Q&A with Roy Zisman – Experienced PMO Director

Welcome to the Proggio Q&A sessions series, today with Roy Zisman, seasoned Sr. PMO and PMO Director for several global companies. Roy gained his experience managing big project teams in homeland security, the payment industry and cyber technology.

Hi Roy, we are so happy to have you here.

What would you say are the fundamentals of team success and productivity?

I think that the most important thing is engagement. And I’m not talking simple collaboration tools, but actually creating the feeling of being part of the team for every team member. Such engagement drives efficiency and accountability for everyone part of the project. Individuals will contribute to the team goal when they feel they have responsibility and are being trusted. These elements, alongside a good understanding of the path forward, are the building blocks of team engagement.

This atmosphere may start with elements that are not related to a specific team – it can come from the organizational culture as a whole. But even if the organizational culture isn’t there yet, a project manager can create such an environment within a specific project.

I remember one example where we had to create this engagement within a team that was supposed to run a very important project. My effort to foster this engagement went all the way to changing their seats and asking them to work in a different environment! The feeling that you are part of a team that has responsibility and is being trusted to lead the organization in a certain direction, contributes a lot to this kind of team engagement.

Such atmosphere is often observed among teams that are doing something good in the world, like saving lives or protecting unique animal species. They feel good about what they do, and therefore their engagement is very high. Being able to create something similar in your team can be very effective to team productivity.

From team level to project level – what makes a project successful?

There are so many factors in running a successful project! Let me mention two items that I learned over the years, and I consider very interesting.

Responsibility tolerance

When it comes to operating and managing a project, I think that the project manager must have some level of tolerance, where he allows for people to think independently and take responsibility. This sometimes goes against the initial instinct of a project manager, where he wants to go into the details and track each task progress. But at the end of the day, this kind of tolerance can have significant positive impact at the project level.

For a project manager to keep a good level of responsibility tolerance, each module must have a owner, and this owner should feel responsible for everything within his or her domain. If this module is feeding another module, then this responsibility is being translated into coordination with another module owner, and accountability.

With that said, I don’t think that it is possible to cancel all project conflicts and to expect module owners to deal with everything alone! So at the end of the day, a project must also have a supervisor, like a project manager or someone in a similar role, that will act as a responsible figure to resolve big conflicts between these operational modules and constantly point to the north star.

Risk assessment vs. risk handling procedures

When it comes to dealing with risk and issues, I pay more attention to a project team’s risk handling procedures more than classic risk assessment.

While the well developed area of risk assessment, mitigation, and prevention has its advantages, I don’t see it as critical to project operation. I think that if the team develops efficient project tracking it may effectively handle the risk that is being uncovered day to day. Creating the environment that can handle ongoing risk is more effective than trying to predict it – since, anyways, it is very hard to predict in the first place! You place the spotlight on one place, and you almost always find the risk somewhere else. For example, discovering a bug at the last minute is a situation that’s very hard to handle. But if the project team is set and experienced with resolving this kind of situation through proper discussion as it arrives, the team will function like a very efficient machine in solving the problem.

I do agree that there are significant risk items that can be discussed in advance the old way, and a prevention plan can be set for identified potential risks. But I also think that this is not effective for the majority of risk, which by definition can’t be known in advanced to the project team, and the team must be ready to just handle things as they arise.

Is project management a born profession or learned one?

You can teach someone to be a project manager, but they do need some level of basic skill set.

In my view, a successful project manager should be:

  1. A long-time thinker, with wide perspective and an ability to see things from above. It enables making decisions that are not just for today, but for success in the long term.
  2. Someone with people skills. People are following the project manager and you need to have excellent people leadership skills.
  3. Someone with analytical and technical skills and natural curiosity. At the end of the day, project management is a profession, it has methods, tools and techniques.

What do organizations need to look for when selecting a project management solution?

When selecting a solution I would be looking at how simple it is, and what kind of views it provides to cover the organization’s day to day and operational needs.

The first thing has to be simplicity. If the solution is too complicated to maintain, update and edit, it is just not going to work. You will end up not seeing the value, because you will be investing too much effort to get something in return. It will reach the point when you simply stop using it!

The second criterion is different points of view. Each member of the project team has different view of the project. Form the executive manager who like to see the top level picture to a team member only looking for their task list. A good solution can provide visuals on every level of the project.

The problem is that these two requirements are almost contradictory! On one hand I’m asking for simplicity, and on the other hand I’m asking for several different levels of perspective. This is where I see the biggest challenge in selecting the proper tools.

Last but not least, a solution must be able to provide the answer to the question “How are we doing?” at any time and online – without the person asking the question dedicating too much effort into finding the answer.

Many people consider project management difficult and boring. What about you? Do you like your day to day work?

A project manager is like a duck. Not really swimming, not really diving, not really flying. Just capable of doing all…

As a project manager you are what you make out of your role. You can be small, not really important part of the organization, or you can run the entire company. There aren’t real boundaries – just you, your leadership, your skills and you ambitions. As such, this is a great challenge that I find very interesting. So yes, I like my job very much!

Thanks you Roy! It was great hosting you here on the Proggio Success Blog. Looking forward to the next time!