Our Guest This Episode: Stephen Townsend
How will projects be managed 3, 5, or even 10 years from now? Our guest Stephen Townsend talks about the changes and challenges he sees for future project managers, trends in the marketplace, and how the PM role is evolving.
As PMI’s Director for Network Programs, Stephen has worked with PMI since 1999, leading special program initiatives for the institute. Stephen served on the U.K.’s Project X Research Consortium Steering Committee, and he’s involved in exploring how organizations are enhancing and reinventing their value delivery capabilities. Stephen produces materials for U.S. federal government agencies to help them implement requirements associated with the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act. He also leads the PMBOK Guide’s Seventh Edition transformation work stream.
Our team discusses some of the findings from a study by the American Productivity and Quality Center, one of the world’s leading proponents of business benchmarking, best practices, and knowledge management research. As Stephen offers an analogy that some project managers are cooks, and others are chefs, consider how you envision yourself as a consistent performer or as a transformer. Finally, listen in for advice on the importance of developing soft skills and encouraging your team to step out of traditional comfort zones.
Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:
"...one of the key things I would say to individuals is, if you’re completing PDUs just to tick the box, .... You’re wasting your opportunity, and you’re wasting your organization’s opportunity because this is really your investment in ensuring that you remain competitive in today’s environment, not only within your organization, but also competitive with your peers who are project leaders."
"So step into opportunities that present you with an opportunity to have a different experience, but also potentially change your mindset."
"What excites me most about this profession is I think project management is in for a complete revolution. Technology is going to enable project delivery in a completely different way than we can envision right now."
The podcast for Project Managers by Project Managers. As organizations are going through transformation, there’s plenty of internal and external pressure to adapt, PMI’s Stephen Townsend talks about the changes and challenges for project managers, future trends in the marketplace, and how the role is evolving.
00:26 … Meet Stephen
02:02 … Cooks vs Chefs
08:53 … Enhancing your Toolkit
10:41 … Conflict and Adaptation
13:14 … Future Trend: Soft Skills to Accelerate Innovation
21:12 … Building New Skills and Capabilities
25:31 … Global Executive Council Talent Management Survey
29:56 … How Organizations can Help PMs Increase Value
35:54 … Challenges as Opportunities to Change your Perspective
42:13 … A Revolution of Project Management
44:48 … Connect with Stephen
46:02 … Closing
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: …one of the key things I would say to individuals is, if you’re completing PDUs just to tick the box, you’re wasting an opportunity. You’re wasting your opportunity, and you’re wasting your organization’s opportunity because this is really your investment in ensuring that you remain competitive in today’s environment, not only within your organization, but also competitive with your peers who are project leaders.
NICK WALKER: Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers. This is our opportunity to meet with you and talk about what real life is like in the shoes of a professional project manager. I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me is the guy who is always on the lookout for interesting and talented people we can bring on our program. And Bill, it looks like your talent scout eyes have snagged another big fish.
BILL YATES: Yeah, I’m delighted that Stephen Townsend is going to give us the time on the podcast. He is a very busy man. I’ve known him, goes pretty far back, probably 2011 when I served on the Advisory Group for the PMI REP communities, when I really got to know Stephen. And then had the opportunity to sit in on one of his talks, a couple of his talks actually, at the fall Global Conference back in fall of 2019 and just was reminded of the depth of his knowledge and the experience that he has. Stephen’s out there in the marketplace. He meets with so many companies to talk with them about their project management practices and where they’re going, what trends they see. So great to have him on with us today.
NICK WALKER: Well, before we meet him, let’s learn a little bit more about him. Stephen Townsend has worked with PMI since 1999, and currently he is PMI’s Director for Network Programs. In this capacity he leads special program initiatives for the Institute. One of those is serving on the U.K.’s Project X Research Consortium Steering Committee, supporting the benefits realization management research stream. He’s also involved in exploring how organizations are enhancing and reinventing their value delivery capabilities. For U.S. federal government agencies he produces materials to help them implement requirements associated with the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act. He also leads the PMBOK Guide’s Seventh Edition transformation work stream. Stephen, welcome to Manage This.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Thank you. Good to be with you all today.
NICK WALKER: We want to talk with you about some of the changes and challenges you see coming down the pike for future project managers. But first, I’d like for us to talk about an analogy that Bill says you made at the PMI Global Congress last fall. And any listeners with a background in the restaurant industry are going to get this right away. You said that some project managers are cooks, and others are chefs, and also that we need both. So could you explain that analogy?
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Yeah. So just to put it in the context of the conversation that we had at the PMI Global Conference, we presented a slide that was intended to be provocative, to get people to really think about themselves in the context of their organization and its current state, whether that’s in transformation, whether they’re in steady state. And the question was, do you envision yourself as a project manager or as a transformer? And I’m hoping that people don’t take anything negative from the connotations of a cook versus a chef. But they really reflect different mindsets, skills, and capabilities that we wanted to emphasize in the conversation. So, for example, the cook likes process.
BILL YATES: Right.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Give me a pathway to creating the desired output and constrain change so that I can actually deliver what I’ve been asked to deliver. And one of our PMI volunteer contributors, a gentleman by the name of Eric Norman, who led the development of the Third Edition of our Standard for Program Management, shares that, in the context of program management, the team embraces change because you’re trying to implement a vision of something that’s completely different, that you haven’t done before. But in a project, your focus is on constraining change because you have a very specific output that you’re trying to accomplish. And anything that changes that output requires change across all of the different elements of the project that you’re trying to manage, particularly the cost and the schedule and the resources.
So in projects, as much as you can, you try to constrain change, whereas in programs you tend to embrace change. And so in the environment that a cook operates in, a cook wants to maintain the stable condition. So you want the oven at the right temperature. You want all of the exact ingredients in the exact quantities that you need them.
A chef, on the other hand, likes experimentation. For a chef, the outcome is about the experience in finding the right ingredients, in understanding how to blend them, and in delivering a fantastic meal at the end. It’s not about the deliverable. It’s about the outcome. And so in this context the chef understands the properties of the ingredients and how to blend them, how to produce the desired flavors. Chefs also love improvisation. They love tailoring, and they love adaptation.
So if you look at that in a project context, if I’m the type of person who likes stability, or who understands and feels that the process is the way to guide the achievement of the outcomes, I’m going to be more of a cook. So I’m going to want to use the process to constrain change, have all the right ingredients at the right time at the right temperature to move things forward. If I’m the kind of person that loves a challenge, that loves a little bit of chaos I might be more of a chef because I want to be able to pivot and adapt. I want to use process where process makes sense.
But there may be times where we have to pivot. We have to adapt. We have to invent our own way of being able to deliver. And particularly as organizations are going through transformation, as they’re trying to build new transformative capabilities. The chef characteristics play a much greater role in those types of initiatives than they might in some of your more product or service delivery types of activities.
And to the point that we were discussing before the podcast started, we had a young lady in the audience who said that she was actually a mixture of both, that she liked process because process gave her a sense of discipline and order that helped her frame how she might focus on delivering the outcome. But she also liked a little bit of chaos and the ability to be adaptive and to change and, in some instances, to actually instigate change. So not just responding to change, but being the one to instigate change in the organization.
So people kind of know where they fit in this construct at what they’re comfortable with. And the key thing is you can be one; you can be the other; you can be both. And organizations need project professionals who bring both skill sets to bear.
BILL YATES: Stephen, I agree with that so much, and one thing I’ve noticed about the great chefs, they started out as cooks.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Definitely.
BILL YATES: And I think, drawing that analogy further, I think project managers, again, we have to learn how to walk before we can really start running and sprinting. And you’re right. Organizations need both, both those who can follow a recipe and keep banging out consistent great results. And then they need those who improvise or perform really well when there is a chaotic moment.
There’s a show that I like watching called “Chopped.” And it’s 60 minutes of chaos. There are four chefs that are competing to be the Chopped Champion every episode. And those are definitely chefs. They don’t have recipes. They’re given, I think, 20 minutes for the appetizer round, 30 minutes for the entrée round, and 30 minutes for dessert. And they’re competing against each other. They have the same ingredients. There’s no recipe, so, you know, cooks beware. Right? You really – you have to improvise, and you have all these different resources that you can go to, to pull in different flavors. And so it’s fun to watch that.
But I can see how that analogy plays out with project managers. And one thing I’m excited about, Stephen, after hearing your presentation, your talk at Global, I was thinking, you know, what a great conversation to have in terms of what you see in terms of trends in the marketplace for project managers. How do you see the position or the role evolving? And I know you and I had some prior conversation about a particular study from the American Productivity and Quality Center. Maybe a good time for us to talk through some of that, some of those findings.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Sure. Before we go to that topic, though, I also want to point out, because when we use the word “project manager,” people think of a traditional environment. But if you think of the chef and cook analogy, the same applies in the Agile community. So I talk to a lot of people, for example, about the different Agile methodologies and frameworks et cetera. And I often hear that we don’t follow process in Agile environments.
BILL YATES: Yeah.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: But scrum clearly has processes and ceremonies and artifacts and things along those lines. And the focus there is the same. It is the ceremonies, the artifacts, and the process, are designed to help you build a disciplined approach for delivery. But there is a point at which you grow beyond what that disciplined approach can help you achieve. So you start to enhance your toolkit with other skills and other capabilities, other types of tools and techniques that you can apply. And so even in the Agile community, there is this movement of what’s beyond scrum.
BILL YATES: Right.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: What’s our next skill set that we have to adapt? So this is not just a traditional project management concept of cook and chef. It also applies in the Agile community. But to your point about all chefs start out as cooks, so if we’re new to a discipline, everything is new to us in the beginning, and we need some framework to give us a degree of discipline that we can use and apply as we continue along that path. And so very much so in both the traditional community and the Agile community, that construct works, as well.
NICK WALKER: Let me just interject something because I’m speaking always as an outsider here. But it seems to me, just kind of trying to visualize that restaurant kitchen environment with the chefs and the cooks, there is the potential, the “recipe” – there’s my air quotes – “recipe” for conflict. And is that something that is going to be inevitable, or is it something that can be overcome? Is it something that isn’t going to happen? Am I totally speaking out of turn here?
BILL YATES: No, I think conflict comes with the job. I think when we’re doing projects, and we’re taking on initiatives that are bigger than us, it requires a team to do it. And it requires a mind shift because projects create new results. They create new products. They change the status quo. So in my mind, conflict comes with the job. If you have a position description that you’re creating for a project manager, one of the bullet points should be you’re comfortable with conflict.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Yeah, and so I think one of the challenges that we often have is that individuals think that, if you have a process or a methodology, that it is static, that it really doesn’t change, it really doesn’t grow, and it really doesn’t adapt. And what I hear when I talk to a lot of practitioners is their organizations can sometimes get stuck in their methodology or their framework because that’s the way we’ve always done things, or that’s what our leadership expects.
But again, given the fact that many organizations are going through transformation, they’re dealing with different types of competitors in their marketplace. They’re bringing in staff with different skills and capabilities. There’s a lot of internal and external pressure on organizations to adapt, so there is conflict within the organization around this is the way we’ve always done it. But there is also movement towards we need to expand our toolkit.
We need a framework that can accommodate both traditional project delivery and Agile project delivery, with some level of common discipline across the spectrum. And so many of our organizational leaders are going through this transformation and trying to find the right balance between what level of rigor and consistency do we need versus what level of flexibility and adaptation can we give our teams to deal with the unique circumstances that they face in the projects and the programs that they’re trying to deliver.
BILL YATES: Stephen, that’s so true, you need both, you really hit on some key factors there. You need them both. So referring back to that study, some of the results there is the study focused on talent strategies for innovation, looking at what are the talent needs within the organization from project managers and others participating in these efforts to birth this innovation, to create this new product, this new result. And it really struck me, the emphasis on soft skills.
You know, some of the stats that I was seeing, the majority are soft skills rather than technical or business skills, so looking at the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2009 report, creativity was 51 percent. So creativity was top in terms of needs for talent, followed by ability to collaborate. So the individual needs to be creative, but also not rely just on what’s in their skull, right, their eight pounds. They’ve got to look at those of others, and then how do I tap into the creativity of others? How do I collaborate?
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Yeah, so in the construct of the open innovation study, the focus was really to understand how organizations accelerate an idea or an opportunity to actually put something in front of their customer. And a lot of organizations have struggled with being able to accelerate value delivery to their customers, but again, the pace of change, the fact that you have customers that are more demanding, the fact that technology is rapidly changing and enabling new capabilities at an incredible rate of speed. A lot of organizations will find that they no longer exist if they can’t adapt and change, but there’s still a need to focus on running the business. So you still need to make sure that normal day-to-day business activities and process improvements and internal change occurs, as well.
And so in the study we found that many of the organizations created their innovation system looking for people who were able to think outside of the box, who were able to manage ambiguity and uncertainty, who thrived in environments where you had to collaborate with a diverse group of individuals. Not just team members inside your organization, but in some instances with people that were developing new or emerging technologies, with your supplier community and your channels. And so that requires, as you pointed out in the Economist Intelligence Unit Study, that requires a much heavier emphasis on the soft skills, as opposed to the traditional technical project management skills.
So in the APQC study, for example, BT, British Telecom, was one of the study participants that we focused on. And in BT they have one opportunity that’s around technology, so through their pipeline they were finding that a number of their customers were abandoning the traditional cable. So they were moving towards Netflix and Hulu and other streaming services. But they had the opportunity to provide a lot of new capabilities through their broadband pipeline.
And so they created an innovation unit to scan what Silicon Valley was doing and what venture capitalists were focusing on investing their resources in to find that next big opportunity. And they realized that their competitors were doing the same, so for them the advantage was being first to market and being able to take advantage of that opportunity. But they also realized that bringing in these new technologies created risk for their organization.
So all of these new technologies are all operating on the same engineered platform that’s going to deliver the service through the broadband. And so for that particular platform, they need stability, they need to make sure that nothing is going to negatively impact that platform because, if that happens, there goes their business. And so they created this innovation system where taking ideas from their customers, from their suppliers, from venture capitalists, from innovators, they have a series of workshops where they have project teams that develop a proof of concept. Their executives judge the proof of concept, and once the proof of concept is proved, maybe two or three get approved. So they become part of the portfolio of the next wave of innovation.
Now, so the interesting thing that BT does that completely violates our PMBOK Guide process, they actually involve their project managers in the ideation phase because what they found is they don’t have the time, if they want to accelerate delivery, they don’t have the time for knowledge transfer to occur between the team that came up with the idea and the project manager. So that’s one element.
The other element is the project manager works across the organization, and so as they’re looking at the idea, the project manager understands we need to work with marketing on this. And this person in engineering has this particular skill set. So we need this person engaged so they’re able to look at what do we need to have in place in terms of people, process, and capability to really accelerate delivering this effectively to the customer.
And then, lastly, they need somebody who understands the customer, who better than the project manager? Because they not only work inside the organization, but they engage with the customers, as well, in resolving customer issues. So that’s an example of how an organization revamped its traditional project delivery system to build in innovation to help accelerate being able to deliver value to the customer. And interestingly, they also use a traditional gated review process so at certain points in the development process there is a review with the executives.
But the development activities actually occur using iterative development practices with their customers, who test their product and give them feedback in real time. So BT is a good example of an organization that developed a hybrid delivery system to accelerate their ability to innovate and deliver value to their customers.
BILL YATES: That was a great example, so as I was reading through the study I came across the BT example, and they used a unique term to describe their project manager. They called the project manager a “translator.”
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Yes.
BILL YATES: And I like that, so it said they saw the project manager as a translator. They translate customer needs and requirements in high-level terms into prototypes the company can turn into new offerings, so just as you described, they are there right from the beginning, right in the ideation phase. They help develop the prototype, they see which ones get funded, and then they go forward with that. Lot of value in that.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Right, and again, in order to be successful when you’re trying to marshal other areas of the business, people who have other responsibilities and accountabilities, your relationships with people in the organization are what help you be as successful as your technical skills and capabilities. So again, if you know the go-to people, you’re ahead of the game.
If you understand what their issues and their considerations are, you can make sure that they are brought in to deal with only those issues and implications that are within their area, so they’re not sitting in three-hour meetings talking about things that they can’t contribute to. You’re leveraging them at the right time and in the right way, so to your point, soft skills are absolutely critical in this type of innovative environment.
BILL YATES: Stephen, this also reminds me, I read a book by Morten Hansen called “Collaboration.” And as I was reading through the study it reminded me this was my first exposure to the idea of a T-shaped manager, when I was reading “Collaboration.” And there the vertical part of the T is the performance of that manager in their own job. So these are my responsibilities. How well do I manage resources? How well do I hit deadlines? Also how well do I deliver prototypes, follow up, make changes, and put results out in the marketplace?
And then the horizontal part of the T is collaborating across the company. So Hansen’s point and the research showed that companies really value those that not only go deep in terms of knowledge, but also go very far across the horizontal part of that T. They’ve got a lot of contacts throughout their network, both in the company and outside the company, to get things done, to break through obstacles, to make sure that they’re aware of the best resources giving heads-up to other departments that are going to be impacted by the change coming through. So that idea of as project managers we add more and more value to our organizations when we become those T-shaped managers that have a big horizontal portion of that T.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Right. And to your point, there’s also a lot of research around careers that the number of career changes that people make in their lifetime is also increasing significantly. So for those of us in our generation, we tended to change careers about eight to 10 times in our lifetime. For the younger generation that’s coming up, the expectation is that people will change careers about 15 to 18 different times, and so in those career changes, there are significant skills and capabilities that are needed for that new role.
So it doesn’t mean that you abandon what you had before because apparently your organization felt that those skills and capabilities were important and were critical for your new role. But the key is to understand what new capabilities or skills you need to build and then pivot so that you make sure that you can do that. And so to your point, a lot of ways that project and program managers are doing that is by seeking out assignments that force them to build their skills and capabilities.
So I delivered a webinar in Japan for all of the folks in IBM Japan across the country. One of the gentlemen that was at the presentation indicated that the best thing that happened to him was being assigned to a project in another country, where the culture was completely different from the culture and the environment that he was used to working in. And the change for him was that the light bulb went off after about a month that people were behaving with him as though he were a guest, not as though he were a member of the team, not as though he were – he was actually helping to facilitate and lead the team.
So he realized in this particular environment I actually have to empower, verbally and physically empower these people to feel that they own this particular outcome, not that I’m going to direct them in what they need to do. And so he deliberately changed his leadership style and behavior with the team to encourage them in some instances to actually push them to step up and to take on leadership roles in their own right.
He said that was actually the best work experience that he ever had because it not only forced him to change his skills and capabilities, but he was then able to mentor and coach these individuals to bring out things in them that they weren’t able to demonstrate on past projects that they had worked on. So I think that’s a very good example of not only building yourself as a T-shaped person, but also giving your team members that opportunity, as well.
BILL YATES: Stephen, so I know you referred to the findings of the Global Executive Council in 2011, and there were a lot of similarities in these studies in the findings. And so much of it, to me, just resonated with soft skills just like you’re describing there, of kind of looking beyond myself, growing my emotional intelligence, becoming more aware of the health of the team and the particular environment that I’m in, and what’s going to work and what’s not, and removing those obstacles. As you and I were talking before, back at Global, we talked about it seems like the project manager is evolving from the technician to more of the one who has a leadership mindset, a business strategic mindset.
Talk more about that, so again, we’re kind of going back from we can’t just cook anymore and follow the recipe, we need to become that chef. You gave an interesting list of critical skills and behaviors, and when I looked through that, you know, when you look at the page, so much of those are soft skills again.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Yeah, so in 2011 as PMI started to explore how organizations were focusing on talent management, we conducted a survey with members of our Global Executive Council. So that is a group of about 80 to 90 different organizations around the world that are fairly mature in their organizational project management capabilities. And so we asked them, “For your most strategic projects and programs, what are the skills and capabilities that you look for in the project and program managers who lead those initiatives?”
And so to your point, the feedback that we received was very enlightening in that there really were no technical skills and capabilities on the list that we got back from the council members. There were six categories of capabilities, one around strategic vision, superior communications, exceptional leadership, conflict resolution, integrated thinking, and personal differentiators like being curious, exemplifying integrity, improving yourself, having a strong focus on self-improvement and also self-reflection.
And so the interesting thing about that was that, again, for these senior leaders in the organization, technical skills were considered table stakes, that you would not have made it to your position if you didn’t have that base of technical skills, strong technical skills. And so there’s a recognition that in a more senior role, you are not doing the planning, you’re not doing the risk management, you are facilitating the team in doing that.
So there are people on the team who now have those accountabilities. And so you are focused on how do I help the team stay integrated? How do I help them collaborate effectively? What do I need to communicate from the team to our executive sponsor and to our leadership so that we maintain their support, so that they help us overcome roadblocks? Also, what do I need to communicate inside the organization to get the organization ready to use the outputs from the project or the program to drive the business goals and objectives? How do I need to help people in the organization understand how to support the project team effectively?
So the research pointed out that mindset behavior, your interpersonal skills, leadership capabilities, critical thinking, and problem solving were really what make you stand out. And so that’s why I shared with the group at the Global Conference that how you think, behave, and lead are what are going to distinguish you, not your technical skills, because technical skills I can train you in. But I can’t make you a good leader, you have to build that skill and that capability and the credibility to be accepted by others as a leader in the organization.
And so that was really the insight from the council study that was further confirmed when we did our 2014 Thought Leadership series on Talent Management, that most organizations are building their talent management to focus on those leadership and business skills and capabilities because there is a recognition that either individuals already have strong technical skills, or we can develop specific training tools and other capabilities to help them develop and display those skills.
BILL YATES: Stephen, it reminded me of a quote that I heard from CEO Herb Kelleher years ago from Southwest Airlines. And so he said – he talked about attitudes, he said, “We draft great attitudes. If you don’t have a good attitude, we don’t want you, no matter how skilled you are. We can change skill levels through training. We can’t change attitudes.”
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Right.
BILL YATES: So one of the questions that I have as I think through all this and think about how the role of project manager is evolving, and maybe to put it more appropriately, maybe the more valuable the project manager becomes, how does the project manager increase her value or his value? It’s through this leadership, it’s through these soft skill areas, so then it begs the question that I want to throw back to you: How do you see organizations or individuals helping project managers take it to that next level?
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: So let me start at the individual level, I’ve been with PMI for 20 years. So I was here when the Registered Education Provider program started as a way of helping individuals who had gained their PMP continue to develop their skills and capabilities around project management. And so I would say for the first five years of that program, the majority of the Professional Development Units that were being submitted for approval were around technical skills – risk management, scheduling, planning, et cetera.
I would say around 2005 that really started to change significantly. We started to see more in the leadership, more in the negotiation, more around change management because project leaders were realizing, were actually putting things into the organization, but they’re not being used because we didn’t think about how to enable the organization to embrace the output and actually use it to build the capability that’s going to drive the outcomes. And so people started to focus on change management. And then when PMI developed the Talent Triangle, I think that then pushed people who were just kind of completing PDUs to complete PDUs to focus on making sure that they had a balance between the technical skills, leadership and interpersonal skills, and the business skills.
So I would say that one of the key things I would say to individuals is, if you’re completing PDUs just to tick the box, you’re wasting an opportunity. You’re wasting your opportunity, and you’re wasting your organization’s opportunity because this is really your investment in ensuring that you remain competitive in today’s environment, not only within your organization, but also competitive with your peers who are project leaders. And so take advantage of the opportunity to look at the skills and capabilities that you need to develop and build your professional development around those activities. So don’t just complete PDUs to complete PDUs. Complete PDUs to help you advance into the types of roles that your organization is creating for project leaders and also to be a stronger coach and mentor to the people on your project teams.
Now, a lot of organizations are investing significantly in training and development, so a lot of organizations have internal academies where they bring in Registered Education Providers to conduct training and development within their organizations, as well. So for the organizations that are looking at what do we need to do to help our team members build their capabilities, the first thing I would say is go to PMI’s website to our Learning tab, and there you will find our Thought Leadership series from 2014 on Talent Management.
And we give a roadmap for what to think about in terms of how to help your teams, including your human resource group within your organization, your learning and development group within the organization, your PMO leaders if you have them, how to get them all around the table to talk about the skills and capabilities you need now and into the future so that you’re building not only your current team members and capabilities, but, if you’re like many organizations that are looking at a transitioning workforce, you need to start thinking about what are the new skills and capabilities that we need as our more senior people leave the organization, and we bring new people into the organization. So that would be my recommendation to the organizations.
And not only that, but as you’re looking at changing your value delivery system, so if you have been using more traditional models, and you’re starting to see that more and more of your projects have hybrid characteristics, or you’re using Agile capabilities, look at what you need to do to help your teams build those capabilities. And when I say “your teams,” I don’t just mean your project management leadership and your PMO teams. I mean your finance group also has to be a part of that, marketing has to be a part of that. Legal and compliance and procurement all have to be a part of that because shifting from a more traditional way of doing business to more Agile and hybrid changes the business, so it doesn’t just change the project delivery, it changes the business.
So you have to plan and finance Agile projects differently than you do more traditional projects. You have to think about risk and compliance in a different way in Agile environments than you do in traditional environments, and so you need to bring all of your team onboard, not just the project leadership, not just the developers. Everybody needs to understand their role in this new Agile environment. And also everybody will likely need new skills and capabilities to help them be successful in making the change from more traditional ways of delivering projects to more Agile and hybrid ways of delivery.
NICK WALKER: Stephen, so let me get back to the individual just a little bit. I’m trying to get into the mind of a listener who’s a project manager developing his or her technical skills, but does aspire to go beyond that and become the chef instead of the cook. What challenges do you think that person is going to face here in the coming years in project management?
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: So when we did the workshop at the Global Conference in Philadelphia, it was interesting. When I asked the question where people saw themselves, they knew intuitively where they were. I would say that the vast majority of people probably felt that they were more in the cook range, that they felt very comfortable working with process and having a clear understanding of what they were expected to deliver and also a clear pathway for how they were going to deliver that to grow interpersonal and leadership skills and capabilities..
But as one young lady in the audience said, you know, she liked being a disruptor. She liked the fact that there was a manageable degree of chaos because that gave her something exciting to be able to work on it, gave her something to apply those critical thinking skills to. So I think intuitively people know just how much chaos they can manage, or that they’re comfortable with, and for some people, that’s a lot of chaos, and for other people that’s a little bit.
So I think first of all intuitively people know. Second, we are seeing some of our organizational stakeholders, particularly within our Global Executive Council, that are identifying ways to match individuals with the characteristics of the projects that those organizations are managing. So for example IBM, NASA, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority in the U.K. have systems for evaluating what are the characteristics of the project or program that we’re trying to deliver. And so they have a separate system for identifying the skills and capabilities of their projects and program managers so that they can make a better match between the two. So if the project or program is going to be very complex, if it has a lot of political dynamics, then they pull in individuals who can manage the political aspects.
Because, again, we can find technical people who can help manage the high degree of risk or uncertainty in the project, we can leverage other skills and capabilities that we have within our teams. But we need somebody who has proven that they understand how to deal with highly politically charged environments and can manage the stakeholders in a way that helps the team successfully adapt the project or program to deliver the right results. And so you have these organizations that are building this infrastructure to match the characteristics of their project with the capabilities and skills of their project and program leaders.
So I would say that those are two things. One, know yourself and understand yourself and, again, look for opportunities to build skills and capabilities. So one way is to kind of step out of your traditional comfort zone, if you’ve managed just traditional delivery projects, step into a change management program. You know, also there is nothing more incredible than being able to help establish new processes, new ways of thinking, new ways of behaving in the organization that’s really going to challenge those interpersonal and those leadership skills and capabilities.
So if that’s an area that you want to get into, lead a change management program, if you’ve never worked in an Agile environment, volunteer to be a part of an Agile development team. Learn from their perspective a different way of thinking about how we deliver outputs and outcomes that drive our organizational business forward. So step into opportunities that present you with an opportunity to have a different experience, but also potentially change your mindset.
BILL YATES: Stephen, I’m thinking back to those contestants on “Chopped,” and I’m thinking, you know, for some of those folks, for me, for instance, there’s no way I’m going to go on “Chopped.” First of all, they’d look at my résumé background and go, “Nah, he’s not ready for this.” But for those who are stepping into that kitchen to be judged like that and to have the pressure of the time and, as you say, the chaos, that was a thought process they went through to subject themselves to that, obviously.
So it begins with self-awareness, where am I right now? Where do I want to be in the future? Am I going to set a goal to push myself into it and then look for opportunities in my organization? There’s another thing that you said that intrigues me, and I see an opportunity here, a business opportunity that you and I will have to talk about offline. Similar to a dating app, we can create some kind of matching app for organizations to look at the individual PM and look at the opportunity and have a little matchmaking going on there, based on the characteristics of the person and the attributes of that project, to see how much chaos or risk is involved in it, so that’s very intriguing.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Yeah, so again, some of the organizations deliberately push people into roles that they may not necessarily be comfortable in. But they ensure that that person has a mentor or coach to help support them so that they don’t feel that they’ve been thrown into a situation and kind of abandoned. So again, as part of their development, they want people to stretch themselves, and generally we tend not to want to jump into situations where we don’t necessarily feel prepared, particularly if it has a lot of visibility in the organization. So when organizations want individuals to step up, they not only need to provide the opportunity, but they need to make sure that there’s some support on the back end to help the person be successful.
And so, again, with a lot of our council member organizations and other organizations that we work with, they’re building this dual system. So we want to give you the development opportunity, but we’re also going to leverage expertise that we have in the organization to mentor and coach you. Which is also a development opportunity for the mentor coach because they get to transfer some of the skills and capabilities and knowledge that they’ve gained through experience, which can be incredibly useful to someone who’s not been down that path before.
NICK WALKER: Stephen, your passion for the field of project management is so obvious, so I want to close by asking you the question, what excites you most right now about this profession?
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: So what excites me most about this profession is I think project management is in for a complete revolution. Technology is going to enable project delivery in a completely different way than we can envision right now. I can envision in the next three to five years, for example, that my project team members are going to put in a daily report. They’re going to dictate a daily report into their mobile phone and that report is going to be compiled across the team while we’re asleep or doing whatever we need to do at home.
That artificial intelligence is going to be compiling that information, taking a look at our schedule and giving us recommendations on how we’re doing and where we might be able to make improvements. So it’s going to look across the projects that are going on in our organization right now, and projects that were completed, to identify common trends or common issues. And it’s going to give us recommendations to say we have identified four projects that have similar characteristics to the one that you’re working on, and, so for those projects, these are risks that they identified that you don’t have on your risk register. You need to think about whether these apply in your particular project or program.
So artificial intelligence is going to help us think and analyze information in a much more useful way so that artificial intelligence will actually be a contributing team member to our project and program teams in the not-too-distant future. Which also means that the project teams will have more time and more opportunity to focus on stakeholder engagement, the interpersonal communication and engagement within the team, the what’s the best approach and the alternatives for us to deliver the right outcome for the client, for the organization, for the customer.
So it’s really going to change the dynamic within the project environment from one of managing process and managing artifacts and managing communication to one of really accelerating value delivery by keeping the team focused on what’s required to actually produce the desired outcome from the project and program.
NICK WALKER: I’m sure there are listeners who are thinking, I’d love to be able to connect with this guy, so is there a way to do that?
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Sure. I am at Project Management Institute at Stephen.Townsend@pmi.org
NICK WALKER: Great.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: So feel free to reach out. Also I would encourage people to visit our website at PMI.org, where again we have tons of research and information that people can access and download at no charge. So a lot of the studies that we talked about in today’s podcast are actually available on the website for anyone who wants to participate. And if you want to engage with others in the project management community, we have our community site at ProjectManagement.com that you can participate in, also.
NICK WALKER: Well, Stephen Townsend, we appreciate so much your time, as a token of our appreciation, we have this little – well, it’s actually not little. It’s a big Manage This coffee mug.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Awesome.
NICK WALKER: And we’re going to send that to you.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Awesome, I need that, I go through at least four cups of little tiny mug cups, and so I need a real big one, give me that big boost.
BILL YATES: We’ll upgrade his coffee size that way.
NICK WALKER: Yeah, this is a chef’s mug.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: All right.
NICK WALKER: Yeah. Thanks again.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND: And thank you.
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