Oilpocalypse, Risk Management and more...

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10 Things I Learned from PMI Houston’s 2015 Annual Conference this week

Another year has come and gone, and with it the PMI Houston Annual Conference… a fun shindig held in the shadow of the Astrodome and a stone’s throw from Reliant NRG Stadium. 500 project management types descended on the conference center from Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and points around.

Here are the top 10 takeaways compiled by UMT’s Houston practice team members that played an active role in supporting the conference:

10) Nobody puts on an annual conference like the fine volunteers of PMI Houston. They’ve been doing it for years, and each year it gets better. (Each year, they also break out the bar earlier and give out more drink tickets – but I doubt that there’s a correlation.) Kudos to the folks in grey. We raise our watermelon margaritas to you…!

9) In addition to a vibrant cultural scene, Houston truly does have an exciting community of project managers. It’s great to see the appetite to congregate and learn from one another as a functioning community of practice.

8) Oil prices seem to have really put a dent on turnout from the oil patch. On the other hand, turnout from the area’s health care companies definitely seemed up….or maybe it just seemed like more health care folks due to the obvious deficit in oil folks. I might propose that we can start to gauge the Health/Oil attendance ratio as a function of the price of oil to give us the PMIH Conference Index (PMIHCI) as a lagging indicator.

7) Perhaps driven by recent changes in the price of oil, the concept of baselining benefits estimates came much more to the forefront. The project itself may be on budget and within schedule, but if the benefits have changed, that should trigger a project reassessment. That brings us to the topic of benefits realization – which remains an aspirational goal for many organizations.

6) This year, the oil patch was less driven by a need for speed – and more for how to reduce operational costs, i.e. on how to drill the best well, not the next well. We received great feedback on our presentation on Oilpocalypse Now! Achieving Operational Efficiencies with Integrated Project Management. I might ding PMI for not spelling “Oilpocalypse” correctly on the signage, but given that we made the word up, I’m not sure what rules apply.

5) Project managers are hungry for systematic ways of managing the risk portfolio. Another UMT team member delivered his presentation on risk management to a “sold out” room of attendees. My takeaway from the ensuing discussion: There is a need for greater collaboration amongst the project teams and their stakeholders to flexibly support crisis management, collaboration, risk management and change management.

4) Everyone uses Microsoft Project. There may be other tools out there – especially for enterprise visibility. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing that competes with the Microsoft product on the desktop. When that is complemented with Microsoft’s online hosted enterprise platform, the sheer volume of usage is impressive.

3) Local IT folks were receptive to the message from last week’s Gartner conference, i.e. that IT needs to embrace the new bi-modal reality, that projects will be split into two portfolios: planned projects for the risk averse, and quick projects to meet short term business demand. That topic came up in UMT’s third presentation on Financial Governance for Project Management Success. Agile, critical chain project management and other “mode 2″ methodologies are among the current focus areas for project managers managing projects where multiple different methodologies may be applied at the same time.

2) Large organizations continue to struggle to manage programs well. As we’ve noted before, programs can be both a governance framework and a benefits realization framework – and are an important tool in driving agility within the portfolio (by essentially pre-authorizing limited funding for efforts to meet specific program goals.) There’s not a lot of experience in the market on structuring this successfully, though.

1) Overall, it was great to see our Houston practice step up and deliver six (6!) separate presentations on a wide diversity of topics, from Dashboards for Each Level of Maturity to my co-presentation on Microsoft Project Online with Microsoft. We were glad to have the opportunity to support out local project management community, and look forward to next year’s conference!