Leadership Program Management Office Strategy

11th Annual PMI Chicagoland Leadership Forum

Last Friday, I was invited to attend the PMI Chicagoland Chapter 11th Annual Leadership Forum entitled “Strategy for Innovation: The PM Advantage.” It was a full day of presentations, panels and networking held at the Chevy Chase Country Club.

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, chair of the 2016 PMI Board of Directors, was the first to present, and he gave a wealth of information on the state of the project management profession, citing references from the latest Pulse of the Profession.

Some of the takeaways from his presentation were:

  • Only two of the top 100 MBA programs teach project management.
  • When searching Harvard Business Review for content, there are only 299 were related to project management when thousands are related to strategy or other business topics.
  • He shared his perspective of the language that companies are using, for example, those on the Forbes Top 500 list are good at execution – getting the troops aligned (action vs. thinking), planning and focusing on execution.
  • Create the business case, plan and ensure follow through. Most organizations will use the terminology “initiatives” and Antonio believes that they can greatly leverage project management because they’re projects.
  • Organizations constantly face the “Execution Dilemma” – balancing the Business Operations (running the business) vs. Strategic Initiatives (changing the business).

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  • Because of this, he shared the importance of project managers understanding how the business is run because usually the priority is running the business and the projects that support it.
  • He then shared the concept of Organizational Ambidexterity and suggested the following project mix:
    • Innovating/Changing: 20%-30% of the portfolio
    • Winning/Surviving: 70%-80% of the portfolio
  • The focus on execution and being action-oriented – not just planning and thinking, “just do it.” He then shared a job description from Nike for a strategic level position in the European headquarters that included a lot of content on planning and execution, i.e. project management.
  • Project management contributes to organization agility and stresses the importance of prioritization. Silos are removed and conversations are steered to talk about strategy and triggers – e.g. a project manager’s questions (what, how, when, with whom) force the topic of prioritization.

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  • Project management brings transparency to an organization and allows for decision makers understand options, constraints, and the ability to say “no” and make choices.
  • Project management focuses on the organization and increases accountability.
  • How an organization works is 25% is driven by process, and 75% driven by leadership and culture.
  • Ideally, there is constant reinforcement to create a culture of execution, and leaders make the difference, especially when there’s a compelling story to connect the work to the purpose/reason.

He closed by offering the following advice to project managers – talk with business leaders to understand what’s important to them and how they work; be curious about their problems.

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I found the presentation extremely interesting as I am a member of two very different circles – PMI and the Agile Community, and I’m curious how the two will evolve to work closer together in the digital product development field.

The second speaker was Michael Docherty, author of Collective Disruption. Michael shared a great presentation that focused on the importance of innovation and created a compelling case of how an organization could innovate and run the business – similar to inhaling and exhaling. Look at it as a system and see solutions and options.

He shared a number of paradoxical thinking and linear thinking challenges to begin to see new options, such as what Cisco did by investing seed money in Novo Systems, and then purchasing them. Also, he shared the Adobe has a “Kickbox” program, where individuals receive an experimentation box with a $1000 gift card for them to work on whatever project that they would like following Lean Startup methods. The slide overviewing Lego below sums up example paradoxes nicely.


He shared how project management could fit into this framework by noting that it is a very emergent approach based on a vision and strategy, and there is not a lot of apparent order at the beginning. Project managers can facilitate this exploration by looking at things like 1) are we building diverse teams, and 2) guiding toward order, but not control. We can also force decision-making and challenge work that may need to be deemed as a failure and stopped. We also need to be okay embracing uncertainty and understand that leading and inspiring happens through emotion – the Neocortex (intellectual) has about 40 processes and the Limbic (emotional) has about 20 MILLION processes per second.


Then there was a panel discussion based on questions from the audience that was very informative.

I really appreciated the opportunity to network with such a great group of project management leaders and left with a lot of food for thought and education of the state of the profession, how to be more innovated and how project management can support the efforts.

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