Visited: PMI Netherlands Summit 2015: The secret of Project Management; next practices demystified

The 4th edition of the PMI Netherlands Summit yesterday was focusing on the secret of Project Management. Are there practices for next-level project managers? What’s important to make future projects succesful? The Summit this time was held in Spant! theater in Bussum. A bit smaller setting than previous editions in Figi Zeist, without giving in to content and quality.

Chairman Peter Storm reminded the audience of the importance of healthy projects, enabled by both technical and human factors. Next practices can be applied only through a learning cycle, therefore needing multiple points of view, divergence, convergence, applied science and feedback from project management experiences to scientific research again. We learn to improve.

Trends and challenges in management of projects towards 2025

Prof. dr. Hans Bakker, Chair Management of Engineering Projects, TU Delft, Faculty Civil Technique and GeoSciences, first thought of the current best practices and the disappointing results in terms of success rates of completed projects. Given this bad reputation, what should be next practices?

Bakker distinguished 3 lenses to look at projects: experts, academics and external bodies. There is plenty of room and energy for further development of project management as identified by three clear focus areas. Experts, the project managers should focus on people, risk management, fit for purpose, broad and deep knowledge, closer knit to academics. External bodies did research and published recommendations. In 2009 PMI came up with Project Management circa 2025, and preaches integration and engagement.

CII is eager on project management as being  mission control. ECI emphasizes the supply chain and relationships, whereas IPMA speaks about shifting roles, line managers to resolve issues among stakeholders.

The academia is lengthy on complexity, social value, conceptualization, and idealizes reflective practitioners. There’s an Experience Trap (INSEAD Research in 2008 Harvard Business Review). Would learning by simulation be possible? A few takeaways: value roundtables, trust, female project manager’s point of view, managerial learning and traineeships. Crucial roles are the project manager, the project manager officer and data.

Collaboration, education and learning are next practices according to Bakker.

Next level project definition: about backstage and dressing rooms

Bert van Eekelen MSc, MBA, Consultant and Project Manager (until 1 July 2015 with ARCADIS) explained that it’s important to understand what’s happening backstage (contracts, service levels) or even in dressing rooms (stakeholders and their interests). He illustrated this with the plans to move Schiphol Airport to a new artificial island in the North Sea, and the development of the Zuidas in Amsterdam. These projects are a balancing act between political ambitions, broader context, emotion, funds, risks, art, value, benefits, urgency and priority.

Interests are individual

Multiple angles, levels, so battles will be fought. And not necessarily a win-win is the optimal outcome. But to who can the project manager escalate? Remember in these projects to research the design, and design the necessary research.

Next practices are built on respect and trust, and role playing (as parent, child or adult)

The Truth about bottom-Up Change Management Approach in Project Teams

Dr. Ir. Richard P.G. Müller, Director Project Management Office, Philips HealthTech, Personal Care shared his experiences with Accelerate Team Performance, a Philips proprietary approach, based on Otto Scharmer‘s Theory U. Project managers are change agents, no discussion about that. Behavioral changes needd to stick to enable project success. Think of the drivers autonomy, purpose and mastery, which Daniel H. Pink is stressing. Accelerate Team Performance is enabling PMI’s Code of of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

Theory U is about slowing down to let go, and let come, to identify and remove blind spots, and then speed up. Accelerate Team Performance integrates with the 9 knowledge areas of Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK). Also good acronym to remember is HIT: hot buttons (what’s triggering negative emotions?), iceberg (behaviour is visible, needs, beliefs aren’t), and team aspiration.

Critical processes in project management

Steven Nijhuis, Researcher, Project Leader, Lecturer, Hogeschool Utrecht, is doing research on teaching project management. What should be teached? How to teach comptenecies? Current teaching methods are incomplete, having blind spots as well, though institutes claim to teach you the profession of project management.

Speaking of competencies. Though Nijhuis didn’t speak of the Competence Baseline of sister organization IPMA, he found as much as 310 competencies listed in literature on project management. It requires a superman or superwoman. We project managers made of flesh and blood cannot have all of these. And for a researcher it’s way to complex to gather reliable data on 310 behavioural and technical competencies.

What distinguishes you from non project managers? What are better developed competencies?

Past success is no guarantee

There is no single type project manager. On high level you could think of a team focused decider, a leader in the shades, an average project manager and a political leader. No one size project manager fits all types of projects. Personality dependent traits really make up what we call competencies. And so: know yourself.

The Next Generation Project Manager – “Are You Ready?”

Beth Parleton (Certification Governance Committee, Past Chair PMI board of directors, PMI) first returned to The War on Talent (1997) and The Value of Project Management. PMI’s ever since its establishment in the 1960s had an eye on talent management. There’s no labor shortage, but a shortage of talent.

Exclusive Masterclass Neuroplasticity, keystone habits and servant leadership

Thomas Swaak, Change Management Master, Philips, led us do the kitchen experiment first to experience the habit of taking milk out of the fridge, just by using the brain sitting in Bussum. Strong synaptic connections through which we can visualize that we’re at home, use our left or right hand and know where to find the milk.

You see the world as you are. Experience, thoughts, emotions all impact that lens. Pitfalls are assumptions made, and the proximity of like-minded people. You’ll have to ask questions, listening and constantly verifying what you think you understood. Habits are triggered by a cue, firing a routine that pays off. Some habits are so strong, that you may call these key habits. Key habits set off a chain reaction automatically.

As project managers we do have our own (key) habits. Awareness of alternatives helps to replace these by better, healthier or more efficient ones. Swaak let us discuss these. Be aware that it takes 30 days to form a new habit, especially the routine you’re performing. If a trigger doesn’t occur daily, than changing the routine can take longer.

Helpful are relationships, avoidance of temptations, asking for feedback and (planned) time for reflection. According to Theory U there are several levels of listening:

  1. listening from habits, reconfirmation sought
  2. factual listening, open mind
  3. empathic listening, open heart
  4. generative listening, open will

Like Richard Müller, Thomas Swaak is fond of Theory U on adaptive problem solving, mindfulness, and servant leadership principles. Compared to ‘old school’ project management, you could configure a set of ‘new school’ project management habits. Old school isn’t bad, but not effective in all situations. The same can be said of ‘new school’ habits. Swaak closed with some book recommendations:

Organizational Effectiveness – Making the Difference

Relationship is the foundation of accomplishment

Marco Eykelenboom MSc, MBA, Project Manager, Fluor BV, asked his audience what the differentiator was in their last succesful project. Why not luck? Eykelenboom’s research showed the importance of:

  • team (cooperation, spirit, fun)
  • communication, sharing
  • relationships, trust

Attempts were made to correlate (practices, structure) with (attitude, practice) to outcomes. Teamwork (organizational effectiveness) seems crucial in this cause-and-effect relationship. Eykelenboom applies tools to support communications, visualize social ties between actors, planning reports and team roles played. Examples are network graphs using NodeXL, satisfaction surveys based on Gallup Q2 Employments Engagement questions.

Marco’s sceptic on distributed teams management, but is more enthusiastic on High Performance Teams. His wrap-up: everyday gives new opportunities.