How publishing a project management methodology on the internet gave birth to a successful business – learn with Tom Mochal of TenStep Inc.

Tom Mochal is the President of TenStep, Inc. – specializing in consulting and training in business methodologies. They have a worldwide network of over 50 offices supporting 25 languages.
Listen to how Tom build his business, his views on project management and the concept of green project management.

Like audio, listen to the interview here:[audio|titles=Tom Mochal  |artists=Future of PM |bg=0x0000ff|righticon=0xff0000]

Interview Transcript:

Samir: Welcome to the Future of Project Management. This is Samir Penkar, and today we have with us Tom Mochal. He’s the President of TenStep, Incorporated. It’s a consulting and training business. It has a global network of over 50 offices and supporting 25 languages and we will ask Tom how he did this. Thank you, Tom, for making time, and thank you for sharing.

Tom: You’re welcome. I’m happy to be here.

Samir: Great. So, Tom, for our audience, do you want to start off by telling us what TenStep does today in terms of just maybe, size, employees, the type of services, geography, revenue, anything that your company will share with us.

Tom: Yes. Thank you. Our company has been in business for about 12 years. We started in May of 2000. We focus in two major service areas. We have a training arm, which we call TenStep Academy, which is where we focus on helping companies build skills. We have project manager training. We have business analyst training. We have training in process modeling, building BMOs, portfolio management, etc. And then we have another service arm which is our TenStep consulting services. All those areas that I mentioned where we do training, we also do consulting services. So we help organizations set up project management processes. We help them deploy project management. We help them set up project management offices. We help them set up portfolio management processes, etc., etc.

As you said earlier, we have over 50 offices. We have about 55 offices around the world and they do the same thing, only they do it in their own countries and, in many cases, in their own native language. So together we have a global company and are able to offer localized services for companies that are just interested in their own company within their own country, but we also can service global customers that are looking for common solutions across multiple continents, multiple languages, multiple countries.

Samir: And, Tom, when you started TenStep, 12 years ago, you said. Do you remember the first year in business? What was that like? What were your first offerings?

Tom: Yes. Actually, I started the company as kind of a hobby. It wasn’t quite a hobby, but I published a methodology on the Internet back in 2000 and every week I would update it. This was back when the Internet was a lot newer, of course, than it is now. There weren’t a lot of project management references and resources on the Internet. I just published a methodology for managing projects, and every week I would update it with new content.

About nine months after I published the TenStep project management process on the Internet, a person e-mailed me and said, “Hey, this is really great stuff. What does it cost to use it?” So that got me thinking about, “Well, maybe I can run a business and do this.” So we started TenStep as a business, and for the first couple years, actually, we didn’t do any services, we only focused on building methodologies. We built a methodology around project management and around setting up BMOs and methodology for setting up portfolios and other products like that, and we did nothing but license these to companies. That’s what we did for the first couple years.

Then as the Internet started getting more popular, we started to realize there’s a lot more resources available on the Internet, and we didn’t want to be totally a product company and just have methodology products. We wanted to then get into the services business. So we transitioned into training and consulting from there. But the first year or two, it was all Internet-based and all product-based licensing the methodology products to companies and individuals.

Samir: Great. So your methodology on the web turned into TenStep today, that’s a great story.

Tom: Yeah, thank you.

Samir: Now that you are in this space, the project management space, with a worldwide network, what are some of the trends that you are seeing out there? And maybe you have a better perspective because yours is a global company and you have so many offices all over the world. So maybe from a worldwide perspective, what are some of the trends you’re seeing out there?

Tom: Well although we do have a global network, in many cases, the countries are in a little bit of a catch-up. So there are countries that you would say tend to be more leading edge in terms of their trends and other countries where they’re trying to do some of the basics that have been around for awhile but are just new to their country.

But some of the things we’re seeing, actually there’s a number of trends. I won’t know if we’ll have time to go through a lot of them but just off the top of my head, there’s a couple that might be interesting. One is that we’re seeing project management being adopted more by entire organizations. It used to be that the IT people were interested in project management, and the construction people were interested in project management but when you went over to, let’s say, the marketing department or the human resources department and you talked about projects, they would say, “Yes. IT does projects.” They don’t realize all the time that they also do projects.

But a trend is that more organizations are realizing that, yeah, all of the business units, all of the departments do projects, and so you tend to see more focus on enterprise solutions, not just IT or not just constructions solutions, but enterprise solutions. It’s not something that every company does but it’s a trend. It’s something that was not very common at all a few years ago, and now is getting more and more common to get more of an enterprise view of projects and project management.

We’re also seeing portfolio management becoming more important. Every company has portfolios by default. It’s basically ways to organize and group your work, but more of them are starting to look at more formal portfolio management techniques and manage the work more as portfolios.

Of course, Agile is something that I think is getting bigger in the project management space. Agile is something that’s been around for a number of years, about 20 years, for IT development. Although probably in the last 10 years, it’s becoming a lot more important. But over the last year or so or year or two, especially with PMI offering new certification for Agile, it’s becoming more interesting and more of a trend for project management to be thought of more as an Agile role or an Agile model as well. That’s something that is also fairly new. So those are a couple things off the top of my head that might be of interest for trends.

Samir: OK, yeah. Agile and portfolio and project management getting wider into the organization are definitely the three trends that you spoke about. You know, ISO has this project management standard 10006. Do you find companies reference this? I mean, how is it really used today, if at all it is being referenced in any way? Do you have any knowledge or experience with that?

Tom: Well, I have knowledge. I have a copy of the ISO 10006 standard, so it’s something that I’m familiar with but mostly just from the manual perspective. We have not seen any indications in the marketplace that companies are interested in following the ISO standard, probably because they’re mostly interested in following more of a project management organization standard like the PMI standard, which would be the PMBOK Guide or maybe PRINCE2 or following some other standard or methodology that exists. So I think there’s a lot of interest in following standards, but the ISO standard is not one project management, I don’t think, is very well- known. I think it will be more well-known in the future.

Actually, I’m talking a little bit off the top of my head here now, but I believe I remember that PMI is trying to do more alignment with ISO 10006 or vice versa. In fact, if you looked at ISO 10006, it actually looks a little like the PMBOK structure so they had some alignment in the past, and I think they’re planning on trying to get them more closely aligned in the future as well. I don’t know if that’s going to help ISO. It’ll give the PMBOK also to make sure it stays aligned with ISO standards. But just looking at ISO, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any company mention ISO as a project management standard they were trying to follow.

Samir: Right. I heard it also in the context of PMI trying to align that and that’s how I heard about it.

Tom: OK. Yeah, I’m not 100% sure but I thought that that was happening.

Samir: Right. You know, on your TenStep website, there is this concept of green project management. Can you tell us what that is and how we can benefit from that? It’s something that I haven’t come across anywhere else, so I’m just curious on what green project management means.

Tom: Well, you asked two questions and the first one is, “Can I tell you about it?”, which is not a problem. But the other one is, “Can you benefit from it?” and that I’m not so sure but let me, at least, tell you what it is. At our core, we’re a methodology company. Remember I said earlier when our company was founded, that’s all we did was methodology so today, even our services are all backed up with methodology models. We don’t walk into a customer even to deliver a service or a training class and just have a blank sheet of paper and knowledge in our head. We actually have methodologies that we use as our foundation for the services.

So green project management, we were thinking a few years ago, this was maybe four years ago now or maybe even five, we were thinking about the environmental movement and whether there was something that we could contribute to this space. Now, people have been talking about green projects for a long time, projects to help reduce waste, projects to reduce the footprint of the data center, projects that allow you to do your work without traveling so much so you can reduce your carbon footprint. So those green projects have been around awhile. If you look at magazines like PM Network, which is the magazine of PMI, they almost every month have something in there about green projects.

The thing is, not everybody can do green projects. There are only so many people that are in that kind of a field. So we started thinking, “How could everyone apply green concepts on their projects, even if they’re doing an IT project or a development project or some kind of accounting project or a procurement project?” And we started thinking about the core methodology that we use for project management. What’s the processes that we use to plan work? What’s the process that we use to build schedules? What’s the process we use for managing issues and risk and scope and quality, etc.? And what we did was we rebuilt the processes in project management to also take into account environmental thinking or green thinking.

For instance, let’s say we have a scope change request, and we’re going to fill out a scope change form, something real simple. Well, if we’re doing green project management, there’s a box on there that asks if there’s any environmental considerations for this scope change request. If there’s not, then fine, the box isn’t filled in and nothing changes. But maybe sometimes even if our project is not obviously green, maybe sometimes there’s environmental implications to a scope change request. If we’re doing issues management, we’ll go through an issue management process but one of the things that we can consider as well is, “Are there any environmental impacts to this issue?” When we’re doing our risk management, we can talk about whether or not there are any environmental risks.

So pretty much we have looked at all of the project management processes, and we’ve tried to include green thinking in the basic methodology of project management so that everyone or anyone who wanted to practice green project management, even if they didn’t have a green project, they could still practice green project management. Even for projects that aren’t obviously related to the environment, there may well be many decisions that can be made that would have environmentally positive impacts if only people had thought about it more when they’re managing their projects.

So at this point, I have, in my opinion, pioneered – that’s why you probably can’t find other things like it – I think we were the first company to be talking about green project management in this respect. We have a trademark for the term “Green PM”, and we consider ourselves one of the thought leaders so we do a lot of writing on the topic and we have a website:

But the second thing you asked was, “Can you benefit from it?” and not so sure. We’ve talked to lots of companies. We’ve done lots of presentations at PMI chapter meetings, but we have not been able to find much interest in actually trying to pilot or implement the methodology or the green thinking on our normal, regular projects. To me, it’s a great concept and it’s an interesting concept. Whether it is practical or not hasn’t been proven out over the last five years but who knows, five years from now perhaps it will be.

Samir: Yeah, maybe five years from now, it will be a different concept. But it’s interesting what you’re trying to do is integrating this into the project management processes. It’s not something that you do off the side, but it’s integrated within your whole process and methodology of project management. So I think that’s a good approach to going about it. In fact, one of the interviews that I did was with Gifford Pinchot. He is the Founder of Bainbridge Graduate School. It’s a sustainable business school, and they do an MBA course in terms of the sustainable business. He spoke about some of the concepts similar to what you are saying, so maybe check out Bainbridge Graduate School.

Going back to the audience now, the project managers who are listening, what advice would you give them? You have worked in corporate America. You have started your own business in the project management space. For those project managers who are in the practice, in the discipline, what advice would you leave them with?

Tom: Well, I like to, first of all, separate people who are project managers. I separate them into one group that is just interested in trying to manage projects, maybe not so interested in actually managing the projects using formal techniques. In many cases, people who are project managers today got those jobs because they were good coordinators, or they were good subject matter experts in whatever discipline they’re working in. Sometimes people call these the “accidental project managers”. So for a large group of project managers, I don’t really have any advice other than to try to be more proactive in terms of how you manage projects and try to take more control of them and try to be more interested in the discipline of project management.

But the other ones, which are the ones, probably, that I’m sure you’re talking about, the people who would listen to this blog, for instance, these are the people who are the more serious project managers and the people who consider it more of a discipline and a craft and want to actually do better. So for these people, I recommend that they get a better understanding of project management from a methodology perspective and from a techniques perspective because, a lot of times, people who, in fact, are interested in project management and want to do better, they struggle because they are not at a point where they can be as proactive as they want to be.

Once the project is planned and the project is started, for many project managers, they’re behind the curve from day one. They are dealing with challenges and problems, and they don’t quite know how to get out of that mode. The thing about being really good at understanding the project management discipline is that you can look at what’s going on and categorize it in terms of project management, and once you can categorize it, then you can figure out what is the best response and how do I manage based on this kind of a category.

So let me give you an example. Let’s say that you’re the project manager and one day a big problem pops up. It’s a technology problem or it’s some kind of a turnover problem or it’s a problem with a vendor, it doesn’t really matter. So if you were a lot of project managers, you would panic and you would think, “Why me?” And you’d wish that the thing would go away. But if you’re the proactive project manager that understands the methodology side, which you might think is, “Ah, this is an issue,” so you can understand what’s going on. You can categorize it, say, “Yes, this is an issue. Let me dust off my issues management process and I’ll work the process and then we’ll solve this problem.” And you can be proactive in terms of, in this case, responding to the issue.

Risk management, a lot of project managers don’t do risk management or if they do, they identify risk but they don’t put together their risk plans, so they don’t really understand what’s going on with risk. They have a sense that it’s important to know what the risks are, but they don’t really understand it yet from a project management perspective and why it’s important and what the process is and what’s the discipline. So they would be another example.

You might look out in the future and see some potential problem, and if you were a regular project manager, you might start being nervous and you might start wishing that it would go away and you start to do 100 things that aren’t really going to be very productive, but if you are the proactive project manager that knows the discipline of project management, what you’d think to yourself is, “Ah, yes, I understand what’s going on here. I’ve identified a risk. It’s a future event that’s going to have an impact on my project. It’s got some probability. It meets the criteria for risk.” And then you can just work the process, “Let me document this risk. Let me figure out what is the impact and probability. Let me figure out if it’s important enough for me to respond to and if it is, here’s my risk response plan. I’m going to put the work associated with this plan into my schedule. I’m going to monitor this risk and make sure it gets resolved.”

So my advice, then, is to be one of these people that knows the discipline of project management and can be proactive in terms of your project management and can be in control. I think that’s a level of project management that most project managers don’t have. I think that if they did, they’d be a lot better project manager in the future.

Samir: Tom, thank you for giving the example. I think that really explains it well in terms of the example that you give of the issue and the risk. So thanks for doing that.

Tom: You’re welcome.

Samir: One last question I have for you is other than TenStep and the project management space, what are some of your other hobbies and interests?

Tom: Well, this is one of them that I don’t have as good an answer. I have better answers when you talk about project management processes. I find when you run your own business, it does tend to take up a lot of your time so I do some other things. I like to run, so I run probably five days a week – not very well. I wish I was faster and had more strength in my legs, but it is something that I enjoy. Also, I have a family which I enjoy. I have a new grandson who is now two months old, who comes over a couple days a week and that’s very enjoyable as well. And I actually enjoy sitting on our porch especially every time the weather is, at least, halfway cooperative, sitting on my porch and relaxing and reading. That tends to be something I look forward to as well.

So I don’t have any great hobbies. I used to have a few but I don’t really have any major hobbies now. I used to do a lot of gardening and yard work but we have moved, maybe five years ago, from a regular house into a townhouse so I don’t really have a yard of mine anymore.

Samir: You know, I run every day and I find running so energizing, and it really helps you to think and five miles is a distance run every day and it’s great.

Tom: Yes, well maybe I would say that I run five days a week but not five miles.

Samir: Yes, five days, not five miles. OK. I thought it was five miles.

Tom: I typically run two and a half to three miles five days a week, so it’s decent, but it takes me long enough to run the three miles so I don’t have the time to run five miles.

Samir: Great, great. Well, for those out there who are listening to this, I would say reach out to Tom and say thank you for his time and for sharing with us. You can reach him at TenStep, the website. Tom, is, that’s the website?

Tom: Yes.

Samir: And Tom’s on LinkedIn.

Tom: Sorry, I’d like to say it’s T-E-N-S-T-E-P.

Samir: Yes, TenStep, and we will have this in the transcript of the interview, too, so you will have that available. So my advice would be, from all of the things that we’ve discussed, what Tom has shared, pick out something that resonates with you and act on it. No amount of going to seminars or attending these would help you in your project management other than acting on what you’ve learned. So thank you, Tom. Thank you for your time and thank you for sharing with us.

Tom: You’re welcome. Thank you for the opportunity, Samir.

About Samir Penkar

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