Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – is the 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, the U.S., Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
- Web site link - www.thinktankconsulting.ca
- Facebook - www.facebook.com/projectmanagementthinktankconsulting
- Twitter links - twitter.com/ThinktankConsul
- LinkedIn - www.linkedin.com/in/jmoustafaev
Gerald: Welcome to the P.P.M. Academy Podcast for Project, Program and Portfolio Managers, where we will
interview industry experts and discuss current and future trends in the world of project, program and
portfolio management and how what we do impacts our company's execution culture. I'm Gerald
Leonard. Today I have with me Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP, President and Founder of ThinkTank Consulting. He
is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope
definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal has done work for private-sector
companies and government organizations in Canada, the U.S., Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Jamal,
welcome. Thanks for joining us today.
Jamal: Thank you very much, Gerald.
Gerald: Definitely, definitely. Glad to have you.
Jamal: In the field of project portfolio management probably about fifteen years and a few project
management for approximately twenty years.
Gerald: Oh wow. Okay, so how did you get started?
Jamal: We're still trying to figure out my entire family, how the heck I ended up in a field of product
management because my education both bachelor's and masters have been in finance...
Gerald: Wow okay.
Jamal: But then somehow and inexplicably I ended up working for a dot com company...
Jamal: And by the time that company closed its doors, I had a conversation with a recruiter, and she told
me what do you do, and I said, I do this, this, this and that and she told me, well it sounds like you are a
Jamal: So twenty years later I'm still doing the project management job...
Gerald: You're still doing this, this, this, and that, right?
Jamal: Yeah. Portfolio Management is a little bit more interesting...
Jamal: I was once asked by and a very large North American ports authority to come and do it one day a
project management course for executives...
Jamal: So I had like eight or ten sea level people sitting in the room...
Jamal: And I was talking about project management, planning, initiation you know all those exciting
Jamal: And during coffee break, one of the executives, the CEO of the company approached me and he
posed a very interesting question to me he said, well here's the thing I don't know if you're going to
cover it in this course, but my department is constantly complaining that they don't have enough
resources both people and financial, human and financial to deliver the projects...
Jamal: That I assign to them and I have two options either I don't believe them, and I tell them to work
harder, or if I choose to believe them then I have two options either I give them more resources...
Jamal: Again was financially human...
Jamal: But then I will have to go to the board of directors and tell them, well remember how I asked for
fifteen million I now need hundred...
Jamal: How do I justify that?
Jamal: And if I cut the number of projects again how do I go to the board of directors and justify it to
them, well remember I promised to do two hundred projects, well we're delivering only the fifty...
Jamal: And I kind of thought about that and I said, listen that's actually not project management, that's a
project portfolio manager...
Jamal: And he said I would like to hear more about that and that's how my career in project portfolio
Gerald: I think we all kind of go down that same route it reminds me of a presentation I did called The
Accidental Portfolio Manager and how anyone that ends up in this field, it's usually through accident.
Jamal: Yeah and then I started reading books...
Jamal: Developing my own kind of theories about that, developed a course and I think in my first book
delivering sectional project results that came out in 2010, I kind of put all of my thoughts together about
project management and project portfolio management.
Gerald: Okay, okay. So tell me a little about so from your standpoint especially which is interesting as
your finance background, what is project portfolio management from your experience and purview of
what you've been doing?
Jamal: Well project portfolio management is basically a science and an art because there is an art
Jamal: Included in it, whether you like it or not...
Jamal: Of selecting the best projects or the highest value projects for your company is subject to internal
and external constraints, which are usually financial and human...
Jamal: Something I mean you know every sea level person I've ever spoken to would always tell me the
same story, I have hundreds of ideas, and I only have resources to implement twenty of them and the
numbers I'm using a completely arbitrary over here...
Jamal: How do I squeeze these hundred ideas into these twenty buckets of resources that I have and the
answer is you don't, you will prioritize your projects according to some criteria, you select the top
twenty, and you implement them...
Jamal: So in a nutshell that's probably what product portfolio management is all about for me.
Gerald: Gotcha, gotcha. So now from your perspective how is also connected to strategy, what's the
difference between your strategy and the portfolio? How do they play together?
Jamal: They are absolutely connected. I have just finished my third book, and it is purely indicated to
project portfolio management, and I am looking at thirty case studies I mean it describes the theory of
project portfolio management and the first several chapters and then the bulk of the book is basically
thirty case studies...
Jamal: Of how we implemented project portfolio management at different companies and off the top of
my head, I would say about 99%-95% of them have strategized one of the key selection criteria in their
Jamal: So yeah the first question I usually ask in a project portfolio management seminars workshops
that I do at companies in a layman's terms, explain to me what is a strategy, don't tell me I want to be
the best of the best of the best...
Jamal: Tell me things like I want to increase my sales by ten percent, or I want to expand into Asian
Jamal: Or I want to cut my costs by fifteen percent something along those lines, and then you tie in your
scoring model, your strategic alignment and your balance to the strategy of the company.
Gerald: Exactly, you know recently I was listening to a book called Good Strategy, Bad Strategy and it
really talks about that whole concept that strategy is not just about financial growth or being the best in
the world at one thing or something else; it's really about how do we tackle the challenges of our
environment and position ourselves to be the company that we're looking to be.
Jamal: Absolutely and I have a great example of that I recently, well recently five or six years ago dealt
with a Canadian University, which was located in a rural area and one of the challenges was that the
entire university has been running on one ERP system...
Jamal: And that ERP system hasn't been updated or upgraded, I believe for the last like nine years or
something like that...
Jamal: So basically University IT, the head of the IT University came to the President of the University
and told him, listen if we don't upgrade from a version for the sake of argument let's say 2.0 to 9.0...
Jamal: All of the operations of the University will probably cease to exist...
Jamal: In the next couple of years...
Jamal: So if you look at it from a financial standpoint I mean, there's no ROI on the project.
Jamal: If you're looking at increasing sales or revenues of the university, no it's just University will cease,
operations will cease, so that's yet another example of how I mean if you want to you know introduce
sustainability to your...
Jamal: Operations then this is what's something that you have to do.
Gerald: Right, it's like the gardener prioritization of portfolio mix model of run the business, you have to
have investments in the run the business category or the business will cease to run.
Gerald: Perfect, perfect. Now tell me about these three pillars of P.P.M. that you talk about?
Jamal: Well the first one remembers how I mentioned to you that the projects must maximize the
Jamal: It's a very kind of easy word to throw around value but yet you know when you started talking to
sea level people, okay how do we determine the value of a given project and there were two
approaches, the older approach was well let's measure the financial aspect of it...
Jamal: (Inaudible, 09:18) investment.
Jamal: And they kind of copied and pasted the financial portfolio theory into project portfolio theory but
really quickly people realized that a. financial forecast on the traditional (Inaudible, 09:35) there's
millions of studies done about that, saying that we're really, really bad at predicting the future. And
number two, you know just example I gave you, what is the ROI of replacing the University ERP system...
Jamal: It's very negative, but yet you still have to do that. So people finally adopt it scoring models to
measure the value of the projects. Maybe I can share some of them with you some of the examples...
Jamal: I can post it on your page.
Gerald: Oh sure.
Jamal: It's basically, yeah you know the usual suspects are a strategic alignment, market attractiveness
of the product, time to market,
Jamal: Especially if you're talking about product companies, financial aspects as well and then people say,
okay, we have these six variables high, medium, low, and we want to put all of our project proposals
through this model and then come out with some result meaning they prioritized list of projects, and
then we decide where we cut off.
Jamal: So that's value, that's the first pillar. The second pillar is balance; balance in a sense, again you
can have a multitude of dimensions when we talk about balance, again the usual suspects, risk versus
Jamal: You know what percentage of my portfolio is in high risk; high reward projects and what
percentage of my portfolio is in low risk; low reward projects and you can probably appreciate the fact
that if we're talking about a bank...
Jamal: They would probably want to see 95-99% of their projects to be in low risk; low reward...
Jamal: If we're talking about an aggressive software company...
Jamal: Probably that percentage of the percentage of high risk; high reward projects would be higher
and the third one is strategic alignment. Strategic alignment it can and usually is used in devalued
definition but just to reiterate the importance of strategic alignment, it is also used in that circular.
Jamal: That is more along the lines of, I'm just going to use the most typical example, what percentage
of my project portfolio do I want to allocate to brand new breakthrough products? What percentage
should go into improvements to the existing products and services? And what percentage should go into
Jamal: You know the cost of doing business planning.
Gerald: Right, right.
Jamal: So these are in a nutshell three key pillars of project portfolio management.
Gerald: So, do you have examples of those in your book because I mean you have thirty examples, and
that's a lot of examples in your book, and that's awesome, so maybe you can elaborate a little bit on
that with what we just talked about with the three pillars and maybe one or two examples that you can
Jamal: Well an interesting one of the interesting examples happened in Dubai, I was teaching my project
and portfolio management course there, and I was talking about balance, and there were this
gentleman from Saudi Arabia who was the, she over a very large construction companies.
Jamal: And I would say 95% of his business came from (Inaudible, 12:54) the oil companies and I was
teaching the course, and at one point of time he said listen I don't think this balance, I really like the
value discussion we had but this balance doesn't really apply to me, and I go why? He goes, well I'm kind
of like a professional services company right, I mean (Inaudible, 13:12) comes to me and says, build me
this, I mean what am I going to say you don't fit my balance I'm not going to do it for you and the
interesting aspect of this setup was that we had our windows of a conference room we're facing Burj
Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world you know.
Gerald: Okay, okay.
Jamal: Tom Cruise.
Gerald: Right, right, right.
Jamal: And at one point of time he interrupts me again and he goes, wait a second he goes, I'm close to
retirement, and I'm going to hand over this company to my son and he goes I want to see something
attractive on my company brochure and he points to Bush publisher, he goes, I want to see something
like that, and he's general manager was also sitting in the room, he kind of pokes him with an (Inaudible,
13:58) listen, forget about (Inaudible, 14:00) what is our margin on our current project, and goes about
5-10%, he goes if we're going to HVAC systems...
Jamal: We can get to 20-25% if we go into energy management, which is you know how to save energy
Jamal: Margins are 50-75%. Why don't we allocate 10% of all portfolio next year to going into a track
and then maybe a couple years later we'll go into energy management yes, higher risk because we
haven't done that before...
Jamal: We have been creating construction, why don't we try that...
Jamal: Right on the spot they made that decision.
Jamal: Well next year they will allocate, so that's an example of balance.
Gerald: Right, right on the spot. That's amazing, that's amazing. So now tell me you talk about and stress
the importance of executives remaining involved, you just shared a story there about an executive that
was involved. Why is that so critical that executives remain involved at this level?
Jamal: Well yeah I constantly especially when I go I teach my project portfolio management master class
in London in Europe twice a year and very frequently the following conversation happens...
Jamal: My attendees there they usually are very high ranking people at the companies, very large
companies, you know Director level, VP level and I asked the question at the beginning of the course,
okay why, why did you choose this course? What's your purpose of taking this course?
Jamal: They'll go well my executives told me to go learn about project portfolio management and then
come back and implement it and the second question that follows that is like, are they going to
participate in that, probably not there too busy. Okay, so let me paint the following picture, and you tell
me if it makes sense, so you go back, you create a scoring model based on your perception of the
business maybe you talk to other people...
Jamal: And a couple of months later your CEO comes over and says, hey Bob here's a project for you and
you put it through your scoring model and you discover it gets only 5 points out of 100, so you go back
to your CEO and say, well, unfortunately, we're not going to be able to do this project because it gets
only 5 points out of a 100. What is the next question that you're going to ask, well he's probably, he or
she, probably going to ask, who came up with that model...
Jamal: Well it was me because you were busy, no, no, no, no, no, if I'm the person making the decisions
about which projects to go ahead with and which projects to cancel, I should be the participant...
Jamal: So based on that story it is that people who approve the projects, the same people have to come
up with the scoring model...
Jamal: They must come up with a balance for the strategic alignment.
Gerald: Right, and the other thing I think is really critical is not only do they have to come up with a
scoring model but if you have let's say multiple people who create a quorum that has to make that
decision, many times when I found is that they're not on the same page and that by getting...go ahead.
Jamal: Yeah, there are ways to work around that and it's actually a good idea to have people from
different types, parts of the company because if you get just marketing people in the room, guess what
you're scoring model variables will be a financial gain, market attractiveness time to market, market
Jamal: In their score, I have seen it happen before and in their scoring model developed let's say by sales
and marketing people they will complete it completely ignore the needs of IT for example.
Jamal: So it is always a good idea to have all of the C-level people in the room.
Gerald: Exactly, because what I found is that it brings them together.
Gerald: It brings them together, it gets them all on the same page. Go ahead.
Jamal: Exactly because they keep talking about you know the market effect, and it'll cost them
satisfaction, etc., you know it only takes an IT guy to show into their room and say, listen if you don't
replace that server...
Jamal: There will be no market attraction, the customer (Inaudible, 18:06)
Gerald: It's always those IT guys doing that to you right?
Jamal: Not necessarily but yeah I mean they usually, very frequently they're the ones that kind of, you
Jamal: Deliver the news.
Gerald: Right, so before we, as we get great ready to wrap things up. A couple of things how do we
maximize the number of quality project proposals so that when we are engaging with the executives and
we're introducing new initiatives that we know that we're introducing something that's of quality and
that we have all the information that we need?
Jamal: Well number one, you should have developed a portfolio management model, it should not stay
in the executive boardrooms, it should be communicated to all the people in the company. You know
I've had a couple of companies, medium size companies, I even want to as far as saying I mean I say that
every company but sometimes they are a bit hesitant because of industrial espionage or whatever but I
don't think that that's the case. I told them just whatever scoring model they had developed, that simple
table; just print it on a large sheet of paper...
Jamal: And put it on the wall of every decision maker’s office or even post it in hallways...
Jamal: You know saying from now on we're going to select our project based on these criteria. A; if I
come up with I mean usually the projects start by someone saying wouldn't it be really cool if we could
Jamal: And if that person is high enough in the company hierarchy...
Gerald: It gets done.
Jamal: (Inaudible, 19:50)
Jamal: I'm sure you've never seen that in your professional life.
Gerald: Never, never, never happens.
Jamal: You know force that person to take a look at the tape, the scoring model on the wall of his office,
do the calculation, well if your project gets like 5 points out of 50 you probably shouldn't even bother
the committee with a proposal. If it gets like 45 out of 50, maybe it's a good idea to put it forward and
then the second role is the role of the PMO to filter, except all of these projects proposals, help them
with the developmental business case can be a one-page document. What else, I mean you're going to
have contests, you know whose projects proposal you know will get the highest points, etc., but it's
more about creation of that culture at the company of yeah we're willing to accept any proposal as long
as it's properly formulated, as long as the score is relatively high and then we'll discuss it at the
Jamal: Look at it from all angles and come up with our list of projects.
Gerald: Right, now you've mentioned the word culture, and you know my background I just wrote a
book called Culture is the Bass: Seven Principals of Developing a Culture that Works. When you think
about this concept of culture with what we do from your perspective how big of a large rock, you know
anything about that the big boulders of the big rocks that Stephen Covey talks about putting in the jar
first, how big of a large rock is culture when you're rolling out something like project portfolio
management, integrating it with strategy?
Jamal: It is very important; I mean I will give you one example, I've been once an employee of a very
Jamal: A large international bank and I got hired because they kind of understood the importance of
project management, I'm not even talking about portfolio management; project management...
Jamal: And they went out and hired a whole bunch of fairly good project managers, PMP certified, you
know minimum ten years of experience, etc., and I said, okay guys what hired you everything will be
okay now, and we are kind of okay, but project management culture was nonexistent at the company.
Jamal: It was approach was like more bank your fist on the deck...
Jamal: On the desks, sorry. Roll up your sleeves and go deliver it...
Jamal: And about a couple of weeks in my tenure there, a VP of the bank approaches me, and he goes
without going into very technical details, I want to Ferarri, I want tomorrow, and I'm willing to spend
only $500. And I'm sure you've never seen that happen in your career.
Gerald: You heard the laughter right?
Jamal: Yeah, and I'm like, well Tony, Ferarri tomorrow for $500, what I can get you I can get a used bike...
Jamal: $500 tomorrow, if you're willing to increase the budget to $5000, maybe I can get your used
Jamal: But if we're talking Ferrari, it's probably an I don't know $250,000 and maybe three months, wait
time if you're looking for custom features. He took a very long look at me because well you're the
project manager, aren't you? I want to Ferarri, I want it tomorrow, and I want it for $500, off you go, go
deliver it. And I'm like man you don't understand the basics of project management...
Jamal: You don't have proper, proper project management culture here, so that was a challenge that's
an example of how the lack of specific culture can impact, you know your attempts to instill or
implement something really good and something really useful.
Jamal: Same goes with the same goes for project portfolio management, I mean if the approach at the
company is executive walked into the boardroom and said, wouldn't it be really cool if we could do this,
snap of the fingers project initiated, then yeah it's not going to be very successful...
Gerald: Exactly, exactly. Because I always say you could have system process and tools but if you don't
have if you don't take in consideration the importance of culture and that as a part of your whole
rollouts strategy or process then you're doomed to failure.
Gerald: You're doomed to failure.
Jamal: Education, I think education plays a very big role.
Gerald: Right, right and that's a big part, that's a big part of it. Well Jamal, if someone wants to learn
more about you, where should they go?
Jamal: There's a whole bunch of places, and I think you will post the links on your page, but definitely my
website Thinktankconsulting.ca. They can feel free to find me on LinkedIn, I have a Twitter feed, I have,
what else do I have? YouTube, Facebook page, follow me connect with me. Take a look at you know to
sign up all my updates on the website because I tend to post usually an article a week on IT portfolio
management project management.
Gerald: Excellent, excellent. Well, ladies and gentlemen this has been Jamal Moustafaev, he's the
President and Founder of Think Tank Consulting. He's also the author of the most recent book, Project
Portfolio Management in Theory and in Practice: Thirty Case Studies from Around the World, Best
Practices and Advances in Program Management. Jamal, thanks so much for talking with us today. Again,
I look forward to catching up with you and let's just stay in touch.
Jamal: Thank you, thank you.