this value, but it is unique. However, typically, the Unique type of proposition yields the premium price. As a project manager and sponsor, you try to create a unique type of deliverable to increase the perceived value of the project.

INTIMATE: This type of proposition states that your project team has intimate experience with creating the desired deliverable. Due to your familiarity of the problem/solution space, your can deliver a product or service better than anyone, or can do it with less errors.

Maybe your intimate understanding will enable you to be more innovative. This type of proposition is a little more flexible than the UNIQUE proposition, and is slightly less competitive. Let’s face it, its hard to prove your better when there are three other teams both internal and external that have an “Intimate” knowledge of the problem/solution space.

Typically, your price point is lower than the UNIQUE type. Understand that price is the total “cost” of ownership. How much pain is the client willing to go through to acquire and own the deliverable. The lower the price you can ask, the better the deliverable must be. The INTIMATE value proposition must be better packaged, better supported, and easier to acquire than the UNIQUE deliverable. Client involvement is normally less, and mostly oversight in nature. After all, you know what they want, even better than they do.

COST: Think ‘Economy of Scale’. You can offer this deliverable faster, cheaper, and at higher quality than your competitors because you do this more often. You do this all the time, and one more just doesn’t impact the cost that much. An example would be a brochure printing. The artwork and design has already been completed. If your already set up, an additional printing just isn’t that much more cost. It’s easy. I call Frank and ask him for 100 more of the brochure. We don’t discuss the layout, the paper size, where to send it- nope its all done. It’s that easy. You just say, “Give me more!”

The ‘Economy of Scale’ deliverable is very desirable, and has the most demand. If using this type of value proposition, you expect to do it a lot, where as the UNIQUE type, you expect to do it less often, and so must charge more, in all aspects of cost.

Now once you have characterized the deliverable, hence the project, as to deliverable type, we want to take a look at the proposition itself. There are five types of valid propositions, you must select one.

MORE VALUE AT LESS COST: This is the easiest proposition to accept, and easiest to prove. You show what new value they will receive, and how this cost less than it did before. I this case, people like to know what has changed. They want to believe you wouldn’t just charge more than you had to. They are looking for a new competency, new technology, or even a reorganization. You need to point to something, and say because of this we can now do that, in order to maintain credibility.

MORE VALUE AT THE SAME COST: This is an easy proposition to accept. It feels like your giving me something for free. Of course, if I value the new free offering, then I will like it. Normally, this can be explained with process efficiencies, so it’s less important to point to the change enabler.

MORE VALUE AT MORE COST: This is a difficult proposition to accept. From the project team’s point of view, it makes the most sense. If you are going to deliver more value, then of course you will need to charge more. Well, you clients don’t see thing this way.

First you will have to prove that there is more value. More value in past offerings may not be so hard, but more value than delivered from a competitor may be difficult to demonstrate, and this proposition becomes expensive fast. Remember, you must justify more cost, and that seldom works out well.

SAME VALUE AT LESS COST: This is an easy proposition to accept. Demonstrate that the change caused by the project does create the same value. Next, demonstrate how it costs less, or is easier to get, or easier to own, or easier to use. Take away the change risk and bam, you got it.

LESS VALUE AT LESS COST: This is a difficult proposition to accept. Know one wants less value, but the real challenge is to demonstrate that the less value isn’t as much as the less cost. You must show that even though you client will lose a little, the reduction in cost is worth it. Prepare for a long adoption process with this proposition.

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A Risk Boundary Problem

“If I concern my project with risk assessment, then my project targets such as Budget, Schedule, and quality become more reliable, but this will require me to define better project boundaries between strategy, program mandates, and project requirements.”

What is risk? The answer to this question depends on who answers it and the boundaries the individual establishes around themselves. If the answer comes from someone who is responsible for all processes within the Integrated PM system boundary, a clear answer can be expected. Risk is obvious when people own their processes. The owner is anxious about resources being well spent and not wasted, and that the results are acceptable. They want to maximize the chance of success and looks for clues to act upon. In other words, the owner deliberately sees risks and responds to them. If they grow nonchalant and detached, they don’t see many risks or don’t feel like acting upon them. When nonowners see risks, and communicate them to those who run the process, the result is conflict.

Risk arises from factors beyond our control. A designer may consider requirement analysis as a source of risk because it is external to him and he is not sure whether the analysis results will be communicated completely and correctly. This is a "dependency risk." A boundary is drawn around the process, and risks that threaten the process from across the boundary are seen. Risk perception has a built-in boundary perception. Risk definition has meaning only with reference to this boundary.

Within the process owner's boundary, a problem is not immediately seen as a risk, even if it happens to be vague and uncertain. The propensity is to assign the problem to process control and process management.

Across the boundary, the propensities change. A process owner has no influence beyond her boundary. Neighboring processes are alien and appear to be sources of risk. Problems tend to get labeled as risks.

When the boss of the SBU (strategic business unit) looks at the same risk from a larger perspective, the risk looks smaller and local. The risk appears to have occurred due to lack of cooperation between two process owners. She does not want to think of this local issue as a major risk, as things can improve through better management. If provoked, she may term this an internal risk that can be solved by taking internal measures. The SEU boss realizes that the better the management, the fewer the internal risks.

There are some sensitive internal conditions, such as when a PM chooses to run a project without adequate resources and authority. The processes have weaknesses that are well known to the stakeholders. Process weaknesses are potential breeding grounds for risks. But the PM may not have the resources, power, and influence to improve process capabilities. All the PM can do is mitigate the harmful effects, promote awareness of the risks, and prepare contingency plans. Risks have a different connotation in this case.

It is important to define internal risks, because they contribute to more than 65 percent of risks in a typical business environment.

Internal risks are solved by internal response plans. Most internal risks evoke short-term plans that operate within the life of the project. These are dependency risks that are solved by better coordination and risk communication. Some internal risks arise because of lack of process capability. There is no quick solution to such problems. This calls for a well-designed process improvement plan. The nature of improvement can be a series of continual improvements or kaizens, or a major breakthrough improvement of the Six Sigma style. Such improvements require more resources and time.

Yet another type of internal risk is seen on comparing growth objectives with current performance levels. Today is fine, but tomorrow may bring hurdles. Perception of such risks comes from long-term vision. If growth goals are taken seriously, one finds more risks. If growth goals are taken as secondary concerns, one does not see risks. I find that architects of the organization will detect growth-related risks, while most PMs don’t. When an organization is divided, more boundaries appear and employees see more internal risks. When the organization is integrated, such as in Integrated PM, internal risks are called process management issues. In an integrated organization with boundaries, collaborative efforts make up for weaknesses and create an organizational capability that is greater than the sum of individual process capabilities. This is the Integrated PM system with sub-components. In fragmented organizations, risks multiply.

Internal risk is the probability of suffering losses while pursuing performance and growth goals because of inadequacies in process capability (including core and support processes) and organizational structure.

Beyond the organizational boundary, however, things are different.

External conditions are beyond our control. There are risk factors beyond our sphere of influence. Competitors cut prices and marketing times almost ruthlessly. Social forces may erode staff loyalty. The PM sees external risks as threats and develops strategies to deal with them.

External risk is the probability of suffering loss while pursuing performance and growth goals because of uncer-tainties in external conditions.

There cannot be a better example of external risk than requirements.

The requirements keep changing; they "creep." The volatility of requirements is a perennial source of uncertainty and, hence, risk. Requirements go through a metamorphosis, becoming bigger and clearer in each phase of their evolution. Requirement evolution is a subject for continuous observation and modeling. Requirement volatility is beyond our control and is uncertain. Change is inevitable and is beyond prediction. When the requirement risk occurs, it can cause numerous problems for the project. Managers are aware of this. They cannot avoid it, but are prepared. Those who have mastered this risk, experience fewer surprises when requirements change.

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Take the Portfolio Management Leap

“If I wait to deploy portfolio management practices until the organization is using more mature Program and Project practices, then it will be easier to adopt portfolio management, but we won’t be able to leverage the capability of portfolio management to help mature other PM practices as well.”

Following Project Portfolio principles within your organization, regardless of your job title enables and strengthens many of today’s best-practices. Typically, before focusing on Project Portfolio practices, a higher level of Project and Program maturity must be achieved. Within Integrated PM, these practices are integrated, and seen as a single system happening simultaneously.

Given this system, the following capabilities are developed using Integrated PM. An iterative spiral of increased process maturity develops, due to the reinforcing feedback loop of your portfolios, that you may or may not even be aware of. This structure increases PM process maturity, which then increases portfolio management capabilities, which then enables better practices, which increases process maturity.

The message here is DON’T WAIT, start now, and your process will begin to mature, slowly at first, and more rapidly as capabilities grow. Focus your efforts in the following areas for the biggest initial benefit.

Organizational Change Management

Rapid changes in the economy, markets, technology, and regulations are forcing organizations to formulate new strategies or fine-tune the current ones more frequently than ever. As these strategies are translated into new initiatives supported by new programs and projects, portfolio management offers a framework to manage the change effectively. It helps you make the right investment decisions to generate value for stakeholders. It provides you with the right tools to rapidly alter the course of action in response to fast changes in the environment. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen change management practices will increase.

Clear Alignment

A well-designed and managed formal portfolio management process ensures that projects are aligned with the organizational strategy and goals at all times. New project ideas are evaluated for their alignment with the strategy and goals, and no projects are funded unless there is clear alignment. In addition, the degree of alignment is continuously monitored as the selected projects go through their individual life cycles. If an ongoing project no longer shows strong alignment, it may be terminated and the resources allocated to other higher priority projects. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen strategic alignment practices will increase.

Value Creation

Portfolio management helps you deliver value to your stakeholders by managing project investments through a structured and disciplined process. The justification for the projects is clearly identified by quantifying the expected benefits (both tangible and intangible) and costs. Only those projects that promise high-value and rank high against the competing ones throughout their life cycles are funded. Portfolio management gives you a bigger bang for your investment buck in the long run because you are managing the investments in a systematic fashion. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen value creation practices will increase.

Value Balancing

For a profit-driven company, the organizational goal may be to generate the maximum financial returns possible for the owners or shareholders. But if the projects selected for investment are based solely on financial value generation potential, interests of other key stakeholders may be compromised. PPM will help you create a balance among the projects to deliver not only financial value but other value forms as well. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen value balancing practices will increase.

Long-Term Risk Management

When projects are initiated and implemented without the portfolio framework, project sponsors and managers typically focus on the short-term risks related to the completion of the project and do not pay enough attention to the long-term risks and rewards. Furthermore, they are oblivious to the collective risk profile of the project investments. Under a portfolio structure, the risk-reward equation is examined for projects individually as well as collectively in the context of the overall business. By diversifying the investments and balancing the portfolio, you are able to create a proper mix of projects of different risk profiles and manage the risks more effectively. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen long-term risk management practices will increase.

Termination of Projects

Just because a project initially shows a strong business case does not nec-essarily mean it should continue to receive funding through its completion. Projects that no longer hold a strong business case as they go through their life cycles should be terminated. This helps you focus on those projects that will generate value and kill others, thereby maximizing the value of the portfolio as a whole. In most organizations, once a project receives authorization and enters into the implementation phase, it will most likely continue to receive funding until its completion. Terminating projects is a taboo in most organizations. It is a highly political and emotional issue for many decision makers and executives. Portfolio management helps make the project termination decisions more objective and less political or emotional. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen project end-of-life practices will increase.

Better and Faster Decision Making

Portfolio management brings more focus to the decision-making process, making it faster and more effective. An integral part of PPM, portfolio and project governance provides a formal structure and process for making go/ no-go project investment decisions. It places the responsibility of decision making in the hands of independent parties-rather than the project sponsors with possible self-interest that can evaluate competing projects more objectively using the same measurements, metrics, and standards. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen decision making practices will increase.

Reducing Redundancies

It is not uncommon in relatively large organizations to face a situation where the "left hand doesn't know what the right is doing." Organizational resources are sometimes wasted on different projects trying to produce the same output. The PPM process helps you eliminate or reduce redundancy yielding significant savings to the organization. When the portfolio management process is standardized across the whole enterprise, projects become more transparent and adequate checks and balances can help you detect redundancies early. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen redundancy-identification practices will increase.

Better Communications and Roadmapping

Many organizations have "silos" around each function that block effective communication, a critical ingredient of success for cross-functional projects. PPM is a mechanism that opens the channels of communication for people from various business and technical functions. Silos also undermine innovation that is critical to organizational success in today's hypercompetitive environment. PPM breaks the silo barriers creating opportunities for people to learn new insights from each other and become more innovative. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen communications and roadmapping practices will increase.

Efficient Resource Allocation

One of the biggest challenges for any organization is the efficient allocation of resources-both monetary and human. While every manager claims that she would like to see the biggest bang for her buck, only a few organizations have proper systems in place to prioritize her projects based on their return on investment. Allocation of the right people to the right projects at the right time is an even bigger challenge. You can rarely find a detailed inventory of the human resources vs. the project needs, that is, supply vs. demand. The situation becomes even worse when the project resources also have ad-ministrative and other operational responsibilities. One of the advantages of portfolio management is that it provides the structure and tools for efficient advance planning, needs prioritization, and resource allocation. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen resource allocation practices will increase.

Consistent Performance and Growth over Time

One of the key portfolio management processes is the evaluation of projects for their financial value-generating merit. This involves forecasting the future cash flows of every project and its outputs over its life cycle. Cash flow analysis for the entire portfolio over future time increments enables you to estimate any investment gaps and corresponding projects to match the growth targets of the organization. The portfolio thus can offer consistent long-term growth and performance for the organization. As Portfolio Management policies and practices are used, opportunities to strengthen performance and growth practices will increase. .

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Project Portfolios and the GOSPEL of Integrated PM.

"If I use the principles of project portfolio management, then I can drive increased value through projects, but our project management and program management practices aren’t mature enough for portfolio management."

The Project Portfolio G.O.S.P.E.L.

I tell my clients that I have one of the best jobs in the World; I go all over the world teaching the GOSPEL. That is, the GOSPEL of Integrated PM. This is a common acronym used to teach project strategic planning, and project portfolio management. These two disciplines are tightly coordinated within Integrated PM. Below I’ll quickly explain the acronym. They represent the fundamental capabilities required for a successful portfolio management process.


This represents the long-term purpose of your organization. A change here would require major structural reorganization, and seldom happens. Your goal in the GOSPEL, represents your organization’s mission. Many times, the goal of the organization isn’t even measured. Of course, this needs to change, as the Goal drives all other activity within the organization, and the activities of Integrated PM. Every system must have a single purpose, each sub-system within the system must also have a single purpose or ‘Goal. Every portfolio (or sub-portfolio) requires a goal.


During strategic planning the Goal is segmented into the Key Strategic Areas which your organization must be successful in for the Goal to be achieved. Normally there are three to six Key Strategic Areas. If you can’t identify enough Key Strategic Ares, go down a level in abstraction. If you identify too many Key Strategic Areas, the combine some and go up a level in abstraction. Success in these Key Strategic Areas is not an option, failure in one is failure in the organization as a system. They therefore, all have the same priority. These Key Strategic Areas are called objectives for ease.

In Integrated PM, Objectives join to achieve the organizational goal. Think of them as separate components within the same system. Objective measures are critical to portfolio value decisions, and balancing.


Because each of the organization’s objectives are so critical to your organizational success, you typically want to develop multiple strategies for accomplishing each objective which reduces the risk of failure. The strategy defines the operational concept, or technical approach to the objective. Strategies are typically controlled with guidelines, constraints, capabilities, and practical limitations.


Our project plans should be linked to one strategy. Of course, typically multiple projects and programs are normally linked to a single strategy, but where it makes sense, a single project might support multiple strategies. This is referred to as a many-to-many relationship. The best-practice here is to focus more on authority and responsibility than on links. The links are used for reporting, alignment scoring models, finance and resource balancing, and shouldn’t become structural constraints.


This is where the ‘rubber hits the road’ so to say. Your projects should cause strategic change when done right, but nothing can happen if resources aren’t available. Project ranking and prioritization enables limited resources to be applied where the most value can be produced. Once the portfolio management question can be answered, “Out of all the things that could be done, what should be done, given the limited resources?”, execution becomes paramount. The capacity plan kicks in at this point, and optimally places the right resources, at the right project, at the right time.


Now remember this, the entire purpose of this activity to drive change in the value indicators. There are six ways that projects can impact organizational value. Some of these value drivers cause change to the organization’s perceived value. While other drivers cause change to operational cost. At the end of the day, they all drive changes which increase the organization’s competitive advantage.

The question is, “How well did the project meet expectations?” Can we learn from the past, by measuring the present, to improve the future? This is the challenge of every Integrated PM team. To address this challenge, we use systems thinking and a measure framework that helps improve project portfolio decisions, resulting in improved project performance.

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Balancing Short-Termism with Systems Thinking: The Enterprise

“If there is mounting pressure to deliver short-term results at the enterprise level, then the first step in resisting the pressures of short-termism is to correctly identify their source, but what is the root cause of short-termism at the enterprise level?”

Short-termism in big business is still under debate for some people. One of these naysayers would inevitably point out that if there was really an issue then there should have been a downturn in corporate profits over the last fifty years. We’ve been doing okay, there has been a suspicious lack of such a trend, but it is also self-evident that indigenous innovation has been dropping since the 1970s. Corporations aren’t coming up with as many truly new ideas. We aren’t solving the big problems. That’s perhaps why we are still driving on non-renewable resources and all our cellphones, movies, computers, and clothes seem to be the same. So, the symptom of short-termism is not a change in profits, but the level of innovation and growth in corporations.

There are still innovative ideas, but it seems to be the trend more and more for big business to acquire innovative small businesses rather than invest in becoming innovative themselves. This conscious decision to forego innovation is solving the short-term need to put out a new or improved product, but only temporarily. The small innovative company is absorbed and constrained by the same red tape. But there is only so much a corporation can acquire before it becomes too cumbersome to react accordingly to the market.

Corporations were not always fixated on the short-term. At one time, they were a positive force that invested in their workers and new technologies, everyone was prospering, but then slowly and over the course of a few recessions, something changed. With this change, the world seemed to speed up and organizations started playing with a quarterly mindset. They had very little consideration for innovation or issues that cannot be solved in the term of ninety days. By continuously absorbing smaller companies, we are just making it harder and harder to make innovative fundamental corporate improvements, but why? What is the root cause of this disease?

The corporations that absorb small businesses are eliminating the competition. They are identifying areas for profit and revenue, as well as expediting innovation, to the point that innovation-through-acquisition inevitably becomes the cheaper option. The reality is that the pain of not doing anything right away is just as painful as when the symptoms returns. Corporations maintain this toxic loop to maximize shareholder value as reflected in the current stock price. For as long as the stock market and the government continue to operate on the short-term concepts, big business will follow.

Breaking this rather dangerous cycle might be impossible, but the ramifications can still be alleviated by first admitting that these corporations are in fact applying a quick fix that creates bigger issues in the next decade. After admitting the we are merely easing the indicators, we can start considering how to enhance long-term incentives and making slow-gestating innovative concepts less risky. In the business world, this might be adjusted tax codes, a reevaluation of corporate governance laws, and spread out compensation packages, so that perhaps we can start solving some of yesterday’s problems with tomorrow’s innovative ideas.

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What is Necessary to Satisfy Client’s Need for the Project?

“If a project planner must at least satisfy the client’s needs for a project to be successful, then the planner needs to know what’s necessary, but how do we determine the client’s wants over their needs in a project?”

As we all know, what a customer wants and needs are often two very different things. It is nothing less of an art form in many different professions to be able to discern what is more important, or in the very least, pick a side in Marshall Field’s motto “the customer is always right.”

In project management, when assigned a project, it is never good enough to leave it at face value and create only what was asked of you. Doing that won’t get you long-term praise, a solid foundation for growth, or even notoriety. To be better, you must determine if the customer wants the wrong deliverable, and then from there, gently lead them in the direction that would better satisfy their constraint. We do this through gathering information on current operations, success factors, core values, and the competitive landscape from the eyes of the customer.

This is easy to say, hard to do, because projects come from a myriad of sources. Projects can originate from daily task lists, strategic planning sessions, enterprise roadmaps, or simply a project request, but no matter the source, the first step is always the same. We need to determine the principle purpose, a list of major objectives/deliverables, standard phases, a timeline expressing due dates, and a project sponsor. It is in this first step of developing the project purpose that the true needs of the customer or the user should be separated from the desires.

To get the conversation underway and start gathering the necessary information, a project manager needs to organize meetings, first with the sponsor, and then with the client. The objective of these meetings is to listen. These are opportunities to refine our understanding of the current situation and the problem that the final deliverable is meant to solve. A strong leader strategically listens for the competitive landscape, core values, success factors, as well as current conditions. This is the information that you need to make the best project plan possible.

This delicate dance can be accomplished by presenting your initial understanding of the principle purpose and objectives. The project objectives are derived from the principle purpose as two to eight key components that the project must deliver or effect to be called a success. Each objective is a category for strategically delivering or achieving the project purpose, and therefore, the final deliverable.

The first meeting with the sponsor is designed to create a consensus before further refinement with the customer. You should present your understanding and then listen to what the sponsor and client says in response. In these meetings, ask questions designated to elicit information as well as repeat the information you have gleaned through the questioning. The deliverable of a project is not change itself, but always ushers in some sort of change to the organization. Obtaining the true project purpose is important, but delicate. Take care not to push too hard.

Any member of a project should want to answer the question, what is necessary to satisfy client’s need for the project? Why do your customers need you? Every organization needs a reason for their customers to buy from them, or use them, and not their competitors. Understanding this reality means that you can tailor your project to better match their needs rather than just their wants, so start digging for the truth.

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Val Workman
First of all, thanks for the post. In an IT organization, talking about a customer can be confusing, and talking about competition... Read More
Wednesday, 08 November 2017 11:05
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Balancing Short-Termism with Systems Thinking

“If modern economics pressures are demanding short-term results, then there is little to no time to focus on long-term growth, but how do you resist succumbing to false short-sighted solutions?”

The great wall of china took roughly 2,000 years to build. Today, it is absurd for a lot of organizations to prioritize long-term innovation or human capital investment over their quarterly earnings. And let’s face it, we will never get back to that 2,000-year mark when it comes to investments and planning, because modern economic pressures are continuously mounting to deliver more and more short-term results. It seems almost impossible to meet those short-term demands as well as achieve long-term growth, but by giving into purely the short-term, and therefore, pushing for a shorter and shorter planning phase, are we metaphorically shooting our own foot?

Inadequate planning was a contributing factor in the levies breaking in New Orleans during Katerina as well as the Galaxy Note 7 occasionally catching fire and exploding. Samsung could have had stronger quality control procedures and safety testing, but obviously, jumped a few steps to meet the market window. This malady of short-termism has infected us all; Corporate giant must acquire to survive, small business fighting fires without long-term goals, as well as high school students that can’t think past their next tweet, much less their long-term career aspirations.

The average person spends most of their time planning to the next month, maybe some the next 90 days, with little to no judicious investment in the future repercussions, and it should be said that that is no more sustainable in the long-term, than planning for the next few millenniums. It seems we must force ourselves to get better at making decisions based on long-term considerations by strategically balancing cost/resources as well as supply/demand at work as well as at home. To change our collective orientations and resist the pressure of short-termism, we must first correctly identify the root cause in any given situation, so join me in the investigation and take the first step to a well-planned future.

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Facilitating Integrated PM Projects (1 out of 11)

“If as a project manager I try to facilitate decisions, then the project team will feel more impowered, but they see me as always biased to my own desired outcome.”


In this opening blog post, I briefly illustrate the need for facilitation within the project management effort, define group facilitation, and give an overview of the Skilled Facilitator approach. We also see the key elements and how they fit together to form a values based systemic approach to facilitation and the larger Integrated PM effort.

There is a gap in the literature around what is needed from the portfolio, program, or project sponsor. Oh yes, a great deal has been said about the need of the Sponsor. But the literature is sparse on how to be a good sponsor.


Groups are becoming the basic work unit of organizations, as opposed to the individual. Increasingly, we turn to groups to bring together differing views, produce quality products and services, and coordinate complex world of projects. In doing so, we expect groups to work effectively so that the product of their efforts is greater than the sum of the parts. Yet our experience with groups often leaves us feeling disappointed or frustrated.

Project teams, or groups do not have to function in ways that lead to ineffective performance, make it difficult for members to work together, and frustrate members. Project teams can improve how they work. This blog post series is about helping project teams improve their effectiveness by using the facilitative skills of each other, the project manager and project sponsor. It is about helping all types of work groups: top management teams, boards, committees, work teams, cross-functional teams, interorganizational groups, quality groups, task forces, and employee-management or union -management groups. Anyone who works with others needs facilitative skills, not just the sponsor.

Organizational consultants, internal and external, need facilitative skills when they contract with clients, diagnose problems, and recommend solutions. Leaders and managers need facilitative skills to explore stakeholders' interests and to craft solutions based on sound data that generate commitment.

Because organizations change constantly, the need for facilitative skills to support change is always increasing. This applies to a merger or acquisition, or downsizing, and to efforts to improve the quality of products and services, empower employees, develop a shared vision, develop a self-managing work team, or develop an organizational culture that makes these changes possible.

Organizations typically use project teams to plan and implement change, and project teams typically need some form of facilitation. In addition, facilitative skills have become more important as organizations try to openly and constructively manage conflict arising from the change they try to create.

At the heart of improving project the team’s effectiveness lies the ability of project team members to reflect on what they are doing, to create the conditions necessary to achieve their goals. Project teams find it difficult to openly examine behavior on their own; they often need the help of a facilitator.


Group facilitation is a process in which a person whose selection is acceptable to all the members of the group, who is substantively neutral, and who has no substantive decision-making authority diagnoses and intervenes to help a group improve how it identifies and solves problems and makes decisions, to increase the group's effectiveness. In many cases, the PM is within the project team, and require someone outside of the team, such as the sponsor to facilitate project team performance.

The facilitator's main task is to help the group increase effectiveness by improving its process and structure.

Process refers to how a group works together. It includes how members talk to each other, how they identify and solve problems, how they make decisions, and how they handle conflict. Structure refers to stable recurring group process, examples being group membership or project team roles. In contrast, content refers to what a group is working on. The content of a group discussion might be whether to enter a new market, how to provide high-quality service to customers, or what each project team member's responsibilities should be.

Whenever a group meets, it is possible to observe both content and process. For example, in a discussion of how to provide high-quality service, suggestions about installing a customer hotline or giving more authority to those with customer contact reflect content. However, members responding to only certain colleagues' ideas or failing to identify their assumptions are facets of the group's process. Underlying the facilitator's main task is the fundamental assumption that ineffective group process and structure reduces a group's ability to solve problems and make decisions. Although research findings on the relationship between process and group effectiveness are mixed, the premise of this blog series is that by increasing the effectiveness of the group's process and structure the facilitator helps the group improve its performance and overall effectiveness.

The facilitator does not intervene directly in the content of the group's discussions; to do so would require the facilitator to abandon neutrality and reduce the group's responsibility for solving its problems. To ensure that the facilitator is trusted by all project team members and that the group's autonomy is maintained, the facilitator should be acceptable to all members of the group; this person needs to be substantively neutral- that is, display no preference for any of the solutions the group considers- and not have substantive decision-making authority.

In practice, the facilitator can meet these three criteria only if he or she is not a project team member. A group member may be acceptable to other members and may not have substantive decision making authority yet have a substantive interest in the group's issues. By definition, a group member cannot formally fill the role of facilitator. Still, a group leader or member can use the principles and techniques I describe in this blog series to help a project team. Effective leaders regularly facilitate their project teams as part of their leadership role.

To intervene means "to enter into an ongoing system" for the purpose of helping those in the system. The definition implies that the system, or group, functions autonomously- that is, the project team is complete without a facilitator. Yet the group depends on a facilitator for help. Consequently, to maintain the group's autonomy and to develop its long-term effectiveness, the facilitator's interventions should decrease the group's dependence on the facilitator. Ideally, the facilitator accomplishes this by intervening in a way that teaches group members the skills of facilitation.

The Approaches to Facilitation

This blog series will consist of the following posts covering the various approaches to facilitation, ending with the systems approach used within Integrated PM.

  1. The group effectiveness model
  2. A clearly defined facilitative role
  3. Useful in a range of roles
  4. Explicit core values
  5. Ground rules for effective groups
  6. The diagnosis-intervention cycle
  7. Low-level inferences
  8. Exploring and changing how we think
  9. A process for agreeing on how to work together
  10. A systems approach
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Mentoring New PMs (Part 8 of 8)

“If I help other PMs, then they will expect me to continue, but how do I sustain a coaching effort?”

Part 8: Accelerate and sustain the learner’s transformation

Ultimately, developers want learners to grow. However, some learners show little real growth from coaching because they have no real desire to change, although they may use coaching to get advice or to express and release pent-up frustration. Other learners make incremental changes- for example, learning new approaches for dealing with conflict, being able to lead with greater clarity and conviction, and being able to make important and wise decisions in a timely way. While these are valuable outcomes of the coaching process, the greatest value of the coaching experience is in the learner's making transformational change.

Transformational change requires learners to examine their fundamental patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. They need to assess what they truly want, realize that the fundamental obstacles to achieving these desires are often rooted in their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and recognize that they have real choices that are within their control. In addition, learners who make transformational changes continue to grow and develop throughout their lives.

The role of a PM plays an important part of the success of projects, but regardless of how proficient the PM is, organizational structure, technology, information flows, and process all play their part. The coach can often help the learner recognize those things that are out of their control, and those things that can be and should be changed.

REMINDER The learner may appear committed to change, but it is important to clarify whether the intended change is incremental or transformational. Always make sure the learner has a plan for change, or the growth will be difficult to sustain.


The following summary can serve as a coaching template and may be used for short-term, crisis, or long-term coaching.

-Determine Coaching Goals and Learner Motivation Make sure the goals can be accomplished in the time available and are linked to one or more of the learner's key motivators. -Assess the Learner's Level and Range of Self-Mastery, Then Use Level-Appropriate Coaching Approaches

  • Determine the learner's normal (average) level and range of self-mastery.
  • Select the development approach(es)that would be most effective with the learner, and experiment with these.

Use Coaching Techniques That Challenge Growth

Plan how you will use each of the four coaching techniques from this section, and use them at appropriate moments during the coaching process.

Head Center Challenge: "What if?"

What have you heard the learner say or imply that reflects a mental model or assumption you can challenge? How will you phrase this "What if?" challenge to the learner?

Heart Center Challenge: Recognizing and Leveraging Defense Mechanisms

When have you observed the learner use a particular defense mechanism? Would a direct or an indirect challenge be more effective? How would you phrase this defense mechanism challenge to the learner?

Body Center Challenge: "Why would you want to do that?"

What behavior has the learner stated that he or she plans to do? Do you think this is a wise course of action? How would you phrase this "Why would you want to do that?" challenge to the learner?

Transformative Paradoxical Challenge

What paradoxes have you observed in the learner? Select the most significant one. How would you phrase this paradoxical challenge to the learner? REMINDER Using an effective coaching challenge at an opportune moment stimulates the learner to grow at an accelerated pace. However, using too many techniques can interfere with excellent coaching, which is essentially an interaction between two human beings. Listening attentively, conveying respect for the learner, and being committed to the learner's growth are far more important than any technique.

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Mentoring New PMs (Part 7 of 8)

“If I want to coach other PMs, then we can have a more competitive organization, but I will have to deal with difficult personalities.”

Part 7: Use coaching techniques that challenge growth

Coaching is essentially a human experience. If developers forget this and either employ too many techniques or use techniques at the wrong time, they become more coaching technicians than developers who can make a difference in the lives of learners. The most important thing a developer can do for a learner is to listen in an active way. This includes hearing not only what is said, but also how it is said and what it means; recognizing, then encouraging or challenging, the learner's patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, particularly those that support or detract from the learner's goals and ultimate growth; and having the experience, intuition, and wisdom to know when to just listen and when to say or do something.

In addition, there are four coaching techniques that, when used at the right time, can make a big difference in the pace and depth of the learner's development. These techniques, described below, are actually supportive challenges and target the three Centers of Intelligence: the Head Center (mental), Heart Center (emotional), and Body Center (action).

Head Center Challenges: "What if?" Questions

"What if?" questions work well in situations in which the learner makes assumptions that something is absolutely true and inviolable. These assumptions are part of the learner's mental models; unexamined mental models limit a learner's understanding of what is truly possible and therefore reinforce current behavior.

After hearing the learner express an assumption, the developer poses a relevant "What if?" question.

During a coaching meeting, Hannah tells her manager that she is completely frustrated working with a specific client, whom she perceives as being overly opinionated and having poor listening skills and a belligerent attitude. Hannah says, "I'll never find a way to work well with this person."


"What if you could find a way to work effectively with this person, even if you still don't like the interactions?"

Before Hannah can develop a way to work effectively with this individual, she has to first believe that this is both possible and she is capable of doing so.

After Hannah responds to the "What if?" challenge with a statement that implies she recognizes that working effectively with someone like this is possible, the developer can then work with her on alternative tactics.

Heart Center Challenges: Recognizing and Leveraging Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological strategies used by indi-viduals to deal with uncomfortable and difficult situations. These mechanisms work to reduce a person's anxiety, sadness, and/ or anger and to maintain his or her self-image.

Developers need to recognize and learn to leverage the learner's defense mechanisms for two important reasons. First, the learner's defense mechanisms appear primarily when the learner is avoiding something. Thus, uncovering what lies beneath a defense mechanism is almost always a key to unlocking what the learner most needs to examine.

Second, the defense mechanism is often the most obvious manifestation of a learner's resistance to growth. When resistance is left unchecked, the progress of coaching will be severely compromised. Once a learner exhibits a defense mechanism, the developer can use either an indirect or a direct challenge, both of which are designed to highlight the defense mechanism and to explore the learner's avoidance or resistance. Indirect challenges are more subtle and less intrusive, but they may have less impact; direct challenges get the learner's attention faster, but they can heighten resistance and may be too strong for some learners.

Defense Mechanism- Distortion is a clearly incorrect and flagrant reshaping of external reality to meet a person's internal needs.

When Nathan spoke with his coach about his failure to garner approval for the new website vendor he had been asked to recommend, he was full of fury. Blaming his boss for not supporting his choice of vendor-claiming the boss had given him the authority to make this decision-Nathan also blamed the team he had created for refusing to advocate on his behalf. After listen-ing to Nathan for half an hour, his developer, Erin, became concerned. Nathan's furor and explanations were in direct conflict with prior information he had given her about how supportive his boss had been and how well the team had functioned. Because she perceived that Nathan was distorting what had really occurred, Erin decided to challenge Nathan's defense mechanism.


"To help me understand better, can you remind me of the original agreement you had with your manager about this, conversations you've had since then, the role of the committee you created, how often they've met, and how they have functioned? My memory of this doesn't match exactly what you're telling me now."


"I know you are very, very upset by this, and this may be causing you to distort some of what actually occurred. Let's talk about your feelings, then what actu-ally transpired."

Individuals of the community use a variety of defense mechanisms at different times; however, specific defense mechanisms are strongly associated with personality types, and these particular coping strategies are most obvious when the learner is dealing with difficult issues.

Body Center Challenges: "Why would you want to do that?"


Although learners may say they both want and plan to change something, they may possess neither a deep desire to make the change nor the necessary will and endurance. Learners usually expect the developer to respond by saying, "That's great. How will you go about doing it?" Consequently, a "Why would you want to do that?" question, stated in a neutral voice, constructively challenges learners to reflect more deeply on their wishes and intentions. As a result of the "Why would you want to do that?" question, the learner either changes his or her course of action or becomes more deeply committed to the original plan.

In a coaching meeting with his mentor, Michael says, "I've decided what to do about the promotion I want. I'm going to get a degree-one that is not required but is suggested for the job."


CHALLENGE "Why would you want to go back to school for a degree?"

The "Why would you want to do that?" challenge is also useful when learners articulate a plan of behavior that could be counterproductive to their goals or best interests. For example, if the learner says to the developer, 'I’m going to walk into my coworker's office and tell this person that the work he/ she produces is the lowest quality I have ever received;' the developer would say, "Why would you want to do that?" After listening to the response, the developer can help the learner explore his or her anger and realize that there are alternative ways to communicate with the coworker about the issue.

Transformative Challenges: Paradoxes

Paradoxes, or apparent contradictions, pose frustrating yet motivating dilemmas for learners. The learner's paradox is this: The learner truly wants something and believes that his or her behavior is designed to achieve that result. However, more often than not, the learner's own behavior is the primary impediment to the achievement of the desired goal. After developers issue a paradoxical challenge, they need to remain silent so that learners feel compelled to resolve the paradox themselves. Developers who are learning the paradoxical challenge technique can use the following structure: "Although you say you want X, your behavior actually creates Y."

The following example illustrates how to use the paradox technique to stimulate learners to change.

Jake desperately wanted recognition and influence in his firm. However, he was regularly late for staff meetings, and he often had not read the premeeting materials that had been assigned as preparation. As a result, he often asked questions during the meetings on topics that had already been covered in the premeeting materials or discussed at the meeting prior to his arrival.

Jake deeply desires recognition and influence; however, his lateness and lack of preparation create the impression that he does not take the work seriously, thus undermining both the recognition he receives and the amount of influence he wields in the firm


"Jake, let's examine your behavior both before and during staff meetings, and then let's analyze how this behavior may actually be affecting your degree of influence and the extent to which you get recognition."

The paradoxical challenges are deep-level paradoxes that should be used only with moderate or high self-mastery learners. Low self-mastery learners are not in a psychological state to handle the complexity and ambiguity inherent in the resolution of this level of paradox, and deep-level or complex paradoxes can increase their anxiety. While less powerful paradoxes can be used with these learners, developers should do so with caution.

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What is Project Risk?

“If I perform risk management for a project, we might be more successful, but I’m not sure what risk really is.”

The original meaning of risk is associated with gambling- to risk is to gamble. When we take risks, there is a chance of gaining and perhaps an equal chance of losing. Project risk has evolved to mean more.

Uncertainty in business ventures has come to be known as risk. Every business venture is basically risky. In new business ventures, project initiatives, and new product development, there are unknown factors and their impacts on the venture are equally unknown. The unknown factors could be favorable or unfavorable. There is a probability that one may either gain or lose business value. However, a loss may hurt the venture. Most business ventures like to assess the probability of loss and compare it with the probability of gain. The decision to go ahead depends on whether the odds are favorable or unfavorable. Risk is the probability of suffering loss. Using this approach, the PMO or Project Steering Committee will not pursue a venture that has a risk probability greater than 49 percent. The odds must be in favor of winning the gamble, even though the tilt is marginal.

Definition 1.1: Risk is the probability of suffering loss.

A refinement of this definition is to include goals, gains, or opportunities in the statement. Perhaps it is implied and obvious that risks relate to gains. Nevertheless, if risks are divorced from the associated goals, then one sees just a set of problems. A risk list should not be reduced to a problem list. Risks have a much broader role to play. We should always include the expected and potential gains that a project offers in the risk assessment.

Definition 1.2: Risk is the probability of suffering loss while pursuing goals

Then there is the consideration of the magnitude of harm from the risk. What will its impact be? The consequence of the risk is evaluated. If the harm is tolerable but the gains are attractive, new decision rules can emerge. One may even take a risk where the occurrence probability is greater than 50 percent. The threshold is not 49 percent. Risk is seen as a weighed parameter and can fluctuate. The weight is based on the magnitude of loss due to risk, if the risk ever occurs.

Risk magnitude is measured using many different estimation methods. When the estimations form a range; such as a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 20, for a measure you want to maximize. You would compute half the distance between the max and min which is 4. Your estimate magnitude is 16 (the mean of the two numbers) with a risk of 4. 4 is 25% of 16, so you might report a risk magnitude of 25%. My point here is magnitude is dealt with in multiple ways.

Risk is defined as the combination of probability of occurrence and the magnitude of loss it causes. This combination is also known as risk exposure. The new definition below takes this into consideration.

Definition 1.3: Risk is the combination of probability and magnitude of loss.

Typically, project risk is defined and measured using Definition 1.3. Measure-ment of risk is often a subjective process. Both the probability and loss are measured using linguistic measures such as "high," "medium," and "low" which are nominal metrics. What matters is not just the risk, but its intensity, measured as risk exposure. Will the risk occur? What will the harm be? These are more significant questions than, "What is the risk?"

A clarification is due at this juncture. If loss occurs because of factors within our control, it is not considered as a risk. Only factors beyond our control give rise to risk. This is the general perception that makes risk management simple. Internal factors are within our control. Hence, only external factors that contribute to loss, which are not under the project manager’s direct control, qualify as risk factors. When this notion prevailed, people believed that they had not caused the risks.

Sometimes, processes are not in control and results are not predictable or what were intended. Such losses become risks. In this case, the origin is not the criterion - predictability and control are important factors. Hence, a complete risk definition would be:

Definition 1.4: Risk is the probability of suffering loss while pursuing goals due to factors that are unpredictable or beyond the PM’s control.

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Action Research

“If I look for better ways to manage projects, then I can increase competitive advantage for our entire organization, but it’s hard for organizations to learn from their activities.”

Whatever way you look at Action Research, you’ll find it the favorite of project managers, and by the way, the most valuable part of being in a community. The purpose of action research is to develop new skills or new approaches and to solve problems with direct application to your project, Integrated PM methods, or within the working PM setting.


  • An Integrated PM training program to help train PMs to work more effectively with project team members; to develop an exploratory program leveraging less approval points for efficiency; to solve the problem of apathy in chartering meeting with the project sponsor; to test a fresh approach to interesting more clients in project progress prior to project completion.
  • A community initiative to get more community members contributing their thoughts and solutions in the community forum called Straight Talk.
  • Teaching site visitors how to use the pmNERDS’ website annotation features to further their Integrated PM studies Characteristics:
  • Practical and directly relevant to an actual situation in the working Integrated PM world. The subjects are the project managers, the sponsors, community members, or others with whom you are primarily involved. Provides an orderly framework for problem-solving and new developments that are superior to the impressionistic, fragmentary approach that otherwise typifies develop¬ments in project management. It also is empirical in the sense that it relies on actual observations and behavioral data, and does not fall back on subjective committee "studies" or opinions of people based on their past experience.
  • Flexible and adaptive, allowing changes during the trial period and sacrificing control in favor of responsiveness and on-the-spot experimentation and innovation.
  • While attempting to be systematic, action research lacks scientific rigor because its internal and external validity are weak. Its objective is situational, its sample is restricted and unrepresentative, and it has little control over independent variables. Hence, its findings, while useful within the practical dimensions of the situation, do not directly contribute to the general body of Integrated PM knowledge.


  1. Define the problem or set the goal. What is it that needs improvement or that might be developed as a new skill or solution?
  2. Review the literature to learn whether others have met similar problems or achieved related objectives.
  3. Formulate testable hypotheses or strategies of approach, stating them in clear, specific, pragmatic language.
  4. Arrange the research setting and spell out the procedures and conditions. What are the tasks you will perform in an attempt to meet your objectives?
  5. Establish evaluation criteria, measurement techniques, and other means of acquiring useful feedback.
  6. Analyze the data and evaluate the outcomes.
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Quasi Experimental Research

“If we used a true experimental research method, then we would have the best-results, but we can’t control all the relevant state variables.”

Many times, our clients don’t have the time, or variable control required for true experimental research, but still need estimates to provide direction for their performance improvement initiatives. In these cases, they can approximate the conditions of the true experiment in a setting which does not allow the control and/or manipulation of all relevant variables. The researcher must clearly understand what compromises exist in the internal and external validity of the design, and proceed within these limitations.


  1. To investigate the effects of spaced versus massed task execution in the to-do lists for project teams without being able to assign team members to the test at random or to supervise closely the execution of their tasks.
  2. To assess the effectiveness of three approaches to teaching basic principles and concepts in Integrated PM when some of the teachers could inadvertently volunteer for one of the approaches because of its impressive-looking materials.
  3. Project value realization research involving a pretest-posttest design in which such variables as maturation, effects of testing, statistical regression, selective attrition, and stimulus novelty or adaptation, are unavoidable or overlooked.
  4. Most studies of business unit problems of late projects, poor quality, cost over runs, or instances of canceled projects, where control and manipulation are not always feasible.


  1. Quasi-experimental research typically involves applied settings where it is not possible to control all the relevant variables but only some of them. The researcher gets as close to the true experimental rigor as conditions allow, carefully qualifying the important exceptions and limitations. Therefore, this research is characterized by methods of partial control based on a careful identification of factors influencing both internal and external validity.
  2. The distinction between true and quasi-experimental research is tenuous, particularly where human subjects are involved as in projects. A careful study of the relative nature of this distinction as a matter of approximation on a continuum between "one-shot case studies" of an action research nature to experimental-control group designs with randomization and rigorous man¬agement of all foreseeable variables influencing internal and external validity.
  3. While action research can have quasi-experimental status, it is often so unformalized as to deserve separate recognition. Once the research plan systemati¬cally examines the validity question, moving out of the intuitive and exploratory realm, the beginnings of experimental methodology are visible.

Steps in Quasi-Experimental Research: The same as with true experimental research, carefully recognizing each limitation to the internal and external validity of the design.

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True Experimental Research

“If we research practices to identify project constraints, then we can identify ways to improve project performance, but how do we know we can trust our findings before we commit irrevocable resources into the performance improvement effort?”

The perspective of Integrated PM is perfect for true experimental research, and performance improvement. This is how a program center can finally explore the correlations and interconnections between all the facets of the project, and other projects within the program and portfolio. This True Experimental Research is the investigation of possible cause-and-effect relationships by exposing one or more experimental groups to one or more treatment conditions, and comparing the results to one or more control groups not receiving the treatment.


  1. To investigate the effects of two methods of new practice implementation as a function of project size (Maintenance & Utility, Enhancement & Improvement, and Transformational) and levels of PM experience (high, average, low), using random assignment of projects and project manager experience levels to method and business unit.
  2. To investigate the effects of a new practice training program on the organization’s project managers using experimental and control groups who are either exposed or not exposed to the program, respectively, and using a pretest-posttest design in which only half of the project managers randomly receive the pretest to determine how much of a performance change can be attributed to pretesting or to the training program.
  3. To investigate the effects of two methods of project value realization evaluation on the performance of project teams within the business unit. N in this study would be the number of project teams, rather than project managers, and the method would be assigned by stratified random techniques such that there would be a balanced distribution of the two methods to projects across the business unit.

Characteristics of Experimental Designs:

  1. True experimental research requires rigorous management of experimental variables and conditions either by direct control manipulation or through randomization.
  2. Typically uses a control group as a baseline against which to compare the group(s) receiving the experimental treatment.
  3. Concentrates on the control of variance:
    • To maximize the variance of the variable(s) associated with the research hypotheses.
    • To minimize the variance of extraneous or "unwanted" variables that might affect the experimental outcomes, but are not themselves the object of study.
    • To minimize the error or random variance, including so-called errors of measurement.

Random selection of subjects, random assignment of subjects to groups, and random assignment of experimental treatments to groups yield the best solution.

Internal validity is the ‘sine qua non’ of research design and the first objective of experimental methodology. It asks the question: Did the experimental manipulation in this study really make a difference?

External validity is the second objective of experimental methodology. It asks the question: How representative are the findings and can the results be generalized to similar circumstances and subjects?

In classic experimental design, all variables of concern are held constant except a single treatment variable which is deliberately manipulated or allowed to vary. Advances in methodology such as factorial designs, analysis of variance and multiple regression now allow the experimenter to permit more than one variable to be manipulated or varied concurrently across more than one experimental group.

This permits the simultaneous determination of

  • the effects of the principal independent variables (treatments),
  • the variation associated with classificatory variables, and
  • the interaction of selected combinations of independent and/or classificatory variables.

While the experimental approach is the most powerful because of the control it allows over relevant variables, it is also the most restrictive and artificial. This is a major weakness in applications involving human subjects in real world situations, since resources often act differently if their behavior is artificially restricted, manipu¬lated, or exposed to systematic observation and evaluation.

Seven Steps in Experimental Research:

  1. Survey the literature relating to the problem.
  2. Identify and define the problem.
  3. Formulate a problem hypothesis, deducing the consequences, and defining basic terms and variables.
  4. Construct an experimental plan:
    • Identify all nonexperimental variables that might contaminate the experiment, and determine how to control them.
    • Select a research design.
    • Select a sample of subjects to represent a given population, assign subjects to groups, and assign experimental treatments to groups.
    • Select or construct and validate instruments to measure the outcome of the experiment.
    • Outline procedures for collecting the data, and possibly conduct a pilot or "trial run" test to perfect the instruments or design.
    • State the statistical or null hypothesis.
  5. Conduct the experiments.
  6. Reduce the raw data in a manner that will produce the best appraisal of the effect which is presumed to exist.
  7. Apply an appropriate test of significance to determine the confidence one can place on the results of the study.
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Correlational Research

“If we compare project managers to the project performance, then we might understand what is causing good project performance, but we don’t understand how to conduct good correlational studies.”

Have you ever wondered just what caused you bad hair day? This is the purpose of ‘Correlational Research’, well not really. It’s not this at all, but we can still benefit from the research. The purpose is to investigate the extent to which variations in one factor of Integrated PM correspond with variations in one or more other project factors based on correlation coefficients.


  • A study investigating the relationship between charter existence as the criterion variable and a few of the variables for successful projects.
  • A factor-analytic study of several personality tests of the project manager.
  • A study to predict success in project performance based on intercorrelation patterns for task variables.

Characteristics: Appropriate where variables are very complex and/or do not lend themselves to the experimental method and controlled manipulation. Correlational Research permits the measurement of several variables and their interrelationships simultane¬ously and in a realistic setting. It gets at the degrees of relationship rather than the all-or-nothing question posed by experimental design: "Is an effect present or absent?"

Weakness: Among its limitations are the following:

  • It only identifies what goes with what-it does not necessarily identify cause-and-effect relationships.
  • It is less rigorous than the experimental approach because it exercises less control over the independent variables.
  • It is prone to identify spurious relational patterns or elements which have little or no reliability or validity.
  • The relational patterns are often arbitrary and ambiguous.
  • It encourages a "shot-gun" approach to research, indiscriminately throwing in data from miscellaneous sources and defying any meaningful or useful interpretation.


  1. Define the problem.
  2. Review the literature.
  3. Design the approach:
  4. Identify the relevant variables.
  5. Select appropriate subjects.
  6. Select or develop appropriate measuring instruments.
  7. Select the correlational approach that fits the problem.
  8. Collect the data.
  9. Analyze and interpret the results.


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Causal - Comparative Research

“If we want to reduce the amount of changes made at the end of our projects, then we need to find out the causes to so many changes, but that means we should do causal-comparative research.”

Nowadays they tell us that the Boston Massacre wasn’t really what it was claimed to be. What was the cause? There are times that we might feel discovering the cause of project problems might be just as unpopular as digging around in the Boston Massacre. But if you must, then do it right.

One of the most common research methods used in Integrated PM is the Causal-Comparative research method. It’s used to investigate possible cause-and-effect relationships by observing some existing consequence (effect) and searching back through the data for plausible causal factors. This contrasts with the experimental method which collects its data under controlled conditions in the present.


  1. To identify factors characterizing persons having either high or low approval rates, using data from past project records.
  2. To determine the attributes of effective project sponsors as defined, for example, by their realized project value. Portfolio and program records over the past five years are then examined, comparing these data to the number of innovative projects or several other factors.
  3. To look for patterns of behavior and achievement associated with project manager experience differences, using descriptive data on project behavior and project value achievement.

Principal Characteristics: Causal-comparative research is "ex post facto" in nature, which means the data are collected after all the events of interest have occurred. The investigator then takes one or more effects (dependent variables) and examines the data by going back through time, seeking out causes, relationships, and their meanings.

Strengths: The causal-comparative method is appropriate in many circumstances where the more powerful experimental method is not possible. It is used when it is not always possible to select, control, and manipulate the facts necessary to study cause-and-effect relations directly. It also can be used when the control of all variations except a single independent variable may be highly unrealistic and artificial, preventing the normal interaction with other influential variables. Of course, with most project conditions, it is used when laboratory controls for many research purposes would be impractical, costly, or ethically questionable.

Note: The experimental method involves both an experimental and a control group. Some treatment "A" is given the experimental group, and the result "B" is observed. The control group is not exposed to "A" and their condition is compared to the experimental group to see what effects "A" might have had in producing "B." In the causal-comparative method, the investigator reverses this process, observing a result "B" which already exists and searches back through several possible causes ("A" type of events) that are related to "B."

  1. It yields useful Integrated PM information concerning the nature of phenomena: what goes with what, under what conditions, in what sequences and patterns, and the like.
  2. Improvements in techniques, statistical methods, and designs with partial control features, in recent years involving Integrated PM, have made these studies more defensible.

Weaknesses: The main weakness of any ex post facto design is the lack of control over independent variables. Within the limits of selection, the investigator must take the facts as they are found with no opportunity to arrange the conditions or manipulate the variables that influenced the facts in the first place. To reach sound conclusions, the investigator must consider all the other possible reasons or plausible rival hypotheses which might account for the results obtained. To the extent that the conclusions can be successfully justified against these other alternatives puts the investigator in a position of relative strength. The difficulty in being certain that the relevant causative factor is included among the many factors under study.

  1. The complication that no single factor is the cause of an outcome but some combination and interaction of factors go together under certain conditions to yield a given outcome. A phenomenon may result not only from multiple causes but also from one cause in one instance and from another cause in another instance.
  2. When a relationship between two variables is discovered, determining which is the cause and which the effect may be difficult.
  3. The fact that two or more factors are related does not necessarily imply a cause-and-¬effect relationship. They all simply may be related to an additional factor not recognized or observed. Classifying subjects into dichotomous groups (e.g., "Achievers" and "Non-achievers") for comparison is fraught with problems, since categories like these are vague, variable, and transitory. Such investigations often do not yield useful findings.
  4. Comparative studies in natural situations do not allow controlled selection of subjects. Locating existing groups of subjects who are similar in all respects except for their exposure to one variable is extremely difficult.


  1. Define the problem.
  2. Survey the literature. State the hypotheses. List the assumptions upon which the hypotheses and procedures will be based.
  3. Design the approach:
    • Select appropriate subjects and source materials.
    • Select or construct techniques for collecting the data.
    • Establish categories for classifying data that are unambiguous, appropriate for the study, and capable of bringing out significant likenesses or relationships.
  4. Validate the data-gathering techniques.
  5. Describe, analyze, and interpret the findings in clear, precise terms.
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Building a Healthy and Thriving Organization

“If an organization is a system like the human body, then it too needs routine checkups, but what symptoms denote an unhealthy or toxic system?”

An organization is a system of moving parts like the human body, and like the human body, sometimes an organization becomes unhealthy, and is therefore, in desperate need of a checkup. Performance improvement strategies are synonymous with providing organizations with this required checkup. At pmNERDS, we enjoy a good checkup, there is a flow and pattern to the actions, after doing for a while we start to perceive the issue before we have the proof. Performance reviews of organizations provide clarity, and over time it is clear, communication is a common point of tension in unhealthy organizations. No matter the situation, people want to have a purpose and need to be appreciated.

In the human body, cells are constantly communicating, and when a cell does not respond, fails to send the message, or responds incorrectly, much bigger issues begin to appear as a result. Diabetes is a result of cells in the pancreas not releasing or unable to receive the necessary signal, known as insulin. Multiple Sclerosis is a nerve cell communication disease in which the affected nerve cells cannot transmit a signal correctly and a similar argument can be made for cancer, excitotoxicity, asthma, as well as others.

A system becomes toxic and unhealthy when there is a breakdown in communication, which enviably leads to a lack of sensitivity and common commitment. This is true even at the individual level, our interactions with others triggers instinctual responses. It can be a positive response, being open and transparent during a meeting encourages others to be the same. This produces higher levels of understanding, collaboration, and trust. On the other hand, not delegating decisions to anyone, creates a precedent for others to do the same. This produces breakdowns in communication, high levels of territoriality, and misunderstanding.

Just like our bodies, an organization needs to be monitored for communication breakdowns. It is everyone’s responsibility to create a healthy work environment, even if that sometimes means getting an annual checkup to preemptively scan for any ambiguous symptoms present in the system. Performance improvement activities are a way to get ahead of the illness or the infection before it even has a chance to take root in an organization. We are here to make you even better.

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Case & Field Study Research

“If I gain a wholistic understanding of why projects succeed and fail, then I can take measures to encourage success, but I’m not sure of how to conduct this kind of investigation.”

I don’t know. Living out with the wild creatures doesn’t seem like my cup of tea. But I’m glad someone is doing it. My wife and I love watching the films, but don’t need the dirty and danger part. It’s a good thing that while studying Integrated PM you rarely need to live with the Lions. Can you imagine hiding behind a rock or bush building a case study for someone?

The case and field study method is used to intensively study the background, status, and cultural interactions of a given business unit: an individual, project team, program, or enterprise.


  • Many of my clients have benefited from a study of past projects to define a set of common project life-cycle stages.
  • An in-depth study of an individual working in a specific job role who either excels above others, or is consistently a low performer to explain the anomalies.
  • An intensive study of a "project team" culture and communication styles in a business unit.
  • A study of projects within a portfolio examining the interconnections of state variables and objective dependencies.

Characteristics: Case studies are in-depth investigations of a given business unit resulting in a complete, well-organized picture of that unit. Depending upon the purpose, the scope of the study may encompass an entire project life cycle or only a selected segment; it may concentrate upon specific factors or take in the totality of elements and events.

Compared to a survey study which tends to examine a small number of variables across a large sample of units, the case study tends to examine a small number of units across a large number of variables and conditions.

Strengths: Case studies are particularly useful as background information for planning major capital projects and programs. Because they are intensive, they bring to light the important variables, processes, and interactions that deserve more extensive attention. They are a part of strategic planning, may pioneer new ground, and often are the source of fruitful hypotheses for further projects. Case study data provide useful anecdotes or examples to illustrate more generalized statistical findings.

Weaknesses: Because of their narrow focus on a few business units, case studies are limited in their representativeness. They do not allow valid generalizations to the enterprise or beyond where they came until the appropriate follow-up research is accomplished, focusing on specific hypotheses and using proper sampling methods.

Case studies are particularly vulnerable to subjective biases. The case itself may be selected because of it's dramatic, rather than typical, attributes; or because it neatly fits the researcher’s preconceptions. To the extent selective judgments rule certain data in or out, or assign a high or low value to their significance, or place them in one context rather than another, subjective interpretation is influencing the outcome.


  1. State the objectives. What is the unit of study and what characteristics, relationships, and processes will direct the investigation?
  2. Design the approach. How will the units be selected? What sources of data are available?
  3. What data collection methods will be used?
  4. Collect the data.
  5. Organize the information to form a coherent, well-integrated reconstruction of the unit being studied.
  6. Report the results and discuss their significance. 

The case study is a perfect launching point to provide focus in further studies and for establishing internal common grounds in programs.

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Descriptive Research

“If I use observation, surveys, and market evidence to test developed hypothesizes, then I may discover important concepts, but I’m not sure how to do it, and I may lead myself off track.”

Keith Goffin, author of ‘Identifying Hidden Needs’ indicates “that a survey researcher asks people questions in a written questionnaire … or during an interview, then records answers. The researcher manipulates no situation or condition; people simply answer questions.” The trick is to gather information without influencing it.

The descriptive research method is a common practice for performance and process improvement within the world of projects. The desire is to describe systematically the facts and characteristics of a given team, organization, or set of projects, factually and accurately.

Some examples of this method include:

  • An opinion survey to assess the perceived value of an IT line of service.
  • A team survey to review the effectiveness of a project workflow.
  • A study and definition of all job roles within a business unit.
  • A report of project completion status ‘On Time’ vs. ‘Late.’

Descriptive research is used in the literal sense of describing situations or events. It is the accumulation of a data base that is solely descriptive- it does not necessarily seek or explain relationships, test hypotheses, make predictions, or get at meanings and impli¬cations, although research aimed at these more powerful purposes may incorporate descriptive methods. In this way, historic records of completed projects, and related values of state variables support descriptive research.

Research authorities, however, are not in agreement on what constitutes "descriptive research" and often broaden the term to include all forms of research except historical and experimental. In this broader context, the term survey studies are often used to cover the examples listed above.

Typical purpose of these ‘Survey Studies’ include:

  • To collect detailed information that describes existing phenomena.
  • To identify problems or justify current conditions and practices.
  • To make comparisons and evaluations.
  • To determine what others are doing with similar problems or situations and benefit from their experience in making plans and decisions.

The steps for conducting Descriptive Research are:

  1. Define the objectives in clear, specific terms. What facts and characteristics are to be uncovered? .
  2. Design the approach. How will the data be collected? How will the subjects be selected to insure they represent the population to be described? What instruments or observa¬tion techniques are available or will need to be developed? Will the data collection methods need to be field-tested and will data gatherers need to be trained? .
  3. Collect the data. .
  4. Report the results.
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Developmental Research

“If I studied past projects, then I could identify areas of improved performance, but I’d like an overview of the process before beginning.”

Ok, I’ve got a real fancy pants set of words for you today, “Developmental Research.” Yes, it is a R&D method, but we already are doing this less formally at some time. In fact, that’s the case with most of the methods in this series.

The purpose for developmental research methods are to investigate patterns and sequences of growth and/or change as a function of time. Of course, this becomes an essential method of most project performance improvements initiatives.

Some examples of Developmental Research would include:

  • A project study that involves repeated observations of the same set state variables (e.g., project or task durations) over long periods of time.
  • Quality studies directly measuring the nature and rate of changes in a sample of the same work products being delivered in different quarters.
  • Cross-sectional growth studies indirectly measuring the nature and rate of the same state variable changes by drawing samples of different projects from representative business units over time.
  • Trend studies designed to establish patterns of change in the past to predict future patterns or conditions.

Some common characteristics of developmental research include focuses on the study of variables and their development over a period of months or years. It asks, ''What are the patterns of growth, their rates, their directions, their sequences, and the interrelated factors affecting these characteristics?"

The sampling problem in this method is complicated by the limited number of subjects it can follow over the years; any selective factor affecting attrition biases the study. If the threat of attrition is avoided by sampling from a stable population, this introduces unknown biases associated with such populations. Furthermore, once underway, the method does not lend itself to improve¬ments in techniques without losing the continuity of the procedures. Finally, this method requires the continuity of staff and financial support over an extended period and typically is confined to a specific business unit or program that can maintain such an effort.

Cross-sectional studies involving developmental research usually include more subjects, but describe fewer growth factors than single unit studies. While the latter is the only direct method of studying project team development, the cross-sectional approach is less expensive and faster since the actual passage of time is eliminated by sampling different project managers across organizations.

Sampling in the cross-sectional method is complicated because the same project managers are not involved with the same projects and may not be comparable. To generalize intrinsic developmental patterns from these sequential samples of projects runs the risk of confusing differences due to development with other differences between the groups that are artifacts of the sampling process.

Trend studies are vulnerable to unpredictable factors that modify or invalidate trends based on the past. In general, long-range prediction is an educated guess while short-range prediction is more reliable and valid.

The steps for conducting developmental research are:

  1. Define the problem or state the objectives.
  2. Review the literature to establish a baseline of existing information and to compare research methodologies including available instruments and data collection techniques.
  3. Design the approach.
  4. Collect the data.
  5. Evaluate the data and report the results.
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