Inspire…Challenge…Transform: some definitely do it all!

Phil Messina, a project manager at HP, volunteered to document the PMI Norcal Symposium 2008. Here is his report.

Randy Englund, Content and Program Director, www.englundpmc.com

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On September 3rd and 4th, nearly 300 project management professionals settled into the Stanford University Faculty Club meeting room in Palo Alto, California, for the NorCal 2008 PMI Symposium. Speakers and registrants from Hawaii to Spain attended the event, with the bulk of participants coming from the greater Central California area.

Attendees, shuttled to the Faculty Club from an outlying Stanford campus parking lot, stoically braved room air conditioning problems, exacerbated by hotter-than-normal August temperatures, to experience what was promised by the Symposium’s theme: inspire: challenge: transform. And it was worth it!

The Symposium delivered content-rich and engaging (and in many cases entertaining) presentations that covered various aspects of good project, program, and portfolio management. And, the venue enabled very strong attendee camaraderie and participation around the round tables that filled the room.

The Symposium itself was an impressive example of project management. Five Northern California PMI chapters provided governance and resources for this large-scale, non-profit event: Silicon Valley, San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento Valley, Wine Country, and Monterey Bay. This year, as part of a yearly chapter rotation, the Silicon Valley PMI Chapter took the leading role.

Salil Prasad from the Silicon Valley Chapter, and Project Manager for this year’s Symposium, led an all-volunteer team to pull off an extremely professional event. Every aspect of the Symposium, from concept to closing, was expertly conceived and executed. Marketing for the Symposium was so effective that registration had to be closed even before the early-bird deadline was reached!

In his opening remarks, PMI Silicon Valley Chapter President, Srinivas Ramakuri, recognized Randy Englund’s contributions to the Symposium’s theme and content. Randy secured 15 speakers, well known in specific areas of project management, creating a compelling program built around knowledge sharing, case studies, and group discussions. The program was supported by a core team of 20 volunteers who led out in all key areas, including Finance, Design and Marketing, Sponsorship, Registration, and Operations.

In addition to speakers and volunteers, over a dozen companies contributed to the Symposium, through purchasing of exhibit space, contributing cash or materials, or participating in event activities. This year’s key sponsor was Genentech.

On Day 1, subtitled “The Quest for Maturity”, Randy Englund launched the speaker presentations with the pronouncement that “Today is a good day”. He summarized the Symposium’s theme (“Inspire, Challenge, Transform”) as one that promoted “a cycle of knowledge creation and sharing”. And to emphasize the day’s focus on attaining project management maturity, he asked the brilliant ‘adolescents’ that populate the Silicon Valley and give it its energy and creativity: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The day continued with Roger Lewin, PhD. Probing the audience’s familiarity with complexity science, he provided several stories to illustrate the serendipitous nature of complex relationships and their power in project management when compared to traditional linear processes. Roger was followed by Birute Regine, EdD, who co-authored “The Soul at Work” with him. Birute explored the concept of transforming vulnerability into strength, stressing an approach to mistakes that treats and transforms them into learning experiences.

Mark Morgan, co-author of “Executing Your Strategy” discussed the impact of a company’s culture on project work, asking “What is the complex adaptive system we need to understand in order to implement strategy?” Mark enumerated six imperatives for better results, captured in the acronym “INVEST”: Ideation, Nature, Vision, Engagement, Synthesis, Transition.

Chuck House, in his after lunch address, kept the crowd more than awake. Co-author of an upcoming book on “The HP Phenomenon”, he has been a key witness and participant in the evolution of the Silicon Valley. Chuck presented a lively example of someone who brings passion to his work, as he recalled with wit and humor his exploits at Hewlett-Packard as an “INTRAprenuer”, leading from the ‘bottom up’ within the organization.

Capping off the first day were presentations by David Gill, Jim Sloane, and Alfonso Bucero, followed by a panel of Symposium speakers offering additional insights and fielding questions from the audience.

Mr. Gill, author of “It’s About Excellence: Building Ethically Healthy Organizations”, argued against current ethics practices that are predominantly negative, reactionary, and narrowly focused. He stressed the importance of a positive, proactive, and holistic approach to ethics.

Starting with a video clip featuring Jodi Foster in the movie “Contact”, and quoting from Harold Kerzner, Jim Sloane highlighted for the audience the importance of identifying elemental principals (a ‘primer’) in the “development of systems and processes that provide a high probability of project success”.

Through the use of colorful stories and metaphors, Alfonso Bucero, co-author of “Project Sponsorship: Achieving Management Commitment for Project Success” stressed the importance of an effective PMO, and the need for Passion, Persistence, and Patience in selling project management, and the importance of effective sponsorship, to company executives.

After an ‘Early Bird’ presentation on project management leadership research by Harish Chinai and Suzanne Dresser, Day 2 took a “Case Studies” approach, as a series of presenters described their respective company experiences.

Gordon Bruce, CIO for the City and County of Honolulu, greeted the audience with a hearty “It’s going to be a great day!”, and proceeded to entertain the audience with project management maxims and stories covering how Honolulu faced the challenges of implementing numerous system improvements within a seemingly impossible time frame.

Cinda Voegtli’s goal, through her ProjectConnections.Com web-based company, is to lessen the pain and frustration of initial project management experiences, via project and portfolio management toolkit offerings. She stressed the need to give people time to think, and the importance of maturity, ownership, and initiative to project success.

Norm Buckwalter, Director Innovation & Planning at the Accident Fund Group of Companies, provided an overview of the PMO & VMO (Vendor Management Office) at AFIC and its subsidiaries. Recognizing that one size does not fit all, he shared an ‘umbrella’ of project types, from business process re-engineering projects to R&D related projects.

Esteri Hinman, outlined her relatively new role as a Capability Owner in Intel’s Corporate Platform Office (a PMO), and her focus on addressing risk in a platform-based company undergoing cultural transformation and working to adopt processes that meet the needs of geographically dispersed virtual project teams.

From Symantec, Darin Danforth reviewed how the company has employed project governance audits to document learnings and improve performance, through the use of a Capability Maturity Model and key performance indicators to measure project execution maturity.

Melanie Ebojo, a senior project manager at Genentech, emphasized the benefits of, and provided some insights into, making risk management an integral, almost invisible, part of every project–providing ready-to-execute robust mitigation plans in place of relying solely on an after-the-fact fire fighting approach.

Tom Kendrick, author and an IT project management consultant at VISA, described an environment were up to 600 projects may be simultaneously in process, and how correlation among projects (how related or how independent they are) can impact risk from project, program, and enterprise perspectives.

Also, at mid-day, based on input from the attendees, each table was assigned a project management issue to examine and document findings for, which were reported back to the larger audience. The exercise covered two dozen topics, ranging from how to manage across functional silos to how to influence and execute strategy.

Following the speaker presentations and table discussions, the Symposium concluded with the recognition of volunteers and the distribution of door prizes.

All in all, these were two wonderful days, providing inspiration, stories about meeting challenges, and fulfilling the promise to transform organizations, based upon examples of those who truly have.

Phil Messina, PMP, PMI Monterey Bay Chapter

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