PMI Netherlands Summit 2016: Disrupt!

pmi_netherlands_summit_2016_liggendDisruption and disruptive are the buzzwords worthy a conference these days. Yes, project management is concerned and impacted. It’s the reason for PMI Netherlands Chapter to dedicate its fifth Summit to the interrelation between Disruption and Project Management. What is the key role of project management, what are the capabilities we need to develop?

150+ project managers gather today in Spant! Bussum, where CKC Seminars hosts the conference, chaired by Thomas Swaak.

I leave out one contribution from my review. Pedro Serrador’s research on the success of agile projects will get a separate blog post tomorrow.

John Smith – The Disruption Dilemma

john-smith-philipsJohn Smith (SVP and General Manager, Male Grooming, Philips), changed the keynote title from Disrupt or be Disrupted: Reinventing a market leader to The Disruption Dilemma. Disruption is now new. Smith sees disruption as:

  • innovation driving a new market or value network
  • fueling entrepreneurship
  • originating in low-end, new-market footholds.
  • having a quality degree not yet meeting mass market adoption.

Smith uses examples from Philips, radio, and television, that can be innovative or even disruptive in hindsight. Sustainable innovation or move to disruptive innovation? After all, it’s a deliberate choice, a planned process, no spontaneous innovation happening in isolation, according to Smith. It’s Innovate or Die, because customers’ preference change and new entrants introduce alternative products or business models.

Some takeaways:

  • Reserve time, money and space for innovation.
  • Plan for disruptive innovation.
  • Take care of incentives.
  • Make a pathway to the management for ideas.
  • Visualize what you’re working on.
  • Ring-fence innovation budget.
  • Learn to iterate rapidly.
  • Celebrate failures.
  • Define project management approach, align with existing company processes.
  • Thrive for a combination of sustaining and disruptive innovation initiatives.

Thomas Swaak – Disruption: the B*lsh*t, the Beauty, and the Business

thomas-swaakThomas Swaak (Senior Director, Philips Innovation Services, Industry Consulting), states that when everyone is talking about it, it’s already over. Does it apply to Disruption as well? How can you use disruption for your company’s or project’s benefit? Swaak keeps his ‘keynote’ interactive. In time-boxed breaks, the audience gets the chance to reflect on questions and statements.

Some observations:

  • Disruption is here to stay.
  • Disruption is manageable.
  • A lot is labeled ‘disruptive’ in hindsight.
  • Bullshit bingo can be played often. Disruptive is used too often.

No, disruptive is not the new normal in projects, and certainly not only applicable in agile projects. Disruption has systemic features. Try to think out of the box, reframe possibilities once disruptions happen. Be aware of the mental filters, the biased views we all have.

Some insights for project managers:

  • Slow down. Take time for reflection.
  • Diverge first, converge only after taking the next steps.
  • Think outside in.
  • Enable a systemic shift.
  • Time box.
  • Goals may shift.
  • Respond instead of reacting.
  • Leave room for emotion.
  • Accept and align reception.


Sjir Uitdewilligen – Teams and unexpected events

sjir-uitdewilligenDr. Sjir Uitdewilligen (Assistant Professor, Maastricht University), did research on the impact of disruptive events on team performance. The classic fight, freeze or flight reactions occur. Stress, blaming others and confusion lead to a lower performance, whereas an energized team that knows how to communicate and innovate will see increased performance.

Reactions will be on both individual as a team level. Barriers are e.g. previous experiences, remaining time, room for reflection, the team’s capability to cope with changes, mental models, communication patterns and roles.

Measures to overcome these impediments:

  • Show flexibility instead of fixed patterns.
  • Let everyone participate.
  • Enable collective sensemaking.

Based on recent literature team composition is important, processes and group dynamics, however, are crucial. Think of forming, drivers, contribution, and fun.

Sara Hajikazemi – Barriers against effective responses to early warning signs in projects

sara_hajikazemiSara Hajikazemi (Norwegian Researcher, SINTEF), shows the results of her 2015 research of ignoring early warning signs in projects. Filters make a difference. Early warning signs are not equal to risks. Alarms, triggers, event, or an uncomfortable gut feeling are. Based on Ansoff’s Management Information (1990) filters are shown in every stage of signal to information processing. Missing in Ansoff’s model, but added by Sara is the culture of avoiding uncertainty.

Barriers against effective responses are e.g. overoptimism, the normality of deviations, the perception of project complexity, discussions on unknowns, and the lack of time to response at all.

Project management methods, as well as openness for deviating opinions, matter.

The interaction with the audience today lead to new insights, even for Sara, so she admits, and that’s admirable. Some questions to chew on:

  • Is time for discussion the solution?
  • Is the observer mental filter the missing link in Ansoff’s model? With e.g. the Challenger disaster you would say so.

Christoph Loch – Dealing with the Uncertainty and Complexity of Strategic Projects

christoph-lochChristoph Loch (Director, Cambridge Judge Business School), states that complex, misdiagnosed project leads to a failed rigorous planning. Whatever works in a laboratory setting as prototype may terribly fail in reality.Strategic projects are those that are important enough or large enough to matter to the organization’s top management. I will argue that uncertainty and complexity are necessary elements of such projects, and I will give an overview of recently completed research on the governance of

You can divide chunks of complex projects into smaller parts. Parallel testing reduces complexity as well. Be aware of the stage gate process approaches we as project managers all have been primed in ever since Macnerra coined that in the 1960s.

Alternatives to the rigorous planning are milestones and answers to questions as when do I know whether the product is working. Note that various types of projects exist:

  • execution
  • novel
  • change

and each of these types has their targets, tracking mechanisms and evaluation techniques. Governance is key. Loch focuses on leadership and management topics like issue management and risk management. It’s important to maintain a win-win with contractors. Delegation and trust are important.

Lars Sudmann – Leading the Swarm: Project Leadership in Disrupted Times

lars-sudmannLars Sudmann, (Strategic Advisor, Managing Partner Sudmann & Company) is a fan of swarms. He investigated swarms made of animals, activists, and online gamers. The lessons we can learn today:

  1. Visioning: ensure a positive, compelling visioning, answering the why, what and how in a concisive format, such as Pecha Kucha 20×20 or TED. Sudmann’s own TED Talk on public speaking may inspire you.
  2. Form a beating heart of supporters, loyal fans and followers willing to imitate your example and lead others. Energizing and innovative team building mechanisms are needed.
  3. The power of simple coordination. There are no meetings in swarms. Enable as much as possible 1:1 interactions. Establish simple alignment patterns. FastCompany has an inspiring Turn your office into an ant colony 3-minute read article. example.
  4. The way out of disaster towards disruption and innovation. Treasure the weirdo, the one stepping out of the death cycle. Weirdos matter! Great swarms leverage the differences knowing it’s not easy.
  5. Let it go! Lead yourself first.

Two TED talks by Margaret Heffernan and Michael Sandel are recommended by Lars, Here they are.