project portfolio management summit … in sunny CA

i just returned from california, where the nice folks @ ‘everything channel’ hosted me for 3 days to attend the project portfolio management summit.  it turned out to be a great networking event with executives and vendors that came together in the common cause for better business decision making through project portfolio management.

so, how would one explain ‘ppm’ to one’s grandmother?  simply put, project portfolio management provides organizations with a structured approach to make management decisions around which projects they should be investing in. 

given that much of the richness of decision sciences is abstracted in the general platitudes of ppm, the reality is that there is no single definition that would accurately capture the breadth and depth of human decision-making.  more so, in business environments with incentives skewed in terms of frames of reference, time frames and financial rewards … ppm can at best be defined as a set of structured approaches to enable data-driven decision making.  it does not even attempt to model and capture the behavioral and cognitive diversity of making complex decisions in constrained environments.

back to earthly things.  there were 2 kinds of software vendors with many kinds of promises: vendors that promised to install software that can ‘do it all’ and those that offered remote hosted software that can ‘do it all’.  somehow surprisingly, not a single vendor invoked the “cloud” word … for a change.

here’s a shout out to mark price perry who gave 3 extremely provocative and practical presentations … check out

3 obvious ideas:

a. dont forget core strategy: decision making with ppm is a dance around campfires … where s’mores and singing about priorities / resources / goals / money cannot come in the way of the greater purpose of the organization.  before you get into the many means and mechanics of ppm, focus on the organization’s core strategy — how does it uniquely create and capture value compared to its competition?

unfortunately, no one seemed to address this core context within which ppm needs to exist.

b. planning and budgeting are key: most organizations have some means or methods to conduct a budgeting ritual.  this cannot be ignored during ppm conversations since most funding is routed through the budgeting route … and it ends up being an upstream influencer of how $’s are allocated. 

again, didnt hear a lot about this symbiotic synergestic reality.  a set of simplistic alternative suggestions that merely ignore budgeting are simplistic at best and can be dangerously misguiding at worst.  caveat emptor.

c. organization change management is a reality:  given the inherent design of organizations, changes to decision-making structures and approaches come with the realities to cater to organization change management.  organizations that start off with little to no ppm culture, have the biggest chasms to cross in terms of organization change management.  it would behove of ‘hosted players’ to recognize that going to a hosted model from ground-zero can actually be harder due to the realities of organization change.

again, scarcely was a word spoken about this very critical component of going ppm.

that said… the event overall was extremely useful given the scope of content that it covered.  i am pleased to accept katherine busey’s ( managing director cio programs) offer to help strategize and plan the 2010 event.

on cloud computing … real clouds … and business value

recently a woman in iowa took a photo that sparked the push for a new cloud type.  this got me thinking about the current buzz in the enterprise technology world … cloud computing. 

there is scarcely a corner in the tech world where you dont find a vendor with ‘cloud’ hastily scribbled into the storefront in fresh chalk … hoping to attract your attention and wallet-share.  then there are those that sprouted into business under the promise of a new cloud. 

soon enough, there came many different types of cloud … from private-clouds, to iron-clouds, to personal-clouds … the list goes on.  coming up with new tech cloud types and sub-types seems to be as easy as spotting clouds in the sky. or, so it seems.

except that new cloud types are not named as commonly as we see in the tech world.  the last time a major cloud type was named was 1951.  and despite all the very different types of clouds we might come upon, there are not as many new ‘types’ declared as commonly as the tech world …

this brings me to my staple diet of …

3 obvious ideas:

a. create value hand-in-hand with conveying it: it is imperative that the technology world create new value before going about creating new types and sub-types to convey value.  a new cloud type hasnt been declared since 1951.  maybe, just maybe if there was a market for these we would have had a 1000 more types …

b. buzzwords + flavors deprecate IT value: business decision makers and buyers tend to gloss over when they see freshly scribbled chalkmarks carrying the latest buzzwords .. why dont we do a better job of quantifying real measurable business value with the same gusto with which we create new buzzwords?

c. appreciating nature: i like the idea of the cloud apprecation society.  maybe, just occassionally, we should all step away from the keyboards and clouds to step out in the real world … and spot some real clouds.  maybe, just maybe, we might actually find a real new cloud category … like the lady from iowa.

kellogg emba … wrapping up stats + econ

wow, how the semester has literally flown by us.  statistics and economics finals are over. 

prof. bob weber deserves a special recognition for coming into the class barely a week after surviving a heart attack.  that man does not stop working, does he?!

the statistics course was probably the most transformative experience with numbers.  prof. weber demonstrated how managers tend to make misguided decisions based on a suboptimal understanding of core statistical concepts.  interestingly, and unlike all the previous coursework i have done in statistics… this course focused on the managerial decision making aspects of statistics instead of the mechanical gyrations of producing ‘output’.

the kellogg executive mba program continues to be a pleasant and productive journey.  if you are looking for a truly integrated and in-depth emba program, look no further …


sai at obviousideas dot com

an american auto revolution … the need to put customers 1st

what a year it has been for american auto majors.  pundits have written about it six ways to sunday … and yet, i find something obviously absent in the dialog.  the customer.

we hear about restructuring plans, debt refinancing, labor negotiation, de-merger dynamics, green technology and other paths to promising breakthroughs.  but pray, where is the focus on the customer?!

3 obviousideas

i. wish vs. want: focus on building a brand that “people wish they could have”, not one that you hope “people will want” or “need”.  so, a chevy ’64 impala is not the same as an ’09 impala.  same for the chevy camaro.  classic examples of cars that ‘people wished they could have’ becoming ‘cars that the company wished people would want’.

ii. brand identity: focus on a product mix where all products are strongly aligned with the brand identity and help reinforce it.  so, a chevy corvette and a chevy aveo should never again have the same badge.   how about being careful about brand extensions and not trying to be ‘everything to everyone’?

iii. points-of-experience:  focus on the entire customer experience around the brand, from prospecting to post-sales service and support.  so, never again should a customer walk away from a dealership ‘feeling ripped off’.  how about more clarity and courtesy at the points-of-experience?  i think the new volkswagen cc ad promising carefree maintenance a-la bmw is a step in the right direction.

what do you think?

kellogg emba … a seamless tapestry

i continue to be amazed by the alignment between the kellogg emba courses.  we are currently studying finance, statistics and economics: the core analytical portion of the program.  turns out that a concept introduced in finance, is soon referenced in statistics … and later further in economics.  the hand-offs are so seamless and natural, it makes for a truly integrated learning experience.

the courses continue to be aligned towards the need of a general manager or business executive who needs to work with the solid intuition underlying these topics.  so, it turns out to be a real meaningful journey going beyond the mechanics, which are much easier to teach and learn (by rote!). 

prof. raviv’s model of introduing an intuition, demonstrating it through a ‘toy example’, highlighting a current industry perspective and finally handing over to the teaching assistant for the mechanics … is truly a remarkable one.

prof. weber and prof. vohra continue to bring the richest insights, what with the latter interlacing his commentary with british wit, shaken but not stirred.

3 obviousideas: the kellogg emba is for you if …

1. you want to get a solid foundation and intuition, through a combination of thought-provoking discussion, probing inquiry and off-line reading

2. you are comfortable learning the mechanics as you go along and are not looking purely for a mathematical experience

3. you enjoy learning through teams that will stay together for the duration of the program

a flu by any other name … and lessons in communication

what a week it has been.  ‘swine flu’ got officially renamed as A/’H1N1′ after reports that the pork industry was being unfairly affected by mistaken association. 

here is what i dont get.  every year when hurricane season comes around the US, anyone with a common angl0-saxon first name is at risk of being associated with a potentially destructive hurricane.  which industry group is out there to protect the atlantic coast arthurs, berthas, dollys from 2002, the noels, olgas, pablos and wendys from 2007?  or, the pacific facing johns, pauls and rosas from 2006?  and there is the (in)famous katrina.

last that i checked katrina did not have anything to do with the death and destruction wrought by nature.  however, the cdc itself has noted that the swine flu is ‘a respiratory disease of pigs’ … check this out

no one seems to know what has caused a pocrine disease to jump to homo sapiens, but wont it be prudent to educate the world’s population on the linkage with pigs … and somehow minimize contact?  ‘swine flu’ is a lot easier than “A/H1N1” … to convey to billions the linkage between pigs and the flu.  millions could be less literate + more vulnerable to communicable diseases due to poorer living conditions.  what better way to minimize and mitigate the risk than saying it as it is?!

none less than the cdc says “Most commonly, these cases occur in persons with direct exposure to pigs (e.g. children near pigs at a fair or workers in the swine industry).” (source:

3 obviousideas

1. communication intent: let us keep in mind the primary intent behind any communication and ensure that we are aligned with that interest.  for instance, if there is a chance that reducing direct contact with pigs can reduce the risk of contracting and spreading this disease, they say it as it is! 

2. clarity and conveyability: these are critical elements to ensure that the message reaches the audience and elicits the kind of response sought.  A/H1N1 surely fails the test of clarity and conveyability.  add ‘influenza’ as a prefix and your audience becomes even smaller. 

3. collateral damage: any communication carries the risk of collateral damage of unintended consequences.  question is, would you rather suffer collateral damage or core damage?  let us recognize collateral damage and minimize it, but not over-react to the point of changing the message itself and losing communication intent, clarity and conveyability.  if the katrinas of the world can live with a sad and deadly association, i am sure the world community of pigs will be ok.

golf gone wild … the john daly experiment

what an interesting collision of color.  to put it mildly. 

check out:,159883

you will note that i put the complete URL in there sans editorial commentary on the choice of words therein.  notice the ‘h’ word?

i could not but help imagine a parallel with organization transformation + communication.  often when leading change, we struggle to find new ways to connect and communicate with our target audience.  we look for ways to make a difference, stand out amongst the crowd … and be remembered.

what better way than to put on a pair of golf pants that look different?  seriously.

3 obviousideas

1. creative compulsion: if no color can be too loud on the golf course … no message can be too creative for the workforce.  look for a particularly distinct way for your message to stand out.  break the habit and do something different … so people notice. 

2. comfortable confidence: notice the cool confident smile that daly carries with him.  in fact when you make a creative impact, it is imperative to look more confident than you normally appear.  you cannot fake creativity, you might as well live it up!

3. make your message meaningful: of course, all flash and no stash is useless.  make sure that creativity + confidence are catalysts to deliver a deeper message.  make it synchronize with the enablers.  however, do have a message.  do have a message.  have a message.   a message.  message.