by Cyndee Miller
A quantum physicist and a self-proclaimed mad scientist walk onto the stage at PMO Symposium. Now some of you are bound to be wondering what the heck they could possibly teach us about working in The Project Economy.
Plenty. For starters, you need to be embracing all those “what if” questions you have roaming around in your head.
True innovation—whether in the lab or at the boardroom table—often stems from a seemingly wild question. “It’s about optimizing that moment in a meeting when someone says, ‘This is a crazy idea, but what if we tried X?’” said Andrew Pelling, PhD, a scientist and professor at the University of Ottawa.
At Pelling Lab, the team thrives on a balance between scientific rigor and “audacious curiosity.” Bottom line: Scientists and project leaders alike must create a framework that lets in a little room for bold questions and creativity. “Those kinds of questions have led to an enormous amount of discoveries,” he said.
In Dr. Pelling’s case, it might have even led to a new innovation strategy altogether: “We took the business model canvas and the scientific method and mashed them together,” he said. The result is the pHacktory, a small lab where “risk is a virtue” and where projects are “bound to fail…or change everything.”
Yeah, he said it, the F-word.
“No matter the question, we really push our teams to understand what types of knowledge they might create, even when they fail,” he said. “It’s the accidental discoveries, the unintended innovations that come from these failures that we’re after. So, the more failures, the better.”
Now I realize those are truly frightening words for many of the project leaders held accountable for those failures. But it also speaks to the need to keep asking questions—it’s the only way you’re going to deliver the truly spectacular results.
Dr. Pelling was one of the speakers at the TED Conversation, part of a partnership between PMI and TED. It’s a pretty obvious collab: TED is dedicated to spreading great ideas. Project leaders turn those ideas into reality.
“If there’s anyone who can help usher in the future, it’s the people in this room,” said Briar Goldberg, director of speaker coaching at TED.
Part of that ushering process has to involve looking at the end result. Take quantum computer technology. Shohini Ghose, PhD, a quantum physicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, outlined some of the revolutionarily applications it could have for all kinds of projects, from medication to encryption.
But, she said, there are also loads of questions that have to be answered: “Who will access this tech? How will it be used? How will it change and improve society for the better?”
So, what’s your big idea? Now’s your time to share. PMI members have an opportunity to take the stage at PMI Global Conference 2020 for a special TEDx event. Stay tuned to PMI.org—more details and an application are coming soon.
In the meantime, how are you indulging your audacious curiosity? And how are you encouraging it on your team?
by Cyndee Miller
George Lucas was a project manager. And the Star Wars production team? A PMO.
So declared Bob Safian, former editor of Fast Company, at the start of PMO Symposium. Sure, Star Wars may be a 1970s-era example from PMI’s list of 50 Most Influential Projects, but it also embodies a mentality that speaks to the future. We’re entering The Project Economy, where people have the skills to turn ideas into reality, and organizations deliver value through the successful completion of projects. Work is no longer about static job responsibilities, but a sequence of tasks.
Why the switch? “The Project Economy is about the need for speed, flexibility and learning,” Mr. Safian said.
It’s a way to try things out—and get things done. Young workers today aren’t looking to land the job they’ll have for the rest of their lives. They’re looking for the tasks and experiences that will grow their skills, he explained. And organizations are seeing the payoff, too.
It’s just part of the deal for Daniel Ek, CEO and co-founder of music streaming giant Spotify. He hires top leaders for a two-year “tour of duty.” At the end of that cycle, they may re-up for another tour—but only if the goal still makes sense. “It’s how he builds fluidity, adaptability and effectiveness into the company,” Mr. Safian explained.
With so much changing so fast, he encouraged project leaders to continually ask themselves three key questions:
1. Is this Day One? It’s a maxim that Jeff Bezos uses at Amazon. In other words, are you going into work every day as if it’s your first and you can start from scratch?
2. Is what you’re doing relevant to the next generation?
3. Are you embracing and encouraging a growth mindset?
“If you resolve all these questions, we can make tremendous change and make a tremendous impact on the world ahead of us,” Mr. Safian said.
Because whether they’re working on a construction project or a blockbuster film franchise, project leaders everywhere share a common purpose: delivery.
“In business there’s a lot of dialogue, a lot of talk about strategy, leadership, metrics and planning. But at the end of the day it’s about producing tangible results,” Mr. Safian said. “That’s what you all do. That’s the purpose of project management. That’s the purpose of business. And that’s the purpose of humanity—to get something tangible done.”
Let’s hear it: How is The Project Economy changing how you get something tangible done?
Reflections on My Favorite Projects
Categories: Lessons Learned
by Dave Wakeman
Happy birthday, PMI! You gave us 50 years of projects, and all I’m giving you is this column with three of my favorite projects of all time? I kid. But reflecting on the impact of PMI and project management over the last 50 years got me thinking about how projects are at the core of so many improvements, big and small.
The three I want to highlight this month reflect the ambition that project managers can have, the global impact of a great project, and where the next huge project innovations may be. Let’s take a look at my three favorite projects:
Putting a Man on the Moon
Can I really start anywhere else? For my money this is the best example of what great project managers, an excellent PMO and strong leadership can create. While it isn’t just one project, I think putting a man on the moon highlights several things that PMI pioneered over the years—two I want to highlight specifically.
First, vision. When U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower first proposed the idea of Project Apollo, it was all about getting a three-man crew into space. By the time the project was complete, the United States had sent men to the moon seven times, successfully landing and completing their mission six of those times.
Second, innovation. The scope of Project Apollo changed over time, growing from the initial plan of putting a few men in space to putting man on the moon. That meant we needed new technologies and new ideas to get us there. One of the hallmarks of a successful project manager is the ability to create something out of nothing, knowing what the goal of the project is and having the framework to work within to achieve success.
Project Apollo showed us that with the right goals, vision and sponsorship, we can accomplish almost anything.
The Debut of the iPhone
I’m torn on this, probably like a lot of folks, because we’ve seen that as much as technology has helped us connect, learn and communicate, we have also seen the negatives. I’m going to keep the iPhone on my list of favorite projects for one simple reason that should be important to project managers: It had a clear and great project scope.
What was termed Project Purple 2 was Steve Jobs’ attempt to create a computer with a touchscreen that you could use to directly interact with your device. When he came up with the idea of building it into a phone, the technology was new and the capacity of achieving a phone that would work without a keyboard was untested.
But the ambition and scope of creating a computer that doubled as a phone that you could type on with your fingers won out, and our lives have never been the same.
Tesla and Electric Cars in General
I’ll claim bias here because I know there were electric cars before Tesla came along, but Tesla was the first electric car that made it cool to drive electric.
We can look at the original Tesla roadster as the project that launched it all. The concept was for Tesla founder, Martin Eberhard, to create a high-mileage sports car, solving a need for himself. When Elon Musk got involved in 2004, he helped move the company towards using the proceeds of the car to help fund the development of mass-market cars.
All of this is fine, but the real importance of the project shows up in the way that the company wasn’t happy with the way that the motor and transmission worked in the chassis, forcing Tesla to build its own engines and power sources.
What followed was the most advanced rechargeable battery for cars that the world has ever seen—revolutionizing what is possible from an electric car.
This final project highlights how things build off each other and how projects are the basis of all good things that come to us. Because if we hadn’t developed the technology to put a man on the moon, we may have never been able to uncover the components and the technologies needed to put a computer in our pocket. And if we didn’t have a computer in our pocket, how would I ever be able to use my phone as my car key!
While that last point is a reach, my final point is that the greatest gift PMI has given all of us as professionals over the last 50 years is a chance to learn, grow and repeat the process in a way that we can build off of all the people that came before us. For that we should all be grateful!
Happy 50th, PMI: Here’s to the next 50! Please share your thoughts on these impressive projects below.
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:
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.
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?
My interest in project management started long ago. When I was a kid my family would visit Kolkata, where my grandparents lived, on holidays. It was a busy city and a big change for someone growing up in a small town.
As much as I loved all the shops and eateries, the main attraction was the metro. Opened in 1984, it was the first of its kind in India. I had heard many stories about how you would travel underground. The thrill of my first ride as a kid was unimaginable.
It was amazing to see how the metro touched the lives of so many. It made travel so much easier and faster. The impact that a project could have stuck with me.
After I’d grown up and was a newbie stepping into the world of project management, I wanted my own project—something where I would be in charge.
One morning my prayers were answered, and I was offered an opportunity. That said, the work on this project was negligible, it would last just a few weeks and the money wasn’t much.
Even so, I jumped at the chance. I worked on the project with a small team of mostly fresh grads, and we made sure every detail was covered. We checked and double-checked everything. We communicated with the stakeholder regularly and started sending her updates and snippets of the work as it was happening. This was way before agile was a norm.
She came back with feedback and changes, and we were quick enough to get it back to her ahead of schedule.
The work kept on coming, and this tiny project slowly became one that everyone started to notice. It was the project that established me as a project manager.
I knew I wanted to work on something that would make everyone’s lives easier. I knew that a project could create an impact. In a lot of ways that first ride on the metro had sealed my basic philosophy in my life journey and career.
I want to hear from you. What was the first project you remember as a kid?