Future of project management

Interview with Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, Chair-Elect, Board of Directors at Project Management Institute for PM World Journal

Interviewed by Ipel Sahra Ozguler, PMP International Correspondent for PM World Journal

Ipek Sahra Özgüler (Özgüler): What are some of the biggest risks and challenges facing program managers?

Nieto-Rodriguez: The major challenge is to overcome the lack of understanding about the value of program management by the top executive team. As a program manager or head of a PMO, it is important to quickly show the added value of our work — that we are in control, understand the priorities of the organization, and are ready to take a leading role. The other obstacle with which I’m often confronted with is that some CEOs consider project management as a competency that every executive should develop on top of their functional competencies. That would mean that the value we add as program manager professionals is diluted with the perception that everyone could play that role. The last challenge I would like to highlight is the fact that with the current economic environment, we are being asked to deliver more with less resources and shrinking budgets. In addition, I noticed that after at least five years of non-stop change, people are getting tired of it, which creates even bigger resistance to the changes we try to introduce with the projects we lead.

Özgüler: How do you think new global trends will affect the project management profession?

Nieto-Rodriguez: According to the International Monetary Fund, by 2050 only three of the top world economies will be in the West – the US, Germany, and the UK. This means that western organizations will need to partner with each other, and with companies in other regions, particularly Asia.

Collaboration between global teams made up of different national, organizational, and professional cultures is already a reality today, but most probably it will intensify in the future. In addition, the Internet, social media, and mobile connectivity will keep disrupting our current notions of the ‘workplace’ and the ‘organization’. Networked organizations, virtual and transversal teams are becoming the new norm. Thus, collaboration and networking will become even more important skills than they are today.

Networked organizations, virtual and transversal teams are becoming the new norm

The good news is that we, project management professionals, understand and have acquired those skills as part of our day-to-day project management challenges. As PMI’s Talent Triangle illustrates, project managers will also need to develop business expertise and leadership skills. To keep being relevant, it is critical to invest in yourself, keep learning and building knowledge on top of your project management skill set.

Özgüler: How can project and program managers more effectively influence and communicate with their executive teams?

Nieto-Rodriguez: It’s important to identify and cultivate solid working relationships with executive sponsors in the C-suite and elsewhere. In fact, PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® research indicates that having actively engaged executive sponsors is the top driver of project success. Share your vision about your project and how it will address some of the key priorities of the organization. Understand their personal interests and goals, and communicate how your project links to them. Last, talk to them in their own language, not in project management terms. For example, if you are talking to the sales director about your project, use terms like market share, product pipeline, product features, sales trends, competition, growth,…. I guarantee you will have his or her attention.

Özgüler: Having managed programs in such diverse sectors as finance and pharma, have you observed any trends or practices that are common to all industries?

Nieto-Rodriguez: Finance and pharma, like any other highly regulated industry, dedicate a very large amount of their project portfolio to compliance and risk management initiatives, leaving little resources for innovation and growth projects. Therefore, one of the key common practices in these industries is to establish a company-wide project selection and prioritization process endorsed and sponsored by the entire executive team. If well done, this process will provide clarity and the right balance between compliance and growth.

Özgüler: What are the most important factors to consider when creating a PMO?

Nieto-Rodriguez: The first priority is to get executive buy-in and make the PMO a partner in strategy. Next, it’s essential to find the right people. If possible, hire internally and recruit from multiple departments like sales, marketing operations and IT to broaden the team skill set. When implementing new processes, look for internal best practices and allow for some local flexibility. The PMO’s role should be more consultative than administrative or regulatory, adapting practices from A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) — Fifth Edition to individual initiatives within an organization’s process and culture. By capitalizing on the major contributors to project success and avoiding the leading causes of project failure, project success should be a predictable and repeatable event, instead of a hit-and-miss occurrence.

PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® research identifies a number of key factors affecting project outcomes. For example, 47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals due to poor requirements management. To address this, it’s critical for PMOs to implement standardized requirements management processes in collaboration with stakeholders.

Özgüler: What additional skills are most necessary for project professionals seeking to transition to program management?

Nieto-Rodriguez: Program managers need to have a good business sense and contextual understanding of the projects, so they’re able to visualize and understand how those projects collectively contribute to the achievement of the organization’s strategic priorities. It’s also essential to have good communication and interpersonal skills to build rapport with project teams, executives and other key stakeholders.

Özgüler: What has been your most fulfilling experience as a project and program manager?

Nieto-Rodriguez: I found it very rewarding to be able to change industries in mid- career based on the merits of my project portfolio, PMO and project management skills. Although I had minimal experience in the pharmaceutical field, I was chosen to establish and lead the Global Project Management Office at GSK Vaccines out of a pool of 200 candidates. I believe this is an example for all project and program managers, who I know sometimes have doubts whether they made the right career decision. It validates how our skill set has become a core competency for any organization.

You can download the full text of this interview below.

Future of Project Management – interview for PM World Journal

Future of Project Management – interview for PM World Journal

Interview with Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez a Strategy Execution thought leader on the future of Project Management and main trends in this field

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About the author

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez is a professor of strategic change and project management at several business schools (Duke CE, Instituto de Empresa, Solvay, Vlerick). He is also an author of the book The Focused Organization, have been featured in several magazines, including Singapore Management Institute, Business Strategy Review and The Economist.

Antonio loves to speak to large audiences – he is a regular keynote speaker at international events, where he speaks on strategic transformation and focus. In the past months he has been keynote speaker in conferences with thoughleaders Bob Kaplan, Rita McGrath, as well as politicians Didier Reynders and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council.

Antonio specializes in running workshops with senior executives to increase their focus and improve their strategy execution dexterity. He has an MBA from London Business School and his education spanned Germany, Mexico, Italy, USA, Spain and the UK.

He is currently a Director Head of PMO at GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines.

Previously he worked in the banking sector, for BNP Paribas Fortis, where he implemented Project Portfolio Management practices to help the Executive Committee select, prioritize and execute 150+ projects and a budget of +100m euro yearly. Prior to that he was a Head of Post Merger Integration, leading the largest takeover in the financial service history: the acquisition of ABN AMRO.