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Episode 114: “How to Use PPM Data to Anticipate the Future”

In this episode we welcome back on the show Lee R. Lambert. Lee is one of the godfathers of the PPM industry. He’s one of only a few people worldwide to be made a fellow of the PMI. He’s also an author of the best-selling book Project Management: The Common Sense Approach, and he has led change management programs at some of the world’s leading corporations and institutions, including IBM, GE and the United States’ government’s Department of Energy. In this interview, Lee discusses “how to use PPM data to anticipate the future”.


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Transcript from Episode 114: “How to Use the PPM Data to Anticipate the Future” with Lee Lambert

Lee, you have a lot of experience under your belt. You worked a lot with universities, with government agencies. Tell us a little about what you have done in the past and how it brings you to where you are today.

When you introduce me, you have a really nice way of saying that I am old, which I am. I’ve been doing this for about 50 years in a variety of industries. What I found is that the project management sort of fits in every environment, whether it is research or product development or new improved systems, project management really becomes the focal point of success when it comes to completing those projects and getting them done.

I started out with General Electric back in the 1970s when I really learned about what is important from a profit-making standpoint. Then I also moved into the not-for-profit environment where I learned that managing projects effectively really made the difference between not-for-profit and not-for-lost.

So, I’ve been doing it for a long time and in the olden days back when I first started, you know, we did it the old-fashioned way. We used a couple of tools we had available to us at the time, and we called that paper-and-pencil and we had a lot of manual activities to get the kind of information that we needed. Just to look at the historical information, think about project information into the future, so what I kind of become aware of, through my work environment, is that really the biggest benefit of having good, sound integrated project management information comes in being able to predict the future and then make a decision whether that’s where you want to go or not. I think it’s important.

This topic is important for people to understand – that we can’t change history, we can only change the future so the more we can extract out of history and apply into the future, the more likely we will make more sophisticated and more beneficial decisions. When I came across the whole PPM space, that’s when I came into contact with what we call enterprise applications for organizations. Now we can use the terminology PPM, project portfolio management, whatever you want to call it, the fact of the matter is that it provides a base for information to increase and improve our decision-making capabilities, and it provides us with decision-support information much more quickly and much more simply than anything we had in the past.

How do we ensure in an organization that we are creating a meaningful PPM database?

There lies the problem. The problem we have is that no matter how good the PPM is, if it is built on a weak foundation, it’s not going to add that much value. So, what we have to do in order to capitalize on PPM capability is substantially strengthen the effort we put into planning so that when we started planning the project we are thinking about all the elements, all the issues that can come up and rebuild those into the plan.

Once we have a solid plan, there is a formal name for it, a performance measurement baseline. It basically says that we now plan the project to the effect we believe we’ve eliminated the bulk of the risk assessment issues. Now the plan that we can begin the work forward from, this takes input from all parts of the organization. Again, another reason PPM is so important is that it ties together, it integrates at all the components of the organization, not just the project management portion, the finance, the quality, the HR. Everything is integrated into this PPM approach where we can slice and dice information in a different way. If you don’t take time, if you don’t invest time to create that performance measurement baseline, then what you get with the PPM is bad information faster, and that’s not what we are after. We are after the good information faster, that leads to better, more effective decisions.

In practice, how difficult is it to integrate all of that PPM data to make it meaningful?

It used to be really hard, back maybe 20 years ago, and you were probably just a child. Looking at the information, you could see crossing organizational boundaries, functional characteristics became very difficult to achieve. Now with our capabilities, the power of our computers, we can integrate that data much more effectively. We can do vertical integration, we can do horizontal integration, we can look at HR, we can look at people being applied in a matrix environment across multiple projects, so we can look for conflicts in that regard.

One of the things that makes it difficult is that it’s not easy, but if it was easy, of course, it wouldn’t be called work. So, we really have to look at the fact that in order to capitalize on the power of a PPM, we have to have this performance management baseline, as I said. One of the difficulties that we encounter with that is the organizational hierarchy, the silos that exist within the organization are reluctant to cross-communicate. Everyone wants to protect their own silo and we don’t realize the benefit of cross-realization and sometimes it’s critical. In a project management world, if we are dealing with a matrix environment where we have skill set capabilities that are maintained within organizational functions and they roll out to various projects.

One of the biggest challenges is trying to get those resource pool owners to share the resource distribution information so that we can determine if we are overallocated or under-allocated and make sure that we smooth that histogram that can equally be applied to the organization’s values to that particular project. It’s something that we can do numerically, statistically we can do it, but the people have to be bought-in. This is one of the biggest difficulties with PPM processes, we have to look for the capabilities that are easy to understand and easy to use. Once we do that, once we are convinced that the organizational components are the value of a PPM, then we have we have buy-in, then we have commitment and then the use of this data becomes much more valuable.

Would the PMO be used as an independent arbitrator vs. organizational components that you just mentioned there, would they be responsible for managing that PPM database or the various functions or components?

This generally falls in the area of the PMOs. If an organization has a PMO, almost by default they become the policing function of the project management capabilities of the organization. But we have to be careful with that because when we are serving the entire organization, a PMO can become a silo by itself. You have to be careful in how you operate that, how you distribute the power of the process accordingly. The PMO for starters has a support function because organizations didn’t have a lot of knowledge about project management so they created the PMO, they brought people from the outside oftentimes and if they had the project management experience, they would build capabilities to support the projects in the organization.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, when the PMOs went from being the support to the organization to be much more like a staple to basically rule over project management. We need to maintain quality. Project management needs to be managed, just like anything else but the fact of the matter is that in some cases that is even allocated to the CIO. I am not crazy about that idea, but as long as someone maintains the quality of the information that is generated through a PPM so there’s a major role here for people who want to step up and say: “I know what we can do that will enhance our organization’s ability to effectively carry out projects and hopefully add to the bottom line, in terms of profitability.”

How does that contribute to providing solutions to problems and issues that may arise and can we introduce efficient alternative approaches to issues?

We get a performance measurement baseline that we feel comfortable with and put in change control. It stops just being our control change now, it has to take some formal process to change it. If we have something like that available to us then we can begin to look at what the status at a current time project into the future and make a decision whether we can live with that or not. The biggest benefit of a PPM and the matrix world is being able to effectively manage those resource rules across time. Unfortunately, organizations have a tendency to approve more projects to be executed than we have resources to execute them. So, we got to look at how we can manage our resource pools to be sure that we are providing the right support to the right product at the right time.

This also addresses the fact that we need to be able to isolate on skill-set capabilities. Most organizations are divided into three different levels of skill set, from the superior to the average and to the under average. Those people produce different kinds of information and if you don’t have another way to do that, you are going to end up with just some random linear distribution of resources across time. And all of a sudden we find out that one guy is supposed to be in four places at the same time. So, we want to avoid that. One of the biggest benefits is the resource pool owners and those matrix people who own the pool resources that the organization needs to be affected.

How does information support help project managers in delivering their objectives?

Because we have timely information, we are in a position where we can make decisions or at least recommendations depending on the severity of the situation to be able to get the job done in a time and way where we can identify the rest – and that we proceed with time on our hands. Project managers have to manage the rest of the most important functions because that will take away the success of the project that they don’t want. The thing I am worried about is the power of the PPM which is really phenomenal to me. In my opinion, if there was a PPM capability when I was a young man I would own the world of project management right now. We did it with paper and pencil and now I’ve got so much information available for decision-making. But now, we cross the boundaries and now we have too much information. Too much is bad and sometimes even worse than not enough.

Show Notes

Stream Lee’s previous interview “Episode 56: Project Management Professional Certification” here.

Lee expands on the topic of using PPM Data to Anticipate the Future in his Digital Resource Management Guidebook. Download it here.

See Lee in person at the PPM Innovators Summit in Dublin on April 2nd. Get your Ticket here.

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