Customer Reviews: Connecting the Dots: Aligning Projects With Objectives in Unpredictable Times
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on September 8, 2003
I used this book for our annual management off-site and pulled the alignment exercise from the first chapter listing our top twenty projects from last year. Using the book to instigate a look back at these investments was very valuable. We always knew there was a lot of opportunity, but just not how to isolate it. The book offers some simple yet innovative tools to improve this gap, and the group enjoyed splitting up and experimenting with them.
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on October 1, 2003
The strength of this book is it's simplicity and graphical representation of decision frameworks. For most companies this is a strong tool for internal development planning and compliment to Six Sigma initiatives. For consultants, this can be used to plan your services portfolio. Well written and an enjoyable read.
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on August 28, 2003
Book focuses on evaluating projects as portfolios. Focus is on alignment of projects with concern's goals (short-term, long-term, and in "traits" to handle globalization-world's uncertainties), with each other, and against the "world context." Book does state to check your guns at the door, and your slide rule, too. Approach is not quantitative as presented, and requires good faith relooks at projects. Individual tools are described to bring out misalignments, and list projects on a sheet of paper with the results of the tool analysis in a table form. Traits suggested are of four types, eco-driven for forming alliances and focusing on your own concern's strengths, outside-in for viewing yourself as stakeholders view you and adjusting your priorities accordingly, fighting-trim for being responsive and adaptable, and house-in-order for breaking down silo-thinking. Tools are in three groupings. One for traits. A group of three for alignments. And another group of three for reforming projects by looking for common threads, breaking big projects into chunks, and doing contingency planning. I don't believe I have the capability to assess the book further without trying it out, ideally in a group setting, against projects that people feel is important to them. I have, however, already used the book to describe my individual projects to senior management to place them in context and to gain leverage for the resources that I think my projects need.
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on November 26, 2003
Consultant Cathleen Benko and business professor McFarlan come into alignment in this tremendously practical book. Today's companies need to bring their misaligned, overlapping, and inconsistent projects into alignment through "frontier living". This means delivering results in the present while adapting for the future's business context by using four "traits" to configure your project portfolio for confusing, volatile, and unpredictable conditions.
The title of the book refers to the need to "connect the dots" between an organization's objectives and its project investments to create and balance present and future value. The book's plethora of tools combined with the easygoing writing style makes it engaging and painless to absorb. Benko and McFarlan can be forgiven for overstating the role of project alignment - that is, after all, the standard book author's tendency. It is true, however, that companies project initiatives total up into the trillions of dollars and it requires no stretch to accept the claim that those initiatives have grown faster than companies' ability to manage them. Benko and McFarlan focus on the project portfolio as the most promising key to unlocking value, arguing that the portfolio is a company's future currency. We find their underlying principle that "companies are better served by adapting themselves for the future rather than by trying to predict its destination" to be a sound one.
Alignment, in this book, specifically means aligning three drivers of business performance: a company's project portfolio with its objectives; the projects in the portfolio to each other; and the portfolio and company's objectives with the ever-changing realities of the business context. To prosper on the "information frontier", certain shifts in mind-set - "traits" - are needed. Along with operational short-term and strategic long-term objectives, these constitute the organization's *intentions*. Four traits are used throughout the book as each of the various tools are explained and applied: Eco-Driven (effective collaborations), Outside-In (looking at yourself the way others look at you), Fighting Trim (agility, coordination, and options orientation to deal with uncertainty and respond to change), and House in Order (provisioning the other traits to enable cross-enterprise collaboration).
The seven alignment tools in this book fall three groups. The Trait Meter assesses, plans, and measures trait development according to the four traits. Once this first step is completed (which includes creating an Intentions Framework), the second group of diagnostic tools comes into play: The Intentions, Sides, and Right Brain tools. These measure the nature and size of the alignment opportunity, identify organizational bias and sort projects into business activities, and identify change capacity issues. The third group of tools - Common Threads, Project Chunking, and What-If Planning - focus on building flexibility into the portfolio.
Working through the book for real will, of course, be far more challenging than merely reading it. But the authors have done a good job of clarifying important issues of alignment and have provided a workable and appealing framework and toolset for tackling those issues.
(3 stars from me is good. 4-star ratings are given too easily.)
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I read about this book in CFO & CIO so I picked up a copy. For a book written by a professor and a consultant, I found it to be very practical and easy to understand. As a turnaround manager I read a lot of business books and strategy publications and was pleasantly surprised at how approachable, yet valuable the book was. I checked out the documents featured on the book's website (...) and found them to be very useful and comprehensive. In fact, I will probably use some of these documents as frameworks for a project I am currently working on for my client.
Overall, I think the book does a great job at outlining a practical framework and approach to portfolio management. What's more, the book's concepts and tools seem fairly easy to implement....which is always a good thing.
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on March 28, 2003
Connecting the Dots is a great read for anyone working in IT management. It can help you gain better control of your capital expenditures and information technology projects - both critical success factors in our industry.
Some of the ideas in the book are new and some aren't, but the book has done a great job at simplifying these concepts (ie. portfolio management) and making them accessible and usable. Instead of the usual `pie in the sky' statements, this book dives into a company and illustrates how the tools and frameworks can be used in a typical business. It's refreshing to find the kind of book that can help you manage the execution of these issues.
The book claims that a company's project portfolio is what moves it into the future and provides great tools and techniques that teach you how to get your company to focus on producing business results and think about the bigger picture: where all these projects are actually taking your organization. The book also does a good job at helping you bridge the technology and business sides of an organization even though I could have done without the business history lesson in Chapter 2.
This book can easily be read in two to three hours. I just read it over the weekend and was able to start applying some of the ideas.
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on March 14, 2003
This book provided a useful framework for helping me think about the biggest challenge facing my company: growing the business while reducing costs. Connecting the Dots provides a unique approach by focusing on the project portfolio. Through greater alignment, organizations better focus on their goals while reducing costs through improved efficiency. It's a clever solution that breaks the logjam between growth and cost cutting that paralyzes a lot of organizations.

The other new idea which I liked was how the book thought about the future. With an interesting historical context, Benko and McFarlan basically recommend that companies should focus on "adapting not predicting." They counsel companies to build "traits" into their organization. These characteristics reflect the future of the networked economy. It will require most organizations to take some time to wrap their heads around the concept and translate it into tangible goals for the company but I have already begun experimenting with the concept.

Overall, the book gets you thinking about the importance of your project portfolio and how it can help you prepare for uncertainty. It then provides interesting tools and techniques for achieving greater alignment.

The book is an easy to read and engaging. It's written almost like Warren McFarlan's speeches. Lots of historical references and analogies. Moreover, the book doesn't "preach at you", rather it understands that each business has it's own context. And they reconginze that you don't need to adopt all their recommendations and techniques.

For conceptual thinkers, I'd skim chapters 5 and 6. They are for people who like to slog through the details. I found Chapter 1 was a great overview and Chapter 4 provided concise summaries of all the tools and techniques. If you are looking for a practical but novel approach to producing results, I recommend this book.
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on October 9, 2010
I thought this book was well written and the examples are salient. One of the major benefits of the book is demonstrating the benefits of how to clearly link the portfolio of projects to the company's strategic map. By having a strategy map, the company drives consensus,
creates common vocabulary and establishes entry point for performance measures.

The expected benefits which can be expected are:
* Aligns the business and IT initiatives and provides foundation for achieving the mission.
* Decomposes the business mission into specific business capabilities and then determines the technology solutions required.
* Analyzes the current IT architecture, organization and processes to determine if they provide an adequate foundation for the business solutions.

I would highly recommend this book to any one who wonders "why are we working on this project".
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on August 4, 2003
A good mix of practical and strategic...worth the price. I found the book's frameworks easy to understand and functional; it was one of 3 books I had my senior team read in advance of our bi-annual planning meeting and I found it very interactive and a good cheat sheet/set of vocabular to working through the often painful process of prioritizing our many ongoing and pending projects.
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on April 18, 2003
I don't read a lot of business books because most of them are to hard to apply to everyday business issues. As a senior executive, this book gives me and my staff real food for thought on how to make decisions about our may funded projects that can't all be kept with the economy the way it is. Great read and practical for the project owners.
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