Podcast - "Project Management Podcast" interview with Jamal Moustafaev

PM Podcast Interview

There is an old PM saying that goes like this: Projects don’t fail at the end... they fail at the beginning. But when exactly is “the beginning”? Is it scope definition? The kick off meeting? The creation of the charter? For me it is even earlier than that. Listen to the interview I gave to my friend Cornelius Fichtner on his website "PM Podcast".

Interview Transcript

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Jamal Moustafaev, author, speaker and portfolio management expert.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Jamal, welcome back to The Project Management Podcast™.

Jamal Moustafaev: Hi, Cornelius! How are you doing?

Cornelius Fichtner: Very well, thank you! So we want to talk about your book: “Delivering Exceptional Project Results – A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management.” But before we even go to that, what do you love about portfolio management? What made you write the book?

Jamal Moustafaev: Well, I don’t know if this is the love thing. But I can share some of the information that I share on the pages right at the beginning pages of my book, some statistical data that was gathered by researchers and scientists in the field of project and portfolio management. With your permission, I’ll share it with you and your listeners.

Well, it looks like most of the companies if you look at the companies, if you look at the strategic level, project portfolio management level which is the selection of the best projects for the company. Statistics looks something like this: 84% of companies either do not conduct business cases for their projects or perform them on selected key projects; 89% of companies rely solely on the financial data which is notoriously unreliable; 84% of companies cannot adjust their projects with their business needs which cost something because of the changing environment.

To sum it up in one simple sentence as one of my clients once told me, he goes: “You know how projects initiated at our company?” and I go “How?” He goes: “Well then executive just walks into the room and says ‘wouldn’t it be really cool if you could do this?’ and ‘bang!’ project initiated”.

If you’ll take a step down to the tactical side of things at the project management level and I think most of the listeners are familiar with those statistics: 19% of all projects fail outright, 46% are troubled which means they are severely over the budget or severely late. If you take the first ingredient that we’re not really good with selecting projects and you take the second ingredient that assuming even that good ideas were selected we’re not really good at delivery, we end up with 40% of project investments failing.

If you’ll extrapolate that to numbers which is in my opinion like a higher impact data, 1.5 trillion in underperforming projects in US alone and 5.2 trillion worldwide, hence, I think portfolio management would provide you with solutions to these problems and we obviously have problems.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right. Okay! So we have a book about project management and there are dozens, hundreds of similar books out there that discuss the same topic maybe from a slightly different angle, maybe from another author, very likely from another author, what makes your book unique?

Jamal Moustafaev: You know what? I had to go through the same process answering exactly the same question for J. Ross Publishing. When was that? About 3 years ago when I was trying to convince them to pick up the book and here’s what I’ve discovered. I’ve discovered that quite organically because I first had a question and I wanted to find an answer for that and I started doing research and reading books about that. But here’s what I have discovered and I’m going to make some generalizations here. Whatever I’m saying is to the best of my knowledge. But J. Ross agreed with me on that.

If you look at the vast majority of project management books, they basically claim the following thing: We assume you have selected a good idea to implement. Now when we’ll use project management knowledge to deliver these projects on time, on budget with the required quality, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. When you look at the portfolio management books domain, portfolio management books tell you: ‘We will teach you how to select the best ideas for your business for implementation. However, we’re assuming you have good project management in place.’ Sometimes they claim that. Sometimes they don’t.

And for me, as someone who has been practicing project management and portfolio management for quite some time, said: “Wait a second, you can’t really look at them separately. You’ll have to be looking at them together.” And if there’s one thing for listeners to take away on this regarding this book is that it looks at project management and portfolio management in context to each other and analyzes their influences and interactions with one another.

And the book is basically based on 3 very simple premises that in order to deliver great projects, the company must select the most promising ideas. If you select dumb ideas and you have excellent implementation, you’ll still not going to end up with project results.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay. Yes.

Jamal Moustafaev: In order to deliver great projects, the company must ensure that the number of project does not exceed throughput capacity.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay, it makes sense.

Jamal Moustafaev: In one of the examples, I teach at the British Columbia Institute of Technology here in Vancouver and one of the examples I’d like to use with my students. I say: “Well, you just [grab] the mid-term exam with 5 questions for 2 hours. What happens if something goes wrong with my head and I give you 100 hundreds on the final exam, for the same time?” Students go: “Well, we’re all going to fail.” Okay, that sounds like a silly example and I sometimes use it with my corporate clients. And they go: “Well, yeah, but that does sound like a silly example.” I go: “Okay, replace the word ‘questions’ with the word ‘projects’ and the word ‘exam’ with the word ‘fiscal year’.” And they go at me and they go suddenly, you see their smile disappearing from their faces because yeah indeed, there are 5. They try to cram as many projects as possible.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yes, that’s usually the case.

Jamal Moustafaev: The third premise which should be straightforward again with the listeners hopefully that in order to deliver great projects, you have to have discipline of scoping, estimation and other project management techniques in order to deliver these great ideas.

This is the main. These points are probably the main points of the book. On a side note, it’s written in a firmly informal and non-academic language because I want everyone who reads the book willing to understand what’s going on there.

I use the technique where I start each chapter with historical vignette which when I tell you, it’s the, for example, the Virgin Lands Project taken in Soviet Union in 1953; the German invasion of Soviet Union in ’41, Battle of Crecy, et cetera, et cetera, whole bunch of historicals. Analyze from the project management perspective and they act as an introduction in to each chapter. So that’s in a nutshell what makes the book unique. Hopefully, I was able to answer that question for you.

Cornelius Fichtner: Absolutely. Alright! So we want to now move on and focus really on project portfolio management for the rest of our discussion here. So how can the listener determine whether they need project portfolio management or not?


About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @ www.thinktankconsulting.ca

Jamal is an author of two very popular books: Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management and Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects.