ASSERTION: The era of the big bang transformation and delivery is dead. Rapid, hybrid solution delivery is ascendant and necessary.
- Do you agree or disagree?
Given the rapid pace of technology and business disruption, most organizations are investing heavily just to keep up with the changes. What differentiates the leaders from the laggards in addressing this disruption is how they organize their business to execute against strategy.
We can no longer use the model of monolithic programs that go on for 2-3 years. Organizations find that what they set out to do or solve at the beginning is not what they will finish doing.
In the current business environment, traditional delivery models are now looking too rigid and organizations are locked into investments that often miss the mark. Leading organizations are using rapid delivery cycles that mobilize a project very quickly, aiming to release the product into market or to customers with minimum investment.
- How does role of the Project Manager change with this trend?
- How does the role of the PMO change?
- Does the approach to portfolio management need to adjust?
I am reflecting on my experiences attending multiple PM conferences over the last couple of months. My aim is to identify and share emergent themes that are bubbling up across the project management profession.
Moritz Sprenger's "Voices in Project Management" retrospective on the PMI EMEA Congress had a topic that stood out to me. Mortiz made the keen observation as to why we are passionate about our profession, it is the PM mind-set.
An excerpt from Moritz’ blog post: “I have realized for why I am passionate about the profession of project management: It’s all about mind-set. The people I met [at PMI EMEA Congress] in Dublin had these things in common: Personal drive, the willingness to communicate, being results-driven, working passionately towards personal goals, and foremost: curiosity. These are exactly the traits that distinguishes a good project managers."
Project Manager mind-set. Is that what attracts us to the profession?
I would love to hear if others agree whether it is the mind-set that drives passion for Project Management?
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:
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.
The pace of change and disruption in the business environment demands that we, as Project Leaders, grow and acquire new skills. To be successful, we need to look past the rigor and discipline of managing projects and embrace agility and collaboration, thinking about customers first, with innovation and adaptive leadership.
Design Thinking has emerged as a successful methodology that organizations use to approach problem-solving and delivery of innovative solutions that delight their customers. Design Thinking provides models for project leaders to be more successful in this every-changing profession.
My webinar from May 2016 outlines the benefits of incorporating design on projects while providing a high-level overview of methods and tools:
I am honored to participate on a panel at the 2017 PMI Global Conference on the topic of "The Digital Future and You: The Project Manager in Times of Disruption"
The chair of the panel, Kirsten Lora, PMP, wants us to explore the role of Project Managers in the current era of "digital disruption". Here are a few of my thoughts going into the conference...
New technologies allow us to innovate at record speed. I would call out three themes that have manifested themselves from this economic disruption:
There was this excellent quote from Marc Andreessen in the WSJ (2011) “…all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.” Basically, the resources and infrastructure needed to start a new billion dollar company (i.e. via the Cloud) is widely available to anyone with a credit card and access to the web. Which is practically everyone.
So how do I see the role of Project Managers in this?
For companies to deliver value to their shareholders and customers, they in turn must embrace creative destruction of “digital disruption” rather than wait to become a victim of this unstoppable force. The creation of products and services, the production of something new is the end result of a group of people or disciplines working together to solve a problem. Project Management is the discipline largely responsible for guiding this effort from start to finish in an efficient manner to achieve the best possible outcomes, i.e. via projects. But Project Managers cannot continue to manage projects the way it was done 50 years ago, 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.
Some have used the analogy of the Formula One race car, with a PM in the driver seat. I see the role of PMs is one who is to build the right working environment for their teams to work effectively and efficiently together. The PM may not be the F1 driver, but they help the entire team succeed on the race track. This requires establishment of a culture, governance and pace to allow more flexible processes, early engagement with the product or services end-users and laser focus on the customer’s/user’s needs. Yes, there will be more chaos and uncertainty, but I expect good PMs to thrive in environments where they come in and “tame” the chaos. (I know that is what gets me revved up about my work in healthcare IT!)
The impact on the PM profession is that we need to become more empathetic to our customers’ needs, our stakeholders’ needs and our teams’ needs. PMs who follow traditional methods that are closer to command & control will not be successful. PMs will need to allow some level of exploration and allow their teams to take risks and have failures.
I have a slide share that captures some of my thinking:
I look forward to others' thoughts on the role of Project Managers in the current era of Cloud and "digital disruption".