PMI Netherlands Summit 2018 explores the importance of the human factor in project management (part 1)

For the seventh time, the PMI Netherlands Chapter is hosting its yearly summit. The 2018 edition is all about the human factor in project management. As one participant said early in the morning: “It sounds like objectifying humans, where it’s not supposed to.” Humans err, repeatedly. And so, I’m not surprised as a third-time blogger for CKC Seminars organizing this event for PMI Netherlands to have my name badge printed on the spot since the staff forgot to do that upfront and collect my program preferences. Welcome to the real world! In this first blog I summarize the morning program.

Thomas Swaak kicks off

Thomas Swaak in opening keynoteSpeaking of objectifying, Thomas Swaak (Philips, chairing this Summit again) shares a story of a post-project toast with “significant others” and “day dates”, politically correct lingo where we used to have spouses, partners or introducées. And what’s the “human factor” anyway? Aha, it’s the collection of feelings, emotion, attitude, etc. Descriptive character traits, behaviors as the superficial ones, spirituality as a container for ethics, values, and beliefs, among religions like Buddhism where Swaak himself explicitly affiliates with. Ingredients for bias, noise, interpretation, jumping to conclusions, and a plethora of effects, both positive and negative.

Silver bullets from Thomas Swaak keynoteImportant as a project team to bond on a personal and professional level. Share life, engage with each other, avoid talking about content first. Similar things are essential to stakeholder engagement. Next to a financial budget, there’s a human fuel budget, if a project is fueled by people. Swaak busted several myths like: “We are all professionals here.”, “Grown-ups don’t cry” and “Soft stuff takes too much time.” Our Western culture often hinders us to open up and expose our vulnerability. Think of Brené Brown’s books on vulnerability.

Regarding self-care and team care Thomas Swaak shortly shared some insights he gained from  Thomas M. Skovholt’s The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout Prevention and Self-Care Strategies for Counselors, Therapists, Teachers, and Health Professionals and 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson.

Six silver bullets (lessons learned, takeaways) to wrap up, passing the deadline left the impression of a presentation not rehearsed well.

Patrick van Veen – All about monkey business

Patrick van Veen on behaviours of apes and humansPatrick van Veen (Apemanagement) left the insurance company he worked for and joined forces at the Apenheul, an ape zoo in Apeldoorn, to observe various primates. The experiences were used in his book Help, my boss is an ape! where this biologist shares behavioral observations of people in changing organizations. Rituals e.g. sex, grooming or handshakes, are important to solve conflicts and lower stress levels in order to survive in a group that lives together 24/7. As humans, we’re lucky to change social structures every couple of hours. Think of family, colleagues, project team, travelers, sports team, etc.

Understand why people do things (Steven Covey). Being able to recognize yourself, some apes and all humans have this ability, is problematic. Why? You can start manipulating. People are not honest. Don’t trust surveys.

As humans, we should focus on stress reduction instead of happiness. Stressors like workload, time pressure, and the risk of burnout are things we as project managers influence. Fear of loss, giving up our love babies, which may be our own stapler, the table at the window or the parking spot, have remarkable counterparts among apes.

The main role of project managers then should be to facilitate an infrastructure (environment, workspace, culture, atmosphere, etc.) in which people feel safe and can be productive. Happiness then is a possible consequence, not exactly a by-product. The fittest will survive.
Robert Bierwolf & Pieter Frijns – From control to a learning perspective

Pieter Frijns explains Gate Review Method Dutch ApproachRobert Bierwolf & Pieter Frijns tweaked the OGC Gate Review Process for a Dutch approach. Instead of a control mechanism, they turned it into a preventive mechanism along control and reporting mechanism in the umbrella of project and program management controls used at the Dutch ministry of interior. Peer reviews by fellow project and program managers at decisive points in the staged regular methods like PRINCE2 or MSP, add value the senior responsible owners of costly change initiatives, because lessons to be learned in a future stage are not only reported to the senior responsible owner, but also follow-up later to see whether appropriate actions were implemented, and lessons actually applied.

Some hundreds of project and program managers have been trained to become a reviewer. The Gate Reviews are not mandatory. Learning can not become mandatory. If, however, learning is taken seriously, ministers now are explicit stakeholders in the change initiatives, where project deliverables are turned into outcomes and benefits. The men are proud of their Bureau Gateway.

The extensive Q&A session for a small group, however, was not the intended workshop. With more than ten people leaving the room after several minutes, missing a clear start and context, Pieter Frijns arriving late, this session lacked the facilitation skills needed to keep the audience engaged and live up to expectations set in the program flyer.