Our Blog

I was recently interviewed by Central Desktop Blog on why good project managers get passed over for promotion. During that interview I emphasized how the skills of a good project manager match the skills needed for an effective executive.

So why do good project managers make great executives?

What Makes an Effective Executive?

First lets answer the question: What makes a great executive?  In 2004 Peter Drucker published an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “What Makes an Effective Executive” 

He applied his first hand knowledge working with some of the world’s best business leaders over a 65 year consulting career.  He found that the most effective executives followed the same eight practices:

  1. They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  2. They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  3. They developed action plans.
  4. They took responsibility for decisions.
  5. They took responsibility for communicating.
  6. They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  7. They ran productive meetings.
  8. They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

Good Project Management=Effective Executive

Good project management lines up with those executive best practices. By applying the the 47 PMBOK processes, the 5 process groups, and the 10 knowledge areas, project managers model those best practices.  Here (Part 1) we will examine the first three executive best practices.

Good project managers embrace  best practices #1 (What needs to be done?) and #2 (What is right for the enterprise?) at the beginning of each project with the initiating process group.  When developing the project charter the inputs are:

  • Business Case – which looks at things like market demand, strategic opportunities,  customer requests and other items.
  • Enterprise Environmental Factors-which looks at things like government standards, organizational culture, and market conditions
  • Project Statement of Work- which explains the business need, scope description, and organizational strategic plan.

This analysis really focuses in on “What is right for the Enterprise?”  Which is really the reason for initiating a project.   The project statement of work sets the state to answer the question “What needs to be done?

That question is further answered inside the Planning Process Group. Here a number of processes really focus in on “What needs to be done?” AND the focus is also on best practice #3: They developed action plans.

  • (4.2) Develop Project Management Plan
  • (5.0+) Project Scope Management
  • (6.0+) Project Schedule Management
  • (7.0+) Project Cost Management
  • (8.0+) Project Quality Management
  • (9.0+) Project HR Management
  • (10.0+) Project Communications Management
  • (11.0+) Project Risk Management
  • (12.0+) Project Procurement Management
  • (13.0+) Project Stakeholder Management

Practice Makes Perfect

You can easily see that good project management practices and practicing the skill sets associated with with PMBOK processes prepare project managers to apply Drucker’s executive best practices.  We’ll examine the remaining best practices (Items 4-8) in the next post.

Questions for you

  • Do you agree with the premise good project managers make good executives?
  • Are the executive best practices listed by Drucker still valid today?
  • Do PMBOK processes truly prepare you to execute the executive best practices?


If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, please follow me above and @opscoo on twitter.

About the author:

Mike Fritsch, PMP is President and COO of Confoe in Austin, Texas. Mike is also  President of ISPI-Texas, the Texas wide chapter of ISPI. Mike has appeared in numerous publications including Fast Company, US News & World Report,  Renewable Energy World, Platt’s Energy Economist, and Sun and Wind Energy.

About Confoe:

Since 2002, Confoe has provided project management services, consulting,  and custom software solutions for clients ranging from the Fortune 50 to new venture start-ups. Clients have included:  Intel, Dell, SoloPower, HelioVolt,  and the Environmental Defense Fund.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…a project was behind schedule…

A typical project management update?

In the opening scene of Return of the Jedi we see a partially completed death star and the arrival of Darth Vader to an honor guard.  The exchange may be all too familiar to all of the project managers out there:

  •  Moff Jerjerrod: Lord Vader, this is an unexpected pleasure. We are honored by your presence –
  • Darth Vader: You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander. I’m here to put you back on schedule.
  • Moff Jerjerrod: I assure you, Lord Vader. My men are working as fast as they can.
  • Darth Vader: Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.
  • Moff Jerjerrod: I tell you, this station will be operational as planned.
  • Darth Vader: The emperor does not share your optimistic appraisal of the situation.
  • Moff Jerjerrod: But, he asks the impossible. I need more men!
  • Darth Vader: Then perhaps you can tell him when he arrives.
  • Moff Jerjerrod: The Emperor’s coming here?
  • Darth Vader: That is correct, Commander. And, he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.
  • Moff Jerjerrod: We shall double our efforts!
  • Darth Vader: I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.

Despite being a master of the dark side of the force, Darth Vader doesn’t display a sophisticated grasp of project management. His answer to recovering the schedule is to simply “motivate” the resources through an implied threat.  He has no idea if lack of motivation is really the root cause of schedule problems or if his motivation techniques will impact the critical path.

Moff Jerjerrod is a poor project manager

For his part, Moff Jerjerrod is a poor project manager.  He has failed to keep his key stakeholders informed, especially his executive sponsor (probably Darth Vader or maybe the Emperor). Moff gives a very poor status update simply saying his resources are working as “hard as they can.” He also gives a week assurance that the schedule will be recovered.  He cites no data to bring confidence to his assurance.  He doesn’t quantify how far behind schedule he is or specify the schedule compression technique he plans to use to recover.

As the conversation continues, we see possible approaches to compress the schedule.  He “needs more men” i.e. additional resources.  When that seems to be ignored,  he then says “We shall double our efforts” which we can assume means approval of overtime of some sort.  From the conversation,  we can assume that Moff must find a way to shorten schedule duration without reducing the project scope.

Schedule Compression Techniques

The PMBOK 5.0 describes two schedule compression techniques on page 181:

“Crashing-a technique used to shorten the schedule duration for the least incremental cost by adding resources…examples…include approving overtime, bringing in additional resources, or paying to expedite delivery.”

“Fast tracking-a schedule compression technique in which activities or phases normally done in sequence are performed in parallel for at least a portion of their duration.”

Crashing the Death Star Schedule

We can see that Moff plans to crash the schedule.  However, crashing works only for tasks on the critical path, otherwise you’re simply throwing in additional resources at random. Moff’s lack of precision in reporting leads me to believe he doesn’t really know his critical path and so his efforts will be ineffective, even with pressure applied by both Darth Vader and the Emperor.

Fast Tracking the Super-Laser

Later,  it seems that the Emperor has directed Moff to also employ Fast Tracking. They want the Death Star to have a fully functional super-laser before all construction is complete and the shields are in place.Fast tracking often results in rework and increased risk.  The increased risk of not finishing the shields proved to be catastrophic.  The mitigation plan of protecting the death star from the ground (with an SLD-26 planetary shield generator) failed when rebels destroyed the generator.  Without the planetary shield, the rebels were able to destroy the death star. Moff’s project failure was so complete, that he was unable to close out his project, or update his organizational process assets.

Examples from this time and this galaxy

Schedule compression is often the reason Confoe get’s called in to help improve project operations and we are able to help recover lost time.  Your best bet though is to engage with an On Demand Project Management from the beginning so that you don’t fall behind schedule. Our Project Management Information Systems and project expertise keeps your project on schedule and your stakeholders informed.  Fortunately for the Rebel Alliance, Moff Jerjerrod never asked Confoe for help.

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, please follow me above and @opscoo and @savvycoo on twitter. 

About the author

Mike Fritsch, PMP is President and COO of Confoe in Austin, Texas. Mike is also  President of ISPI-Texas, the Texas wide chapter of ISPI. Mike has appeared in numerous publications including Fast Company, US News & World Report,  Renewable Energy World, Platt’s Energy Economist, and Sun and Wind Energy.

About Confoe:

Since 2002, Confoe has provided project management services, consulting,  and custom software solutions for clients ranging from the Fortune 50 to new venture start-ups. Clients have included:  Whole Foods Market, Intel, Dell, SoloPower, HelioVolt,  and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Why is communication so hard?

The 1965 Single by The Animals summed it up well: “But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good: Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood …”  All of us have been frustrated from time to time by miscommunication both in our personal and professional lives.  Even with face to face things can get lost in translation.   This should not be that surprising if you think about each individual being both a sender and receiver of messages that get filtered through each individuals world view.

The Formula


I have seen and given a lot of training in my career from being an acting Drill Sergeant at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to running a $40M training business, and delivering training to consulting clients as part of larger projects. My personal experience has proven the value of good training. It has also shown that training is not always the best answer.

Is training the best approach?

The objective of training should be to improve performance and bring measurable results.  Sometimes training is not the best approach to improving performance.  Often, better results can be found by combining training with other interventions (job aids, process improvements, policy changes). The more effective approach is to apply HPT. (more…)

Does project management maturity matter?

Are you leaving $26M on the table?  That’s the difference in project risk between high performers and low performers according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession 2013. We looked at project statistics in detail last week with “Do your projects stink?” and saw that there are big-time financial benefits to improving your project capability.  PMI identified three steps to get there:

  • Talent Development
  • Standardization
  • Alignment with Strategy

These improve your project capability and improve maturity.  The best way to take these steps is with a Project Management Office (PMO). (more…)

47th Earth Day

Today is the 47th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970.  Much has been done, but more is needed. Fortunately there is someone with the skills to make a difference: the project manager.


Five Ways Project Managers Save the Planet

OK, maybe a bit dramatic but good project managers and good project management skills do a make a difference. Here are five ways:

  1. Manage Stakeholders
  2. Ideas to Action
  3. New Technology
  4. Better Deployment
  5. Eliminate Waste/Reduce Risk


Does your project performance stink?

If the studies below are correct, then the answer is probably yes:

1. Only eight out of 100 organizations have a project success rate greater than 80%-Project Management Institute
2. Only 2.5% of companies successfully complete 100% of their projects – Price Waterhouse Coopers
The average cost overrun for IT projects is 27% – Harvard Business Review
One in six IT projects had cost overruns of 200% on average and a schedule overrun of almost 70%-Harvard Business Review
Cost overruns increased to 59% of all projects in 2012 from 46% in 2010- the Standish group
In 2014 $109 million was lost for every $1 billion spent on projects – Project Management Institute