International Project Management Day 2018: Project, Program, and Portfolio Management in an Age of Digital Disruption (part 1)

Literally, thousands of fellow project management professionals gathered online for the International Project Management Day 2018: Project, Program, and Portfolio Management in an Age of Digital Disruption, an online learning and knowledge sharing event organized by IIL. I share in two parts what I learned this long day sitting and interacting at my laptop. Five keynotes, 18 on-demand prerecorded videos on various topics, and lots of more content to enjoy even weeks after the actual event on 1 November 2018.

Are You Another Project Manager or Mission-Critical?

Mario Arit (Vice President, Project Management, ABB) stresses the importance of critical thinking, way beyond the technical project management skills. Why? The project environment requires certain awareness, if not competencies of the field of expertise, e.g. Financial Services, Construction management, health, and safety. Project managers and teams should be problem solvers and critical thinkers, proactive managers, out-of-the-box thinkers, and fire preventers, rather than firefighters.

Technical skills are not sufficient, think of the factors such as communications and risk management that were failing at the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. The National Education Association lists four c’s:

Where do you learn these skills? Arit doesn’t give an answer but states that adding creative and critical thinking skills is a rewarding opportunity and can make the difference between being just another PM or a truly strategic asset. I’d recommend you study books like Thinking Fast, Slow and Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

In the video, Arit explains some forms of bias to tease you to further study the topics. Critical thinking project managers don’t confuse improbable with impossible. The three other c’s are only superficially touched.


Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

What does it take to build an organization that can innovate in today’s global economy and embrace new technologies? What kind of leadership is needed? How can you select and develop the kind of leadership talent needed? These are questions organization anthropologist Linda Hill (Harvard Business School Professor) has been researching along with among others, the former SVP of Technology for Pixar. She will share examples from her book (Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation) of leaders who have learned how to cultivate “collective genius” and provide a framework for creating organizations in which people are willing and able to innovate.

Innovation is something novel and useful. Hill uses the example of Pixar Animation Studios, Youtube. There’s a tension of unleashing creativity and harness the use or application. Run parallel experiments to see what’s the better solution. Innovation is a journey involving creative abrasion, creative agility, and creative resolution.

Next to ability there’s willingness. Purpose, common values, and rules of engagement to provide a sense of community and competitive advantage. Hill illustrated this with MCM and HCL Technologies. HCL coined ideapreneurship to democratize innovation. Value creator becomes a game changer.

Positive shocks for people are important. Innovations need to be translated into useful applications, strategy turned into the execution. T-shaped professionals are needed. Leadership will evolve to foster innovation, set the stage and create a space for people to blossom and collaborate, and realize the future.

Leading in a Disruptive Age: Don’t Just Manage Projects… Lead Them
Jordon Sims (Strategic Advisor at Project Management Institute) first shows the talent triangle, a combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise, used at PMI, in the Project Management Book of Knowledge. How can a leader in today’s organization get the right mix across teams, leadership, and the culture that binds them together?

Leadership became much more important than management in the past years. People, know-how, and intangible services and ideas are the value drivers in the contemporary S&P 500 index. It urges project managers to:

  • communicate the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of assigned tasks
  • develop team skills to inspire results
  • value the constructive ‘contrarian’
  • have a long-range perspective
  • build trust
  • understand the difference between leadership and management and the need for both.

The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things. (former U.S. President Ronald Reagan)

Leadership style directly affects organizational culture. Styles are correlated with emotional intelligence characteristics. In the intangible services and goods spaces, human behaviors have a fundament in appreciation, hope, inclusion, and responsibility in the social context of every endeavor. Again the Space Shuttle Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) disasters are used as examples. Human factors and leadership make the difference. There are a time and situation for each leadership style. Develop competencies from other leadership styles to make you more versatile. Build a team with members who have different styles. Diversity leads to return on investment, 2015 McKinsey research shows. Mind the gap between knowing and doing!

The fundamental thing is we don’t believe in the lone genius. Great minds don’t think alike. If you get like-minded people, you will get somewhere really quickly, but you won’t want to be wherever you are. It will not be a nice place. (Dom Price, head of R&D at Atlasssian)

Refer to PMI (2014). Executive Sponsor Engagement: Top Driver of Project and Program Success, Diane Vaughan’s . The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA, and Ben Mahmoud-Jouini, S., Midler, C., & Silberzahn, P. (2016). Contributions of design thinking to project management in an innovation context. Project Management Journal, 47(2), 144–156.

Outstanding Leadership is of Essence

Maria Linage Muñoz (Senior HR Manager, HERE Technologies ) takes a lot of time to advertise HERE to illustrate the rapidly accelerating context of map making turning into location data. Why? Society needs to solve fundamental challenges. Efficiency in mobility is one way of helping. Impressive, but where does leadership steps in? You have to wait 14 minutes into Maria’s 22 minutes presentation.

Collaboration is key. Top level leadership, well-informed external consultants for short-term input, and low-level initiatives, autonomy all have to be considered. Impact of decisions on both short-term, but also the future needs to be taken into consideration. The transformation towards an Agile culture not only impacts primary (engineering) functions but also supporting functions like Finance and HR.

A leadership framework cannot be taken out of the books anymore. Agile practices are needed for:

  • internal context
  • external inspiration
  • continuous flexibility

Be aware constant adaption to the new market and technology continues.