Reflections on PM Congress 2019 (TU Delft)

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Design Thinking has emerged as a practical methodology for driving innovative outcomes. This blog aims to explore the intersection between Design Thinking and Project Management and to start a conversation on leveraging Design Thinking for contribution to the Project Management practice.

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The PM Congress 2019 ran April 11-12 on the campus of the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in Netherlands. The conference had the provocative tag line "Adapt or Die", but its theme was the more-grounded "Research Meets Practice". There was good mix of academics, practitioners, and students from TU Delft in attendance at the conference. The organizers had the forethought to include several breaks during the two days and evening events to allow networking and sharing of ideas.

This edition of my retrospective will focus on the conference key note sessions.

Key Note presentations:

Prof. Lynn Crawford (Dir. of the Project Management Program at The University of Sydney, Australia) used a mind map visualization to organize her presentation themes: Forces of change, Research, Practice, and People. (Very nice technique that I will have to use someday!) Lynn challenged the conference attendees with the question: "Are project management practices behind the times?" Essentially our profession and its related training needs to move from a focus on technical skills to assisting project managers develop a variety of skills, abilities, and different mindsets currently not central to our profession.

Lynn also noted that we will move from project management to "project leadership". The usage of "Project Leadership" is a subtle change that I am starting to hear more and more as I attend international project management conferences. The evolution is one I welcome.

Marco Eykelenboom (Exec. Project Director at Fluor Corporation) addressed the complexity and challenges of the project management profession. Marco shared learnings, insights, and experiences from managing large, complex projects in the energy sector. One useful takeaway was the use of visual status reporting on Marco's teams. The teams at Fluor would generate one-page "Weekly Flash Reports" with pictures of the project's progress. These artifacts resonated with both stakeholders and team members. A second key insight from Marco's presentation were polling results to the question: "From your last successful project, what were the key success ingredients?"

Not surprising, the top three responses were:

  1. Team work / cooperation / team spirit,
  2. Communication / information sharing, and
  3. Relationships / trust.

Marco's last key takeaway for managing complex projects was to emphasize the focus on Mission, People, and Balance between human versus technical aspects of project management.

Prof. Dr. Hans Georg Gemünden (Chair for Technology and Innovation Management, Berlin University of Technology) shared research findings on the value of Project Management on innovation projects. The research focused on answering the questions: Does Project Management delivery value? Or is Project Management only a self-deception based on an illusion of control? Based on his research, "project organizing" does indeed create business value but with diminishing returns. Project Management creates higher value for more complex projects versus those with lower complexity. Hans Georg advised the audience that Project Management matters, but we cannot manage projects as we always have. Highly innovative projects need to be managed in a different manner. Ideation, user centric, and collaboration are more important than planning and controlling. Hans Georg correctly noted that current PM standards do not this as they have a focus on formalized processes as key success factors. 

Gerard Scheffrahn (Project Director at OT Osborne) spoke about project organizing and innovation, using Amsterdam's long-delayed North-South metro line expansion project as a great case study. Gerard encouraged Project Managers to spend the majority of their time in what Stephen Covey termed the "Circle of Influence”. In other words, PMs should focus on the decision making process and proactively work from the center of their influence and constantly expand it. Hearing stories about the complexities of building the North-South metro line were also interesting and enlightening.

Connect with me here on Linkedin, at www.brucegay.com, or follow me on Twitter @brucegay

Posted on: April 28, 2019 08:41 AM | Permalink

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Very interesting thanks for sharing

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