By Kevin Korterud
It’s quite possible that, if asked to remember every project I led over the years, I would be hard-pressed to do so. Our typical project management journey takes us down a new road when we complete a project, so we’re never really stopping to take a retrospective on how each one shaped who we are today.
A much easier exercise for me is to recollect which projects played a significant part in shaping my journey as a project manager. These projects, not unlike silver polish, brighten our skills and capabilities to a shine that allows us to undertake even larger and more complex projects.
Here are three projects that had a profound impact on my capabilities, and what I learned from each:
- There Is Big and Then There Is BIG
Up till a certain time in my project management career, I felt that my work included some rather large projects in terms of team members and scope. However, nothing prepared me for the massive construct that is a transformation program involving almost 2,000 people.
Transformation programs extend well beyond the realm of what project managers normally lead. They involve significant changes to business processes and technology, as well as altering what people do on a day-to-day basis. In addition, there are many project and team members involved with multiple, parallel tracks of work. All of this makes a project manager feel as small as the tiny people in Gulliver’s Travels.
Transformation programs pushed me to think and engage externally beyond my assigned project, especially when it came to dependencies between projects. I also realized it was essential that project managers collaborate and cooperate in order to maintain progress for the overall transformation program.
2. Technology Is in Everything
Over the years, I have followed with great interest the increase in the proportion of a project that involves technology. On my first projects many years ago, the level of technology was quite modest, relying mostly on data inputs, online screens and reports that augmented existing business processes. Today, technology permeates nearly all facets of a project.
When asked to assist with the estimation and implementation of a new type of airliner, my initial assumption was that there would be some form of enabling technology and the airliner would still operate as before. For example, there would be some technology support required, but the fundamental functions would not really change.
After reviews and discussions, I was astounded at the depth of technology that was found in this new model. The flight deck had provisions for laptops to be used by pilots to both prepare and operate the airliner. Flight operations and integration tasks that were once managed manually were now conducted automatically and at high speed, all of which reduced pilot and ground crew workloads. The technology found in this new airliner caused me to dramatically re-think the level of rigor required to estimate and plan its implementation. In addition, it raised my expectations of the effort required to estimate and plan today’s projects in order to ensure quality delivery.
- Projects Impact People
As we consistently execute project delivery over and over across a number of projects, our growing confidence can sometimes cause us to view project delivery as commonplace. We can begin to lose our sensitivity towards project outcomes as we proceed through a seemingly endless stream of phases, sprints, tasks, activities and artifacts of project management.
A big wake-up call for me occurred when I led a project to process calls from customers of infant nutritional products. Customers would call in on a variety of topics ranging from inquiries about the right product to use as well as potential infant health issues. Before I formally began the project, the sponsor reviewed with me existing customer cases showing both simple inquiries as well as potential emergency health issues. I realized then that my efforts on this project could potentially save the life of an infant.
It’s easy to think about projects as two-dimensional entities that refine business processes and technical capability. From the dialogue with the project sponsor, I came to appreciate how this project could improve both the time and quality of response on an inquiry related to the health of an infant. This motivated me and the team to always be thinking about how this project would interact with the customers in the most effective and efficient manner, especially when the life of an infant could be at stake.
As we all proceed through our project management careers, we tend to remember the distinct impact these projects had on us. Some of the projects affect how we plan projects, others influence project execution and still others will be remembered for how they served as key waypoints in our project management journey. In addition, these “waypoint” projects are well-suited as experiences to share with the next generation of project managers following in our footsteps.
What projects on your project management journey have shaped who you are today?