Academics & industry

According to the University of Manchester, ” Academics generally work within a university, combining research, teaching and administrative duties. Academics are the life-blood of a university, without whom the institution would not exist”[1]. Academics have a very systematic approach to research which provides lots of benefits when it comes to the introduction or evolution of new/existing concepts and/or processes. The way academics detail out each and every aspect of a subject under consideration is amazing. Exceptions are taken care of from an academic perspective and most of the corner cases are covered in the research subject.

Industry, on the other hand, is the one which uses/builds on top of the research provided by academics to improve various aspects related to the subject matter. For instance, a new pattern recognition algorithm invented by academia is used by the industry to improve the accuracy of object detection and identification by the industry. Most of the technical research by academia is brought to the general public by the industry.

But my feeling is that process implementation, especially on business methodologies is a bit deviant and the research carried on by the academia is not taking real-life aspects into consideration. I was going through the excellent paper on best practices in project portfolio management for dynamic decision making[2]; wherein 9 different best practices have been highlighted. And I do agree that if everything would work as expected in the industry, many more companies would have successful project portfolios to boast about.

Some of these best practices, in today’s world in the industry, is just considered to be unnecessary overhead work providing very little value in terms of revenue generation. For example, one of the best practices mentioned in the paper talks about awareness of PPM in the organization. The arguments given in the paper are very valid but when it comes to the industry, giving training and investing in PPM awareness within the organization means adding overhead costs on people training. If the attrition rate in such companies is higher, it might need to spend more money for training purposes. Also bringing in people from various departments to sit together for such training is a statistical nightmare in large organizations.

Again, some of the projects run by certain departments can be seen as worthless when looked at from a portfolio perspective. An example can be an improvement in the CI process within a small department which takes in supplier deliveries. The improvement in CI process might mean little in terms of what the department is offering to its internal stakeholders. But the improvement might have an impact on the anticipated work in the future. These projects are also known as pet projects in the industry which do not show up on the portfolio’s and/or programs/projects generally run with the blessings of the line management.

Another aspect is political considerations which the academia for the right reasons cannot really concentrate upon. What I would like to see is a more practical approach to research where the research is validated against an industry. Many of the best practices need to be adjusted and probably re-evaluated in terms of investment efforts to check on the feasibility of implementation.

What is your view?

[1] – (2019). What do academics do? (The University of Manchester). [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Sep. 2019]
[2] – Kharat, V.. and Naik, B.K.. (2018). Best practices in project portfolio management for dynamic decision making. Journal of Modern Project Management, 6, pp.89–95.

Leadership & BRM

Leadership has to be one of the key critical factors for the successful implementation of the Benefits Realization Plan (BRM) in any organization. Delegation of responsibilities as well as delegating the needed rights to carry on the successful implementation of the BRM needs flexibility; trust & faith as well as blessings of leadership on all levels. A benefits champion ideally should be a group of individuals from various departments who are more involved with the strategy and business side of the organization. A benefits steering group can be formed which should be directly responsible for not only the BRM but also effective execution of the same with the project management office (PMO) and/or portfolio management teams.

I think both autocratic and democratic leadership would both more or less fail in such an endeavor. Autocratic leadership will be immature to make any kind of relevant information since the information flow would be hampered. And democratic leadership will be simply too busy trying to achieve consensus at various decision points.

A mix of strategic and transformational leadership is the need of the hour for a successful BRM execution. Strategic leaders anticipate future needs and steer the organization in the present so as to meet those future needs. Similarly, transformational leadership allows one to drive the change in the organizational processes and motivates the organization to transform into a high performing asset.

It is very hard for any other kind of leadership to achieve the goals for the BRM and align with the BRM core principles. Higher maturity and higher delivery capability are indeed achieved by the right leadership from top to bottom. One more important thing regarding organizational change is to make sure that leaders don’t frequently restructure the organization based on half-baked or half-thought-through plans.

I had been working for a company where organizational change every 6 months was the norm. The changes would happen in the name of restructuring due to financials, agile implementation, redundancy management, decreasing product turn around times, etc. That organization literally suffered from productivity issues and all the projects were behind schedule most of the time. The best and talented employees in this company left their jobs. These were replaced by fresh engineers without any industry experience. The people who were left in the organization viewed these fresh engineers as fodder for the near future layoffs which were a norm. Worst of all, the managers were revolving like a constellation managing one team to another every 6 months without giving any stable environment to the teams.

Leadership in this particular organization were initiating changes every 6 months, half-implementing them and hoping that things would work out this time. The organization in question was saved after a dramatic drop in its share price, losing almost 100% of its previous market valuation and a change in the very top management with a new CEO (and of course Donald Trump). Now you probably know who I am talking about but the point remains, leadership is an important skill and the top leadership defines the path with mid and lower-level management will follow.

Whats your view?

Portfolio Management

According to the standards of portfolio management by PMI, “A portfolio is a collection of projects, programs, subsidiary portfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives”[1]. Any organization has very well defined business goals and strategic objectives. The organizations devise strategies and create a vision for the members of the organization as a guideline to follow in order to fulfill the business goals and strategic objectives defined by the organization. The strategies and vision lay the foundation for quantifying a portfolio and the entities within a portfolio.

A portfolio on the organizational level may very well boil down to quantifiable items as projects & programs as it starts trickling down through the organization business units and into different driving teams. It is very important at this stage that all the different people involved with the subcategorization are aware of the vision and strategic goals of the organization, as well as the timeframes in which the goals should be met. Any deviation in the implementation of strategy at BU levels might either prolong or nullify the benefits being looked for by the organization.

The portfolio management needs to happen at the highest levels in the organization to make sure that no deviation from the established strategic goals happen. The focus of all the different programs within the portfolio is to realize the intended benefits, in the given time-frame to achieve the strategic objective of the organization. In traditional companies, most of the times, the organizational structure has an impact on the portfolio. The portfolio programs, market segments to target, introduction of new/updated products and/or services, etc. are quite deeply entrenched into the organization’s structure and capabilities. Most companies try to fit the portfolio into their existing infrastructure.

Ideally, the portfolio should be driving the organization structure and update the capabilities of the organization on a need basis. Digital transformation helps the organizations to decouple the portfolio from organization structure. Capability adjustment is done based on the project/program requirements according to the defined portfolio. Digital transformation gives more flexibility to portfolio managers to adjust the portfolio based on external factors and to align with a changing organization mission & vision if there is one.

The relationship between various components in the portfolio needs to be well-defined and maintained. Any addition or removal of components in a portfolio needs to be double-checked with regards to its relationship to other components so as have a minimal impact on other components and undergoing portfolio execution. Operations management, sponsors and stakeholders should be taken into confidence before any movement in the portfolio or subsidiary portfolio is done.

[1] – Project Management Institute (2018). The standard for portfolio management. Newtown Square, Pa: Project Management Institute, p.3.

Benefits Realization

I have been asking a lot of technocrats around in various verticals on whether they have been successfully tracking benefits realization in one or other format and making sure that they are constantly aligned and in sync with the organizational objectives, the most I get is glares and a few cheeky answers as to how they don’t get any “added/extra” benefit! Benefits realization management, defined in Benefits Realization Management: A practice guide, “BRM encompasses the standard methods and processes that an organization uses for identifying benefits, executing its benefits realization plans, and sustaining the realized benefits facilitated by portfolio, program, and project initiatives. BRM requires alignment with an organization’s strategy, a solid understanding of key principles, and techniques”[1].

Benefits realization in most product companies start and end at the business case development & analysis. Companies venturing into the service sector though has a different outlook and do have artifacts related to every business deal negotiation that more or less identifies benefits to both the supplier and the consumer. Most of the benefits detailed out in multiple artifacts are direct and tangible benefits such as a reduction in cost incurred, OPEX normalization, increase in market share, capability improvement, etc. Again, as I find it, no formal measurements are ever done for these benefits realization.

For example, if a project overruns its allocated budget, it is simply allocated a bit more or warped into another bigger project. If a deadline seems to be not feasible, it is simply moved to the next feasible date! No clear benefit realization revisits happen. In certain cases where the organization itself is driving important projects to realize its own organizational goals, the delays in project timelines seem to be accounted for by pushing in more money and more people to achieve the desired outcome.

In general, what I personally feel is that BRM as a process is not at all followed in most product organizations. Benefits register is rarely maintained and benefits themselves are having little mention outside of the business case documents and project charters. What’s your view?

[1] – Project Management Institute (2019). Benefits realization management : a practice guide. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, pp.7.

Digital Transformation & Cross-Functional Teams

One of the important aspects of Digitial Transformation is the introduction of cross-functional teams. A cross-functional team is a group of people with different functional expertise working toward a common goal[1]. Cross-functional teams include people from various departments with different functional expertise working towards a common organizational goal. This teams also might have people from outside of the organization such as suppliers, key customers, etc.

The purpose of the cross-functional team is to facilitate innovation through creative collaboration leading to higher throughput and quick problem resolution. Another purpose of the cross-functional team is to break the silos that typically happen in big organizations and instead try to build bridges for communication. All the people in a cross-functional team have various levels of expertise so even if the posed problem is not solved, it can easily be taken to an “expert” by the team for doubt resolution and a probable way forward. All in all, cross-functional teams do lead to improved coordination across various functional areas.

Cross-functional teams are a necessity for an organization to introduce digital transformation and venture into the field of Digitalization. The most important part of breaking of the silos or creating fast throughput communication bridges between various operational areas in the organization is the key for succeeding in the process of digital transformation. In the Projectified with PMI podcast, “Digital transformation – What it takes”[2], Anand Swaminathan cites an example of the ING company which is one of the largest financial conglomerates, who created cross-functional cross-discipline teams to provide a customer with the full experience of ING products & services. They called such teams as tribes & squads who work towards providing the best possible solution to their customers.

One more example was cited for the medical field where hospitals reorganized the teams to deliver healthcare centered around patient needs thus optimizing the patient throughput and reducing patient wait times. I do agree to the benefits of having cross-functional and/or cross-disciplined teams providing for faster turn around times. But such teams can only provide for faster turn around times till the problems faced are generic and do not require any special/expert in-depth consideration.

When a customer, for instance, comes in with a very specific problem which needs deeper analysis from experts in the area for a proper resolution, cross-functional teams are way more inefficient at handling this kind of situations. An example can be a child who enters an ER complaining of chest pains. Or a customer who already has billions of dollars invested in funds and now wants to move them into crypto. Also, research-intensive tasks such as finding a new DNA sequencing algorithm or optimizing the frequency utilization for a given band will pose some great challenges to cross-functional teams which they will not be able to clear.

In general, any problem which has not been solved previously will be a difficult one for cross-functional teams to handle. Digital transformation has various levels of success depending on the industry type and the way external and internal stakeholders & customers interact with the eco-system. Personally, I see the cross-functional cross-disciplined teams as assembly pipelines[3](progressive assembly) in a broader sense. Of course, it does not mean that the cross-functional cross-disciplined teams work in a sequence without variations. What I mean to suggest is that the efficiency of the cross-functional cross-disciplined team is greatly enhanced by having the “semi-assembled parts” ready! As long as the teams are not going to invent a new “assembly part”, everything should go smoothly.

As I see it, the way these teams are successful is because most of the problems faced by external/internal customers are not new and have already been previously solved. The cross-functional cross-disciplined teams take advantage of the previous experience to provide a faster solution and in doing so add to the previous experience. So my take on the aspect is to regard cross-functional cross-disciplined teams as structural organizations that can reduce the organizational overhead as well as break the silos and increase cross-functional communication.

And it does not mean that specialized organizations and roles are not needed anymore. Specialized organizations and roles just do not solve the already solved problems and hence the increase in efficiency since 90% of the problems are being solved externally from the core/expert group. I have seen organizations deeply involved in research, for instance, taking the cross-functional team as buffered pools for doing systematic research. This has a negative effect on digital transformation hindering the actual output of such research focussed organizations.

Please do post comments as I would like to understand if this is a general sentiment across the industry.

[1] – Krajewski, L. J. and L. P. Ritzman. 2005. Operations Management: Processes and Value Chains. Pearson Education, Upper Saddle River.
[2] – Project Management Institute, Inc (2018). Digital Transformation: What It Takes | Projectified. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Sep. 2019].
[3] – Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Assembly line. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2019].