Beyond PMO Consulting

"welcome to my personal blog," Ammar W Mango

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    Organizational Project Management Consultant, using profession as a platform for learning beyond just work. My passion is learning more about self, people, universe, and God.
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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I moved to a new location:

Posted by Ammar Mango on September 10, 2017

Hi.  Come see my new posts at my new blog

I have a lot of new posts.  See there and thank you for your support


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Sustain Benefits; Organize into Programs

Posted by Ammar Mango on October 4, 2016


If a company assigns a project manager to build a new branch, is the project manager responsible if the branch does not perform well? Most likely the answer is no.  As long as he delivered the branch according to requirements like scope, time, and cost.

This is a major issue today in organizations; there is a gap between the strategic objective, the project’s product or service, and the ongoing operations based on that product. In the branch example, someone decided there was a need to expand into a new location.  The organization assumes that simply initiating a project to open  new branch is sufficient to meet the strategic objectives behind the decision.  So a project manager is assigned to “deliver” a new branch.  But once the branch is delivered, and handed over, the branch is not attracting customers.  So they start another project to correct the issues making the branch not attractive.  etc.

The problem is the sporadic effort of dealing with the initiative.  A much better approach would have been to identify the strategic objective behind the requested expansion.  Assign a program manager, to see the expansion through beyond just delivering a new branch.

So a Program Manager would be assigned to identify expected benefits from the Program, work with key stakeholders to develop a program road map, program plan, and road map.  The program will include multiple related projects that aim at achieving the benefit of expanding into a new geographical location, for example.  The Program Manager will still be responsible for the Program and delivery of benefits beyond delivering an opened branch.

A big part of Program Management is Sustainability of Benefits.  A Program Manager would be responsible for operations, marketing projects, infrastructure projects, customer loyalty sub programs, etc, and whatever else it takes to ensure achieving and sustaining the benefits.  Once the benefits sought are in place and sustainability is ensured, only then would a Program Manager close the Program.

Contrast the above to the act of initiating and closing a project.  The project is about delivering a group of deliverables.  Programs are about delivering values and benefits. According to the Project Management Institute, PMI, Programs Are a group of interrelated projects managed managed to produce benefits that cannot be achieved from managing each project separately.

Organizations who recognize the difference between programs and project will quickly reap rewards of having accountability and governance associated with benefits and value focus that a Program offers, not just a deliverable focus that a Project offers.


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Are you Asking the Right Questions?

Posted by Ammar Mango on September 19, 2016

Image result for asking the right questions

Did you know that the most effective risk management takes place before the project is even started?  Here is why and how:

One of the most misunderstood knowledge areas of Project Management is risk.  At the theory level, there is a lot of literature talking about risk.  But mostly theoretical.  According to PMI’s PMBOK Fifth Edition, Project Risk Management: “includes the processes of conducting risk management planning, identification,
analysis, response planning, and controlling risk on a project.”

All true, but so theoretical.  I consider it theoretical because it leaves you with principles but no actions to take, beyond generic, mechanical steps of going through the motions of project management without really getting most of the intended benefits.

After 25 years of experience working on a few high stakes projects, I only wish that businesses focus more on practical risk management before and during project initiation; when risk is highest, and businesses have the best chance to influence risks.

Risk is about uncertainty, and uncertainty is best defined through questions.  Ask questions that encourage discussion of risk.

Do not ask stakeholders: “What could go wrong?”  or “What are the opportunities?”  Then you will get generic answers like: “We might be late” or “We might be over budget,” etc.

Instead, ask questions like: “If this project was a huge success, what would be the reason?” or “if it was a huge failure what would be the reason?” Another area to explore is “how have previous projects succeeded / failed?” Also”In our industry, how have previous companies messed up or did well on such a project?” and continue with the question: ” What can I do to make my project more like the successful ones, and unlike the failures?”  Finally, ask:” How can stakeholders help me in this endeavor of dealing with risk? The owners, clients, department managers, team, PM, etc.”

With such questions you will have much better chances of identifying real risks and dealing with them effectively.

Project Risk Management is where the project succeeds or fails.  Everything else in project management is there to serve risk management.



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Top Ten Differences between Managing a Program versus a Project

Posted by Ammar Mango on September 4, 2016

space program

Program Management is managing multiple related projects combined to deliver benefits not achievable from managing them separately.  This makes Program Management a magnitude of complexity over Project Management.

These are the top ten differences between program and project management:

  1. Programs are about benefits, not just deliverables.  For example, a project manager delivering a system implementation is responsible for the delivering the system functional for the organization.  However, in a program setting, the program manager would probably be responsible for the strategic intent behind the system.  So, the system implementation might be part of an initiative to improve the organization’s ability to do business online.  So migrating online is a program, and the system implementation is one of many projects the program manager has to worry about to ensure delivering the benefit (do business online) .
  2. Programs require a lot of stakeholders’ expectations management, much more than what a project requires.  Remember programs have multiple projects under them and affect many more stakeholders than a project.  So managing expectations become more difficult.
  3. Programs bring about deeper and tougher changes at the organizational level than a project does.  This makes resistance to change much higher towards a program compared to a project.  The program manager must have the ability to deal with this resistance to change proactively and throughout the program lifecycle.
  4. Programs usually have a much longer span of time than projects.  In a single program many projects are initiated and closed over many years (usually).  The longer span of time adds to the complexity of the program and poses its own challenges when it comes to funding, managing stakeholders, getting buy in and commitment, etc.
  5. Programs financial management is more complex than a project.  The inflows and outflows over the span of the program sometimes leave the project financially challenged.  The Program Manager must develop the necessary financial plans to ensure this is handled wisely, with the support of program sponsor and board.
  6. Program Managers must have knowledge of the organization beyond managing projects.  Knowledge of the organizational culture, operations, background, etc., are key for program success.
  7. Benefits realization in programs sometimes come long after the program itself is closed.  This is challenging as the program manager might have to plan for sustaining the momentum for the changes brought by the program long after he or she closes the program.
  8. Risk Management on projects is key, but it is more so on programs.  There is a lot of uncertainty on programs.  For example, not all program components might be known at the beginning of the program.  So estimation becomes difficult early on, causing funding to become a potential issue.
  9. Balancing between controlling program components (projects and operations) and allowing project managers enough autonomy is a challenging task.  Project Managers need room to maneuver on their project, but the program manager must keep a close eye on the performance of the project.
  10. Benefits realization means always keeping an eye on the big picture, and having the wisdom to see the long term vision.  This becomes the responsibility of the program manager, even when everybody else seems focused on short term issues.  Project Managers deal with shorter term issues than program managers.

For More about Program Management and Program Management Certification, follow this link to one of my youtube videos.

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Which Project Management Software to use: A direction to look into

Posted by Ammar Mango on April 2, 2016

The requirements of stakeholders from a project management software are changing.  Older software that focused on robustness and richness in project management features, at the expense of user friendliness and simplicity,  are becoming more and more extinct. Being replaced by software that focus on collaboration and clear and timely communication.  But there is still a lot to be done.

Today, when anyone asks me for recommendation for a project management software, I usually propose cloud based user friendly solutions.  I am not into desktop any more.  I think desktop and server based applications are not doing the job any more.  For those who are worried about security, local cloud can be the answer.

Another thing I like to recommend is to stick to tools that are more geared towards the team member and executive as users, rather than the traditional focus on the project manager being the heaviest user of the tool.  There is still a lot of room for improvement for tools that provide central command information to executives, integrated with other operational information from the finance, HR, and other departments.

Back to our question: Which is the best project management software? My answer is drifting away from the “usual culprits.”  I think most of them are becoming too cumbersome and heavily loaded with features that most users never use.  At the expense of user friendliness, meaningful information, and real enterprise wide integration.

If I am to recommend a tool to run a project, I would refer people to try one of the web based tools.  However, cloud based and user friendly software are a bit off on their reporting abilities from an enterprise perspective.  I also do not see the needed integration across organizational functions.  I believe that combining simplicity with meaningful cross functional data is difficult.  However, I believe the prize is huge for the company that can achieve it.

The project management industry is changing.  I think the main reason for the change is that it is changing from a “priesthood” discipline where only experts can handle the project management software, to a topic that is becoming a necessity for any company to succeed.  Hence every one including executives and team members are interested in the answer.  It used to be that project management is something the project manager would “handle.” Not any more. However, the cycle of change is moving much slower than market evolution.  Here is why:

Anywhere you look in the PM software market you find disgruntled stakeholders.  Regardless of the industry, the only user who seems happy with the tool is the direct user; the project manager or planner who is responsible for maintaining the information in the system.  This exclusivity provides job security for the “tool handler” and that might contribute to their satisfaction with the tool.  But if you ask managers, are they getting what they want from their EPM system? I have seldom heard raving reviews. Same with team members, department managers, and team leaders.

The company who can answer this call for change will reap the rewards of the suppressed market.

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Predicting Performance; is it possible?

Posted by Ammar Mango on February 4, 2016

predicting performanceLast two years of research into Talent Development and Talent Analytics were a true learning experience.  It took me away from my normal routine, including blogging. Nonetheless it was an eye opener: Talent Development and Predicting Performance are at the forefront of organizational development. Ask any manager and they will tell you there pains related to hiring, developing, and retaining talent.

As a business owner and manager for most of my career, I can relate.  Talent is the key asset for organizations today.  Without it, an organization is stripped of its ability to operate, grow, and compete.  In today’s competitive world there is no room for complacency.  Even bigger organizations are being humbled and sometime to their demise, due to their inability to develop and manage talent.

Talent development is not a new subject.  It has always been part of the HR quest.  However, it is going through major changes lately.

On the learning front, as an example.  Traditional learning is facing major challenges.  HR managers are frustrated with the low return on investment they are getting from training.  Research is showing that traditional training hardly adds 5% to a participant, as far as what they retain from training.  Companies are becoming skeptical of training providers and trainers.  There are many issues contributing to the training problem.  I am not planning to get into that here.  What is important is that companies have had it with status quo and they want a rapid solution.  A hack, of some sort.

Same on the recruitment and retaining of employees issue.  Companies are finding that traditional recruiting remains a guessing game.  You never know what you really are getting until you try the resource.  This “Trying” requires that you take the employee on board for months.  In some cases years, before you can determine if they are fit or not.  By that time many opportunities are lost, in addition to resources spent building the capacity of the new employee.  Only to find out they are not up to the role.  So here also companies are looking for the “hack.”

In the old days, we used to say” “There are no quick solutions.” Well.  Today to the amazement of many, we are finding out that there actually are “quicker” solutions.  Hacks if you will.  That are taking advantage of the latest in Neuroscience, Big Data, Simulation Technology, to help build talent, retain it, and make best use of it.

In the coming articles I am planning to talk about some of the findings from my research, and some of the ideas that companies can use, as well as employees, to improve performance, build talent, and do it faster.

Stay tuned.

Thank you for reading.


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1+2=Business Success: An Empirical Business Success Formula – If there ever could be one!

Posted by Ammar Mango on October 16, 2014

Have you been to a crowded restaurant and noticed the place next door completely empty? When I see this, I try to guess what is the difference between the two; why is one seemingly successful but not the other?
I have had my share of successful and not so successful ventures, and as a consultant, I have also consulted to both types. It seems like there is an empirical formula of some sort at play when it comes to which businesses make it and which ones do not. I call it the 1+2=Business Success formula. It goes like this:
There are three key elements to business success. “1” of the elements is not like the other 2 this is why it is called the “1+2” formula.

The element that is different and held separate is God’s guidance. Some call it God’s will. Just to make sure I am clear: Yes, I am calling on a mystical element in a world that insists on materialistic business science. I know this is so against everything we learn in business. But experience shows us that it is true. Look at all business majors out there. They are experts in their fields. With their prestigious MBA’s. You find as many of them as there are non experts on the successful side of business. Also, business experts are not immune to business failure either. So, the first element has to account for this uncertainty, and it has to be placed first and foremost.
If this is out of control then why talk about it? For two reasons: One it teaches us to stay humble; no matter how successful or knowledgeable we think we are, we have to submit to the fact that the first and foremost factor in our success might be out of our control. This is by no means a call for complacency, but more of a sobering reminder to stay humble and anticipating. After all it is more fun that way. The second reason this is a blessing: imagine if there were a couple of people who could not go wrong. Everybody else will have no chance, and everybody in the world will end up working for these business geniuses. I mean would you risk putting your money anywhere else in the stock market? When you can partner with the best? Even worse: imagine what would happen to their ego, and would they even want to partner with others? They will rule the world, indefinitely, and worse yet: no one else would have a chance. Some might say that this is already happening and they will mention a few entrepreneurs who seem to always be successful. However, history shows us these business geniuses are not perfect after all. All it takes is a change in market, politics, people attitudes, or even temperature, and failure can be imminent.

We covered element “1” so far. Let us move to the other “2” elements: “Perceived Value” and “Reach.”

Perceived value is key. Because it is what customers buy. Value from their perspective. You can have the best product in the world, but if they do not see its value to them then they are not interested. Perceived value is usually on the emotional side, not objective side. It has to touch a nerve. A pain area. The ego if you like. There is more that one can find on this subject of value. I really like the Six Sigma perspective on value and customer satisfaction. There is lots of literature on this subject and no place to go through it here.
The third element is “Reach,” which means you need to let your target audience know about your product. So you can have the best product in the world, but if they do not know about it, they cannot buy. I read about a real estate expert who gave his students this question: “ If I were to tell you that I have a buyer who is looking at a house very similar to the one you are selling, in the same neighborhood and budget, would you be interested in showing him or her your property?” any real estate agent in his right mind would say yes. To that he answers “ well, I can assure you that this buyer exists out there, now you need to go find him.”

The formula might seem simple but it is not. It is easy to say you need a product with a Perceived Value. But to design the product and show its Perceived Value is a very difficult matter. Same goes for the Reach element. To know how to Reach your audience is not necessarily straight forward.
the formula serves to remind us of these important elements. If at least to ask the right questions when designing new products, services, or start up companies. However, finding the right answers is up to you, after God’s blessings of course.

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Project Management with Ten Elephants in the room

Posted by Ammar Mango on August 18, 2014

download“So should we start with a meeting to review project charter, or shall we wait until the scope statement is more clearly defined?” asks the Project Manager in a typical give and take that takes place at the beginning of a project.  Realty is that, most probably, it does not matter.  Or at least it does not matter as much as other so important issues that need to be addressed, but are ignored.  These are the elephants in the room that get ignored at the beginning of every project.  These issues are so big and obvious, but maybe because of their sheer size, project managers, clients, and suppliers,  prefer to ignore them as if they do not exist.  Guess what: They do exist and they are the biggest challenges facing the project, and lead often to project failure.

The elephants in the room are all man-made.  They are all about people.  This is another reason why they get ignored.  Most of them are caused by project influencers that no one wants to alienate.  This results in sacrificing project value to address other factors like “looking good,”
preserving status, gaining favors, or being comfortable in complacency.  Here are the top ten elephants that are places in the room on new projects, and get ignored by project stakeholders:

Elephant #10-Pick a big name: A project supplier is chosen because they have a good name, regardless of whether another supplier has more relevant experience.

Elephant #9- Cutting Corners: Trying to avoid risk, by taking shortcuts and downplaying key parts of the work, just to finish work on time and get payments

Elephant #8- Bureaucracy First: Worrying about deliverables and documentation, instead of results and value.

Elephant #7- Dangerous Leverage:  Assigning juniors the work of seniors to save on project cost, then use politics and sales savvy to get acceptance

Elephant #6- Fancy software and shiny hardware: More attention is given to purchasing brand name software and hardware instead of focusing on improving performance, change management, and learning.

Elephant #5- To Accept or Reject is merely a question:  Trying to control project when no one internally has the ability to review completed work.  Sometimes external consultants are hired to review the work but they also do not have as deep knowledge as the supplier, and they end up limiting the supplier’s ability to deliver value, instead of assuring quality.

Elephant #4- Spending the Budget: Clients who are not sure what they want but have a budget that they must spend, and need to show quick wins for spending the budget.  This results on tactical improvements being worked on instead of strategic improvements.

Elephant #3- The Hat does not fit: Roles and responsibilities on the project are distributed politically instead of technically.

Elephant #2- “Whatever”: Lack of interest in the project, especially when undertaken due to an external mandate.

Elephant #1- The Political Game: Project is lost in internal struggles where its value is judged based on who sponsored the project, not the actual value it delivers.



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The PMO and the business model: A continuous interactive loop

Posted by Ammar Mango on June 19, 2014

PMOs are responsible to execute strategy.  But what if the business model is flawed? Most organizations are not ready to deal with this risk.  They always assume the business model is fine, when in many cases it is not.  So what is the role of the PMO in validating the business model assumptions? And how can an organization ensure they are functioning based on value-adding business model that works.  

Strategies are put based on where the organizations want to be in the future and what they want to offer.  However, some strategies prove not feasible, even if executed perfectly.  To demonstrate here are a couple of high level quick examples:

– Company A had a business model that would work perfectly well today, but they had one problem: they implemented the model 20 years ago.  So what they offered 20 years ago would have been perfect today, but not when they offered it back then.  They went bankrupt.  Do not get me wrong; they had a perfect PMO setup.  Their PMO sat on board meetings, ensured projects are proposed evaluated, and selected in alignment with strategy.  Then the PMO ensured the projects were successfully executed.  Unfortunately the whole model was flawed.  It took a marketing executive to come in and give them the bad news.  And by the time they got it, it was too late.

– Company B developed an ingenious software application in the 1980’s.  It was perfect for the mid 90s market.  He was ahead of the market.  

– Some are late for the market.  Company C came in with a different twist on the services it wants to offer.  It looked good on paper, but the customer did not feel their product wad different enough to leave their existing suppliers and work with them.  

All these are examples of flaws in the business model.  Usually, it takes a special kind of expertise to catch such flaws.  It usually is a mix of experience, understanding of the market, and partly luck.  Most of the time, such expertise and capability is not in the PMO.  So, how can a PMO help in ensuring the company has the right business model?  Another pressing issue is how do we ensure our model will work?  The problem is that you cannot be 100% sure.

I have rarely seen a PMO capable of contributing effectively on this issue.  I think the main problem is that most PMOs see themselves as executors, not strategists.  Even when hiring PMOs most companies do not look for a strategist.  They want a doer.  At one point the market will start realizing that we need a doer yes, but we cannot do much without a good business model.

There is good news and bad news in this.  The good news is that in a dynamic environment, a business model can be flawed and then refined.   The important thing is to setup the organization where continuous short loops of feedback are available so we do not invest too much too soon in a wrong business model.  So, organizations need to setup in a way that ensures the business model is always challenged and refined, then reflected in execution. This requires high level of maturity and willingness to change on the part of the executives first as well as the whole organization.  

Even if a company had a good business model for a while, things do change fast in today’s environments.  So, we need a continuous challenge of the way we do business and for that challenge to be encouraged across the organization.  

Setting up such an environment requires executives who have enough confidence and conviction in the importance of change, to allow such changes to take place.  


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Can You Stop Thinking about that Project?

Posted by Ammar Mango on June 7, 2014

The controller project manager needs everything in order.  And since nothing is in order almost ever, the project manager’s mind is always working to find ways to put things in order.  The result is a mind that is always trying to change things, never happy with things as they are.  This mind is a tired mind.  Stressed.  Unable to take a break.

If this describes you sometimes, then that is OK.  This is part of urban life as designed for us modern urban-ites (is there such a word?) But when this becomes “you” most of the time, then it might be time for some changes.

The human mind needs to rest the same way the body needs to rest.  Sometimes people neglect this fact, as the toils of the brains are not accompanied by sweat and physical movement.  So we do not feel the need to rest.  However, a preoccupied brain causes tensed muscles, irregular breathing, and the feeling of being flat out beat.  This is more stressful than physical work.  So how do we put our minds to rest?

Ahhh, the million dollar question.  I personally have not figured out a cure-for-all on this issue, but if you have, please do share.  Luckily there are a few things that can be done, so if one does not work the other might, and each person is different so do not dispair.  Here are a few proven methods that worked for some.  Which one is for you? it is up to you to try:

Some swear by prayer.  Personally, I believe nothing can be as calming as asking God for help in complete surrender.  Now, if you have tried this and did not work immediately, remember that the problem might be in your approach not the prayer itself.  Prayer works.  However, sometimes we are too hasty, or do the physical moves, but the brain refuses to succumb.  Then prayer might not be as effective.  However practice makes perfect.  One thing I learned form a colleague is to speak to God in my own language.  Tell him what is bothering me, and asking him for guidance.  Try that after formal prayer see if that works for you.

For some, intense cardio exercise gets their mind off work.  When the body tires, it requires full attention from the brain.  A friend of mine runs, not jogs.  When he is “tired” from work, he runs as soon as he gets home.  Before anything.  It helps him remove the clutter from the mind.  Another friend took more extreme measures.  He loves boxing.  He says “nothing will keep your mind focused and clear like someone trying to punch you square in the face.”  He also loves his punching bag.  Before starting, he remembers the most annoying thing on his mind that day, then punches away until he can go on no more.

Then there are the yoga types.  Some say that 20 minutes a day of yoga can help you reorder the “top shelves” (i.e. the brain) and feel in sync with surroundings, no matter how stressful the day is.  Some practice “moving” yoga in the form of Tai Chi.  Some practice yoga by watching their breath.  There are numerous ways of doing this and any might do the trick.  Try breathing deeply and slowly, allowing more time to exhale than inhale.  after doing this for a couple of minutes, try to pause for a few seconds after the exhale.  How did that feel.  Some swear by it.  You judge what is right for you.

Another thing to consider, is that you might have a personality that is prone to over thinking.  This is very common in today’s day and age.  Some (OK many) have obsessive compulsive tendencies, so they repeat the same thought over and over again in their mind, ruthlessly over heating their systems, so to speak.  Someone once described it as “a car being stuck in first gear.” To get out of that gear, you need to be consciously aware of the problem you have to agree with self to move on to another subject, or get off thinking altogether.  Obsessive compulsive behavior can be mild but also can be a mental illness that requires medication to control.

Not only obsessive compulsives overthink, but also regular personalities that are more on the “sensitive” side, like empaths.  Empaths will scrutinize their behavior in fear of being wrong, or in having to defend themselves from verbal abuse.  Some people do not care how they come across to others, or what others say to them or about them.  These are rare.  Most do care.  However, some care too much, and as a result overthink ways to protect themselves from these “attacks” by others.  Empaths need to be aware of their tendencies to be sensitive, and accordingly deal with their, sometimes overwhelming, emotions.  Deal does not mean suppress, or reject, or demean.  To the contrary; it means accepting and respecting self for what it feels and how it feels.   Then letting go.

It is amazing how we evolve and “grow” as human beings, and with that comes changes in our personalities and the ways we deal with work related stress. We need to be in tune with these changes and be accepting of ourselves and emotions.  To some, this might be the hardest thing to do, and the biggest hurdle on their road to cope with stress at work.

In the end, please remember that most projects fail, most stakeholders are dissatisfied, and when projects succeed, you might be the last to be recognized.  So, where does that leave us? Have a good day!

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