Theory of Constraints

PSGS 022: Expert Interview with Gerry Kendall

Gerald Kendall

Today we have with us Gerry Kendall. Gerry is a recognized world expert at strategic planning, Theory of Constraints (TOC) and project portfolio management, with extensive implementation experience. His clients span the globe, including engagements in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Australia, Europe, the United States and Canada. Gerry is married to his lovely wife, Jackie. They share 5 children and 7 grandchildren.

Gerry's latest book, "Advanced Multi-Project Management," provides the detailed proven road map for getting major improvement in delivering a project portfolio on time, on budget and within scope. His "Advanced Project Portfolio Management and the PMO" is the top-selling book in the PMO and Project Portfolio Management space.

Gerry also authored a chapter on "Project Portfolio Management for the American Management Association Handbook of Project Management, 2nd Edition," and a chapter on Critical Chain in Dr. Harold Kerzner's book, "Project Management, A System's Approach, 8th edition." The new TOC Handbook highlights Gerry's chapter on TOC Strategy and Tactics application.


Gerald: Welcome to the PPM 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, we have with us Gerry Kendall. Gerry is a recognized world expert in strategic planning, theory of constraints (TOC), and project portfolio management with extensive implementation experience. His clients span the globe, including engagements in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Australia, Europe, the United States and Canada. Gerry's latest book, Advanced Multi-Project Management, provides the details-proven road map to getting major improvements and delivering a project portfolio on time, on budget and within scope. His Advanced Project Portfolio Management and the PMO is the top selling book in the PMO and project portfolio management space. Gerry, thanks so much for talking with us today.

Gerry: Hey, my pleasure, Gerald. Thanks for inviting me.

Gerald: No problem. So glad to have you. I've read a number of your books and I think our listeners are going to be in for a great treat. So to start off, Gerry, how did you get started in this field and what do you think has made you successful throughout your career?

Gerry: Well, the starting point in this part of the work was really back in the 90's. I was frustrated with my high tech career. I'd gotten to the pinnacle and didn't enjoy it very much at that point and I said, “There's got to be a way to have a bigger impact on companies and to do things smarter;” so I read a book called The Goal by Dr. Goldratt. I was stimulated to buy it and got in touch with its company and started consulting with them.

Gerald: Oh excellent!

Gerry: It's been a 21 year journey so far.

Gerald: Wow, wow! So tell me, what do you think is poorly understood and unresolved in the project portfolio management space and why?

Gerry: I think there's three things, Gerald. The first thing is that the portfolios that I look at don't have a measurable link between the organization goals and the projects. And I think, you know, that ends up killing the organization because if you don't have that link, how do you know that the projects that you're doing are actually going to achieve the goals of the organization? Now when I say measurable, I mean very tangible; so you know for example, if the organization has $100 million sales goal, every project should have some part of it designated and if it isn't, how do you know that those projects are really going to help achieve the goal? But the other thing, the other thing that comes into that is that if you don't know whether the projects – the collection of projects, you have are sufficient to which you have the goal, organizations end up releasing projects into the system without really knowing what their capacity is and their broad work. So you find the portfolios today are horribly overloaded, resources are multi-tasked to death and the work isn't getting done; and when some projects do get done they don't receive any part of the organization's goals. The third aspect that I think is really unresolved is very, very poorly defined project networks. They’re missing, so they're missing deliverables, they're missing success criteria. They're not networked properly and so you end up – even if you have the right projects, they end up being executed poorly because of that.

Gerald: Right. Can you talk a little bit more about project networks? I'm not sure if a lot of people understand what that means.

Gerry: So every project has a set of dependencies between tasks and resources in order to accomplish the project itself. It's not just the task load, there's dependencies between projects, there's different paths and until I wrote the last book, the correct process for doing that work was not in the public domain; so it's actually about 70 pages in there just devoted to how they do intents the process to build project networks correctly. And again it's with the whole intent of not missing the scope, not missing deliverables and you know having all the dependencies correctly defined at the right level of detail.

Gerald: Right, right. That's amazing. So what is the most significant project that you've worked on in your career and how did it shape your approach to project portfolio management?

Gerry: The one that I show was far and above any other that I did was a project for Alcan Aluminum and it was on the subject of operational stability. Alcan Aluminum in Quebec was looking to attain a $1.6 billion investment in building a new smelter in Quebec. They were competing with every other Alcan facility in the world for that investment and at stake was 12,000 jobs in the Province, the relationship with their unions and the ability to grow and expand the company from that point forward. And this was actually a one week project that built the strategy or the project portfolio to achieve that goal. At the beginning of the week I recall that when we met with the senior mediation team the question they asked was "How do we eliminate our union?" because they were having so much problems related to operational stability at that point. Of course it wasn't a serious question because they knew that in order to continue their business they had to maintain their relationship, but by the end of the week at the top of their strategy was a statement: The future of the union is secure. And nine months later after we did that strategy and they actually executed that portfolio budget in a very dedicated, concise way, I got a fax from the Vice President saying "Congratulations, Gerry. Thanks to your efforts, we just signed an 18 year framework agreement with our unions." And the very next day Alcan – the President of Alcan announced the $1.6 billion investment in Quebec. So it had an impact on thousands of people in that area and it was very, very satisfying work. And thing that – the way that it impacted me going forward – was really wanting to work with executives of companies, have an impact on the company, a lasting impact.

Gerald: Got it, got it. That's amazing because so many times we try to help our companies or help our clients achieve their goals and we run into all types of cultural challenges and cultural difficulties and just adoption. So with that in mind, what challenges have you helped clients overcome recently?

Gerry: Well recently it's really a lot of focus on helping clients do more projects with the same resources and I'm not talking about 5-10% more, but exponentially more, like 20-25% more with the predictability that the Scan of Script statistics, they do a survey every couple of years about projects on time, on

budget, within scope and still after decades of all the project management work, they're still reporting 60-70% of projects that don't finish on time or within scope. So the work that I do gets that predictability up to the high 90s and then to do the projects faster you know and that gets the executive's attention. It gets the executive's interest because it impacts their ability to meet their goals.

Gerald: Exactly so what would you say is the underlying capability that's allowing you to deliver those kinds of results?

Gerry: Well I only do a top man approach. In other words, we set a goal with the senior management team to begin with and it's a very tangible goal. For example, the company that I started working with this week in Baltimore, the president of that company set a goal of doing 15% more project work with the same resources. Now they do projects for a living so that 15% increase in project work ends up resulting in a 40-50% increase in the bottom line. So that's a starting point. I happen to use, you know, critical themed methodology as a method, but there's a lot more to it than just critical chain. It's really 75% of the results come from changing the way that we do the execution practices. So it seems like daily test management, abstract issue resolution, full kitting projects, we have re-work and scope prep. Just a bunch of perimeters that are in the book.

Gerald: Right. I have to go back and read your book again, Gerry.

Gerry: (Laughter) Well, it sure better bring benefits from our call.

Gerald: Exactly, exactly. So as we begin to wrap this up, what's a trend that you see in our industry?

Gerry: Well, the one interesting trend that I've seen is smaller companies and I'm talking about companies that are less than $100 million, even $10 million companies are starting to do project portfolio management, more of them. And to me that's a significant trend because someone who is in a big organization doing this typically has a limit to how far they can get to in their career and how they move, but when you're doing this in a small company, you're typically reporting to the president of the company. This function is so important to them that it's a tremendous trend and to have that kind of career opportunity is really good. I'm seeing even a few companies, not that many, but a few companies that now have the title of chief portfolio officer.

Gerald: Oh wow!

Gerry: So it's developing, recognition is slightly increasing so I think that's a good thing.

Gerald: Okay. I'm gonna have to look that up and add that to my notes when I publish this podcast. So as we wrap this up, what's one tip or strategy would you give someone if they were looking to grow in their career as a project portfolio management expert?

Gerry: Okay, my take is that you need to get connected as much as you can with the senior managers and senior executives of the company. If there's a central occasion to meet them, get into the discussion about the concept of project portfolio management and do it in the context of helping the company to meet their goals in a much more predictable way. This is on the executive purview and this is how careers are developed. A lot of folks that are especially in the IT professional world don't know or are uncomfortable talking to executives in this manner – in the business sense – and executives love it. They know they have problems with projects and they know they have trouble getting predictability meeting their goals. Anything that's going to further the company along is going to help that person's career as well.

Gerald: Excellent, excellent. Thank you so much for that. Okay so Gerry, if our listeners want to learn more about you, where can they go?

Gerry: You can go to

Gerald: Excellent. Well ladies and gentlemen, this is Gerry Kendall and thank you so much for talking with us today, Gerry. That was Gerry Kendall, author of four books and the book Advanced Project Portfolio Management and the PMO. It's one of the top selling books in the PMO and project portfolio management space. For more expert insights, go to then click Podcasts.

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