Episode 175 – Managing the Human Side of Transformation

Original Air Date

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45 Minutes
Home Manage This Podcast Episode 175 – Managing the Human Side of Transformation

About This Episode

Ricardo Vargas

Transformations fail because we are failing to transform our people. With the failure rate on digital transformations ranging between 70 to 95%, undeniably we are doing something wrong. We are honored to have PM Fellow Ricardo Vargas as our guest to tackle this topic. Ricardo maintains that to lead a successful transformation project, it is crucial to manage human behavior and pay attention to the people associated with the transformation. He adds that it is necessary to cultivate a healthy culture and to align culture and strategy.

Ricardo explains that one of the leading challenges on digital transformation is a cultural challenge and that project managers are responsible to create a culture of learning to aid transformation. Listen in to hear him talk about when strong leadership becomes a liability, finding the sweet spot with collaboration, and creating a healthy environment that inspires people to follow. Being prepared for the human side of change will make the difference between success and failure. Previously serving as the Executive Director of Brightline Initiative, Ricardo also explains the purpose of the Brightline Initiative to help bridge the gap between strategy and execution by supporting collaboration between project management and senior management.

Ricardo Vargas has managed more than $20 billion in global initiatives over the past 25 years. He was director of the Brightline Initiative, a coalition that helps bridge the gap between strategic design and delivery. Before that, he was Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) Infrastructure and Project Management Group. Ricardo holds a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the Federal Fluminense University in Brazil.

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Favorite Quotes from Episode

"So what happens on digital transformation? The company say, “We are doing this. We are transformed.” And the employee that is there saying, “And so what? What is in there for me? … And if I don’t see that, what I do? I will say, you know, “I don’t want to be part of that.”

Ricardo Vargas

"You build by listening to the others, by listening to their aspirations, by being open to learn different things, by being able to put your position, at the same time respect someone else’s position. And this is how you build a culture that will reduce that fear."

Ricardo Vargas

The podcast by project managers for project managers. Transformations fail because we are failing to transform our people. In a successful transformation project, it is crucial to manage human behavior and pay attention to aligning culture and strategy. To lead a successful transformation project cultivate a healthy environment that inspires people to follow.

Table of Contents

02:06 … Ricardo’s Story
04:40 … Transforming Passion into Profession
06:20 … Brightline Initiative
10:44 … The Failure Rate on Digital Transformations
15:54 … When Strong Leadership is a Liability
20:18 … Effective Team Collaboration
24:32 … Kevin and Kyle
25:37 … Aligning Culture and Strategy
30:39 … Diversity is More Effective
33:26 … Cultivate a Healthy Culture
36:17 … Getting Stakeholders Onboard
41:33 … Contact Ricardo
44:16 … Closing

RICARDO VARGAS:  So what happens on digital transformation?  The company say, “We are doing this.  We are transformed.”  And the employee that is there saying, “And so what?  What is in there for me?  What is in there for me?”  And if I don’t see that, what I do?  I will say, you know, “I don’t want to be part of that.”

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m Wendy Grounds, and in the studio with me is Bill Yates and Danny Brewer.  We love having you join us twice a month to hear about project stories and leadership lessons, as well as advice from industry experts from all around the world.  And we want to bring you some support as you navigate your projects.  We have one such leadership expert with us today.

BILL YATES:  We are fortunate to have Ricardo giving us the time and sharing his experience and knowledge with us.  It’s going to be phenomenal.

WENDY GROUNDS:  I’m sure many of you have heard of Ricardo Vargas.  He’s an experienced leader in global operations, project management, business transformation, as well as crisis management.  He’s the founder and managing director of Macro Solutions. And he’s also a former chairman of the Project Management Institute, as well as a PMI fellow.  He also tells us a little bit about being the director of project management and infrastructure of the United Nations, leading more than 1,000 projects in humanitarian development projects.  And we talk to him about the Brightline Initiative.  Ricardo created and led this initiative from 2016 to 2020.  He has the Five Minutes podcast, and he gives some excellent project management advice on his podcast.

BILL YATES:  Wendy, it’s going to be great to talk with Ricardo and get his input on the human side on digital transformation projects, complex projects, where sometimes we get a bit fascinated with the technology.  And as Ricardo points out, it’s all about the people.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Hi, Ricardo.  Welcome to Manage This.

RICARDO VARGAS:  Thank you very much.  I’m very glad to be here with you today.

Ricardo’s Story

WENDY GROUNDS:  We are really honored to have you.  I think it’s been a long time coming that we wanted to talk with you, so we’re honored to have you with us today.  Can you look back and tell me how you got into project management?  What’s your story?

RICARDO VARGAS:  No, that’s very interesting because you know my background, I’m a chemical engineer.  And when I was a student of chemical engineering, this was in the early ‘90s.  One of the disciplines I was studying was operational research.  So how do you put things in order, you know, on the production line, on the project.  And that was the first time I met the concept of critical path, of you know, resource leveling.

And coincidentally, at that exact time I was working with Microsoft.  I was owner of a partner of Microsoft in Brazil.  And Microsoft was putting an effort on a new tool that they want to roll out in Brazil that was called Microsoft Project.  And they didn’t want anyone to say, “Okay, who can help us to leverage that?”  Because, Excel has mathematics, Word has the language, but Project is something different.  It’s not mathematics.  It’s something like planning.  And at that time, I was fascinated about that at the school.  And I said, “Look, do you want me to step in and try to study?”  At that time, Microsoft was not the size of Microsoft today.  Microsoft Brazil was tiny, tiny, tiny organization at that time.

So what I did, I started studying the Microsoft Project, and I started going to clients with Microsoft to explain what was this new tool.  And this was how I got into that.  And then I said, “Wow, this is fascinating.  Microsoft is investing a lot on that.  So I think I can benefit with my engineering background.”  And with that, I looked on the Internet, and I found PMI.  I became a member.  Yeah, and then everything, I always tell that I start through, I would say, the back door; you know?  I start to use the software, then to see the potentiality of the discipline.  This is how I started, long time ago.

BILL YATES:  That’s amazing.  Yeah, that’s a long time ago.  And it’s so interesting.  Fast-forward in 2022, you’ve been recognized as a PMI Fellow.  And that’s just, that’s fantastic.  It’s amazing, you go from, dabbling with Microsoft Project and introducing that and influencing that in Brazil.  And then fast-forward to where you are today.  That’s phenomenal.

Transforming Passion into Profession

RICARDO VARGAS:  Sometimes when I try to look back, everything that happened with me was, of course, I had a very strong direction of travel because I like, since I was very young, to build things, to transform ideas into reality.  For example, I remember when I was a child.  And I come from a simple family in Brazil, and we did not have resources to buy things, to buy toys.  So I used to build the toy.  And most of the time, I spent most of the time having the idea to build a new car with, you know, cans, and doing this.  But when the car was ready, I didn’t have too much fun on playing.  For me, the fun was to build the car and not to play with the car.  And this is how things start.

So I am fascinated about getting things done.  And I transformed this passion into a profession.  And this is how things were, I would say, a little bit easier for me on my journey.  I also love to help people also to move forward, you know, this collective sense.  And this is why, for example, I’m doing this podcast.  This is why, for example, I struggle to say no when people invite me to talk because maybe out of hundreds of people that may listen, you know, you can touch on one person, and we can make something different to him or to her.  This is what is my passion about.

BILL YATES:  That’s terrific.  And we’re definitely aligned with that.  Just the thought of, if just one project manager takes away something from this conversation today that improves their work or their work-life balance, then that’s success.

Brightline Initiative

You know, one of the career stops that you made that we wanted to ask you about involved Brightline Initiative.  You launched that, and you worked with that for four years.  Just for our listeners, can you give a description of the Brightline Initiative, and then what your role was in that?

RICARDO VARGAS:  Yeah, the PMI Board of Directors between 2013 and 2000, I would say ‘15, was trying to understand why project management was so powerful, so strong on the mid-level management, but very much disconnected from the top management.  So the senior, the C-level executive, the CEO, he or she did not think that project management was something to think about.  They think about, “Oh, I need to envision the future.  I need to see how the future will be.”  And then I just put this on a piece of paper, and I throw to someone and say, “Now just deliver it.”  And what companies start seeing is that, “Oh, this is not working very well, you know.  This is not working.”

So what was the idea?  The best way I want to explain this, and I will explain extremely informal, imagine that you have one mountain in one side with the project managers, and this group has awareness of the value, has awareness of the profession.  I would say PMI and other associates have a good influence on that.  On the other side of that mountain is the senior exec, the leadership that does not necessarily recognize the other side of the mountain the way it is.

And PMI tried for many times to build this bridge through one side, going from the project management and trying to build this bridge.  But as far as you go away from the initial mountain, your bridge does not have too much strength to be kept.  So what I tell everybody, Brightline Initiative was like a special force, you know, operation.  So what we did, we suddenly appeared in the middle of that mountain with a name that was different and why it was different, to reduce the resistance.  When people say project management, “Oh, then it’s the other mountain.  It’s not with me that you talk.”

So we create Brightline, and we connected in a coalition with other institutions.  And what was the aim of Brightline?  It’s to convince these people to help us to bridge this gap from the other side so we can connect.  It means this will increase the power of the profession.  So project manager, most of the time the profession has a ceiling.  It means you go project manager, senior project manager, then you go maybe to program, program director, and that’s it.  For you to go up, then you need to shift a little bit, then you can go up.  So why not have a Chief Project Officer, something like that.

And this is exactly what we did.  This is why, for example, the circles that Brightline was navigating were different.  And this was why at the beginning this was not very much disclosed because we want to build that relationship with the World Economic Forum.  And this was basically my task because I have experience as, for example, the company in Brazil that I told you that was the partner, we founded with three colleagues, myself and two; and then this company became very big.  I left in 2006 when I decided to sell my shares.  We had 1,600 employees.  And now it has 40,000 employees, just to give you an idea.  It’s big, it’s truly big.

So I had the experience on building things from that.  And I have the solid knowledge on project management and these connections.  So the idea of Brightline was exactly to do that.  It was a project.  So I was not an employee of PMI.  It was a project that was supposed to take two years, and it took four.  But it’s because we extended the mandate and this, but to do exactly that bridge.

The Failure Rate on Digital Transformations

WENDY GROUNDS:  We wanted to talk to you today a lot about managing projects in transformation and just the human side, the human behavior in transformation in projects.  Apparently the failure rate on digital transformations is somewhere between 70 and 95%.  What’s going on?  Why do you think the failure rate is so high?

RICARDO VARGAS:  Yeah, this is very important.  I think the failure rate is so high because of two things.  First one, the volatility of the environment.  The environment is changing so dramatically that, if you don’t have an absolutely lean way of delivering things, you know, we don’t have two years anymore to address something.  You know, it’s just unfeasible to do that.  And the second one, and the most important one, is about people.  I love that article from Professor Tabrizi at HBR.  And the article says digital transformation is not about technology.  Because a lot of people think that digital transformation, they fail, oh, because the technology is not ready, or because they don’t have money.  No, it has nothing to do with that.  It’s all about people.

And this is why, for example, we released at Brightline one set of four statements called the People Manifesto.  And this is something I am truly proud of.  What we aim to say with that is that, look, you need to understand that during this journey you need people onboard.  And I’m not saying just the technical competence.  No, because most of the challenges on digital transformation is a cultural challenge.

And one of the main statements of this, and this is a bold statement, an ultra-polemic statement, and the statement says that people act on their own best interest.  What did we say that?  We are not talking that people are selfish, that people want to destruct.  No, no.  What drives people to do things?  It’s something that is good for them.

For example, here today spending my time with you on this podcast.  It’s because strategically for me, my personal vision of life, it’s worth to do that.  And then I do.  So what happens on digital transformation?  The company say, “We are doing this.  We are transformed.”  And the employee that is there saying, “And so what?  What is in there for me?  What is in there for me?”  And if I don’t see that, what I do?  I will say, you know, “I don’t want to be part of that.”

And most of that, it’s like strategy.  It’s like strategy.  It’s so interesting.  Many times people don’t say they disagree with corporate strategy because this is a political suicide in the company.  And people that is there say, “I don’t understand the strategy”.  No, you understood.  The problem is that you don’t agree that this is the path, but you don’t want to say that.  And what happens?  For example, why I would say startups, they have such a benefit on this race because they don’t have this legacy, this cultural legacy.

Imagine you opening a digital bank.  You already open as digital.  Imagine you competing with a bank, with branches, everything.  For them to compete with you, they will say, “Oh, I need to close 100 branches.”  But then people on the branches will say, “No, I’m not in for that, so I will not.”  And this is exactly why it’s so hard.  For example, Amazon became Amazon and not Barnes and Noble.  Why Macy’s did not become Amazon?  You know, because it’s a cultural change.

So it’s very important that you create an environment that will embrace people’s interest on the journey because they become your allies on the journey.  You know, instead of saying, “Look, I’m doing that because I will dispose you in the future.”  No, maybe you do that, but you can do this in a much nicer way.  You can say, “Look, join us in this journey because at the end you will be far better, and you will have conditions with this experience to do many other things.”

For example, when PMI invited me to do Brightline, it was not a job for life.  No, it was two years, and then two years.  So when I left, it’s not, “Oh, you left.  You don’t want it to…”  No, no.  I’m done.  Thank you.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, it’s a project.

RICARDO VARGAS:  It’s like a project.  People need to have this, and companies don’t do that.  So many times companies just lie to people.  Yeah.

When Strong Leadership is a Liability

BILL YATES:  Ricardo, the article that you wrote I thought was so on point about this.  And there are so many great concepts that you brought across in that article.  And, you know, you referred to the People Manifesto.  One of the things that you mentioned is it struck me because it was almost contra.  It was almost against what most people would think.  And you said, “Senior leaders,” when you talk about strong leadership, “strong leadership from senior leaders can be a liability.”

And I want you to talk more about that because, you know, as I read it, when I first read it, I’m like, “Wait a minute.  What’s he getting at here?  You need to have strong leadership.”  But then I saw what you really intended.  And you talk about strong leaders and what they should model so that they have people following them, not just, like you said, “This is what we’re going to do.  This is the hill we’re going to capture.  I don’t need to explain.  Just go do it.”  So talk about when strong leadership becomes a liability.

RICARDO VARGAS:  What you’re just asking me is absolutely timely because the Financial Times, I will post on my social media, I think two or three days ago wrote on proving that research on the leaders that were ultra-qualified MBAs from the top schools, they did not outperform the normal ones.  And they said, “You know, sometimes we need to revisit.”  Why?  Because, you know, when people move up on the ladder of the corporate, there is such a massive competition; right?

Imagine in a company with 100,000 employees there is just one CEO.  There are maybe, I would say, 50 ultra-top leaders.  So for you to get from that 100,000 to that, it’s a massive, massive competition.  So what happens?  When you go up on the ladder, there is a risk, and a good risk, that you start feeling, you know, I am good.  And then when you move a little bit more, and you say, “Now I’m really good.”  And after that, you start believing that you are a god.  Then after that you truly think, “I’m a god.”

And what is the problem of that?  It’s not about merit, it’s that these blindfolds, your ability to understand what is going on and what are the trends.  And what I said is that most of the time people say, “You know, why you, five levels below me, think that I’m not right?  If you were right, you would be on my position and not on yours.”  And this is why, for example, some of the leaders, they say, “No, just do what I’m thinking.  You know, just do what I’m thinking.”  And this is exactly what creates the damage. 

Because there is a sentence from Rita McGrath’s book, “Seeing Around Corners.”  She said, “Snow melts from the edges.  And most of the time you are in the middle.”  And you are so stuck in your, I would say, freezing cold that you don’t see that clock is coming.  But, you know, take your boat.  There is no ice here anymore.  And when you see, it’s all destroyed.

So what we wanted to say is that the great leaders, they know how to navigate, and they know how to be humble, to learn and to listen from the others and to inspire the others on that.  And this is what is absolutely perfect and what we want.  We don’t want this leader that say, “You know, you do what I’m telling you to do.  You don’t think.”  Because this is not the competence that is required today in this current environment.

BILL YATES:  That’s so good.  You’re describing the two extremes of what kind of leader that I want to work for, who inspires me.  Is it the one who says, “I’ve got all this figured out.  You guys are lucky to be working under my guidance.  Now, here’s the game plan, just go execute it?”  Or do I have someone who’s in there with me, who’s rolling sleeves up, humble, asking for opinions, asking for people to test this out.  Here’s the plan, but I need help with this.  Let’s all work towards this together.

Effective Team Collaboration

Which brings me, the other line of question I wanted to ask you, Ricardo, has to do with collaboration because I think we can also swing too far with collaboration as teams where we think, okay, we as a team need to look at every decision and make it together as a team.  Even if I know Susan has more expertise in this particular technical area than I do, I still need to be a part of that.  We all need to be a part of that.  It’s like you can freeze a team if you go too far with collaboration.  So what do you think is the sweet spot with collaboration for teams?

RICARDO VARGAS:  I think we need just to understand the different aspects because, you know, this is my comment about some MBAs, some top business schools.  They try to create a term, and they try to create, okay, leadership.  For example, they think, oh, leadership is everything.  And then I wrote an article, “And what about followship?”  Because you cannot have a planet with eight billion leaders.  You know, a company will not function with 100,000 CEOs.  So how will you create followship and you inspire people to follow?

Collaboration is the same.  There are many times that people need to have their time.  There are many times that people produce a lot by having time to reflect, work alone, and this.  What happens, for example, today is because there is this paranoia about collaboration, collaboration everything, that people spend eight hours in meetings.  They don’t say, you know, my collaboration here is marginal.  If I was able to just sit and do my stuff, I would collaborate in general much more.  So I need to understand that I need to have this balance between collaboration, talking, integration.  And I need also some people to just sit, stay silent, no meetings, and do what they need to do.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Do the deep work, log in and get it done.  Yeah, yeah.

RICARDO VARGAS:  Yes.  So I do that for me.  I spare a couple of days a week where I do more conference calls in this.  Okay, it’s usually Monday and Thursday.  And then the other days I try to free up time where I need to finish writing an article.  I need to think about a new course, or I think about a problem with a client.  You know, and this helps me because it doesn’t help me only to stay with the client talking for eight hours.  Sometimes I just reflect, go to the Internet saying, “What is going on?  Let me see if I find a case study.  Let’s see how did they solve that?”

BILL YATES:  That’s so good.  I’ve been at a client site before where – this was probably like a firm of 150, 200 staff or team members.  And they had this mindset.  They were so sold in on collaboration.  I mean, for me as an outsider, as a consultant, it was almost laughable because when they had conversations that they thought could be significant, they wanted everybody in the room.  Drop what you’re doing, go in the room.  We’re going to collaborate, for the sake of collaboration.  Again, I got the spirit of what they were trying to do, and I liked the spirit of it.

But practically, to your point, Ricardo, when were they going to get their work done?  Then you have people that are burned out because I’m in so many meetings during the day.  I have eight hours of meetings.  Then I’ve got to get my work done.  Bring the right people into the meetings at the right time, and then let them out and get things done.  There’s so much research.  Just talking about that need to block out time to be able to really focus, go deep.  And to your point, to research and find solutions based on the conversations that I’ve had with my customers.

RICARDO VARGAS:  Yeah, absolutely.  This is exactly how I feel.  And sometimes this is counterintuitive because we give so much, so much value.  We raise kids saying, “You need to lead.  You need to be a leader.”  And then everybody, if they are not a leader, then they are a failure.  Followship is also very important.

Kevin and Kyle

WENDY GROUNDS: Let’s have a listen to Kevin and Kyle.

KYLE CROWE: I’ve just been listening to Manage This episode 123 on Next Generation Project Risk Management, and it has me wondering. Kevin, how would you define project risk?

KEVIN RONEY: I’d say a risk is an uncertain event that may happen in the future and it may have a positive or negative impact on the outcome of the project.

KYLE CROWE: That’s a great definition! And, if they occur, risks are uncertainties that impact your project.  As Prasad said, they can be either opportunities or problems.

KEVIN RONEY: Absolutely, and the challenge of risk management is how to exploit the opportunities and to minimize the threats, as much as possible.

KYLECROWE: It would make sense that, ultimately, being proactive with the fundamentals of risk management puts project managers ahead of their game and leads to more successful projects.

KEVIN RONEY: If you want to know more, Velociteach has a Risk Management Fundamentals course by Margo Love. This course is intended for managers looking for a better understanding of risk management and the overall benefits it provides. You can learn about key principles, concepts and terms of risk management, the tools of risk management, as well as the essential elements of qualitative and quantitative risk analysis.

KYLE CROWE: After all… if you don’t control for risk, it will take control of your project.

BILL YATES: Thanks guys! Let’s go back to our podcast.

Aligning Culture and Strategy

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.  One thing that really impacts your collaboration is the culture of your team and aligning the culture with the strategy of what you’re trying to do to have a successful transformation.  So how do you see aligning culture and strategy for a team?

RICARDO VARGAS:  Yeah, this is an ultra complex question because a culture in the United States is not shaped by the same values of culture in China or in Brazil or in Portugal where I’m living now.  So what I think, and I learned this during my five years at the United Nations, you know, I had the magic chance that very few people had to work with I would say maybe 60, 70 nationalities in just my branch of my office in Copenhagen, all religions, all sexual orientation, everything, all the diverse we can see.  And how we learn, we learn about how do we respect each other, but at the same time ask for respect on our values.  This is the way you build a culture.

You cannot build a culture by imposing what you think is the right thing to do.  Why we have so many clashes in the world today, and I can tell you it’s a cultural thing.  It’s a cultural thing because, for example, the Western world, that I include myself, have some beliefs that, oh, this is the right thing.  But in other countries, they don’t have that.  And we need just to understand what is going on.  But if we do not understand, we generate a dramatic clash.

So how do you build first?  You build by listening to the others, by listening to their aspirations, by being open to learn different things, by being able to put your position, at the same time respect someone else’s position.  And this is how you build a culture that will reduce that fear.  I was fortunate.  I have been to 84 countries in my life.  So I had the chance to see everything from ultra-rich countries to ultra-poor countries.  I visited pretty much everywhere.  And I learned a lot by visiting places that are very different.  Very, very different.  Because this helps me.

And I’m talking now, this is not about career, but the one advice that I tell everybody is that people need to spend time to explore diversity.  And to explore diversity means to meet people that are outside his or her bubble.  Because, for example, let’s suppose you are an American, and you have a holiday, and you have a little bit more resources, and you can afford.  So instead of going, you know, to another part of the U.S., where you know pretty much what to expect, why not having an opportunity to travel to Thailand to see something completely different?  And then you may come with a different thinking about what is in there, what is not there.  You know, and respect because it’s very easy for me to talk about something through my own lenses.  And this is how you build culture.

For example, when I raised my kids, I have two kids, not kids anymore, but I raised them.  And you know that my two daughters, one of the things I invested most was to give them the chance.  So they visited many, many countries.  So I took them to Israel.  I took them to the West Bank.  I took them to China. And I took them to Japan.  I took them to Europe.  We lived in Scandinavia.  Why?  It’s just to give them a different perspective on what’s life.  And this helps you to understand different cultures.

Most of the time, the problem is that it’s far more comfortable for us to stay in our cultural bubble, everybody that agrees with you, that thinks exactly like you.  And then you think, oh, this is the right thing.  Everything outside this bubble is wrong.  And you try to transform this in your organization.  If you see the most successful companies today, if you take a look, they embrace this diversity.  And not just because they are good people.  No, no.  It’s because they are aware that the world, the client, the supplier, the global supply chain, everything, it’s far bigger than themselves.

Diversity is More Effective   

BILL YATES:  There’s such a strong point that you make there, Ricardo.  Yes, it’s the right thing to do to respect all people.  But if you want to look at it from a business standpoint or from a pure, okay, I’m a project manager, I just need to get this thing done, diversity is more effective; right?  I mean, we see that over and over in the research.  The more diverse our teams are, and importantly, the more that we tap into that diversity of experience and knowledge and background, the more we tap into that, the more successful our project teams are.  So I put big exclamation points on all that you said.

RICARDO VARGAS:  I want to tell you one more thing.  The Brightline team.  Ricardo, Brazilian living in Portugal.  Tahirou Assane from Niger living in Canada.  Qingqing Han, Chinese living in the Netherlands.  Emil Andersson, Swedish living in Sweden.  Yavnika Khanna, Indian living in Seattle.  Sergio Jardim, Brazilian living in Brazil and then in Portugal.  Janine Lion, American living in the East Coast.  Seven people.  This was the Brightline team.  It was built on this diversity.  All remote team, no office, everybody working from home and remotely. 

Every meeting had a time zone difference of something like nine hours all the time, and we had a meeting in the morning, and the next one was in the afternoon because we don’t want to hurt the same person every time.  So, and this is cultural.  And we built such a solid bond.  And I left Brightline two years ago.  We still have our WhatsApp group.  We still talk to each other.

BILL YATES:  Oh, that’s awesome.

RICARDO VARGAS:  Love each other.  And when it’s a birthday, we send birthday wishes.  We send, “Oh, my daughter went to the school.  My daughter went to the university.”  You know, because we care.  So we built that in an absolutely professional way.  And what we did, we did this by setup.  So we learn about differences on that.

BILL YATES:  That’s beautiful.  And there are two things I want to point out related to this that I think for project managers just to keep it in mind.  And we see this over and over with team sports.  Look at English Premier League, for instance.  Look at some of the best teams in the world.  Those are diverse teams.  They have team members that come from all different countries, sometimes even countries that have pretty, let’s just say, rich histories against each other.  But they’ve come together now.  They’re on the same team.  They have a common purpose.  And our project teams have a common purpose.  And that gives us kind of a unifying cry, if you will.

Cultivate a Healthy Culture

But one of the key words that you used in that article, Ricardo, that I think is so important is the word “cultivate.”  It’s like farming; right?  It’s not, “I plant seed in the ground, and then I’m done.”  You know, as a project manager I can’t have a kickoff event, and then I’m done building culture or thinking about it.  I can’t check it off my list.  This is something that needs to be ongoing.

To your point, you know, with your Brightline group, you still have a WhatsApp.  You stay in communication with them throughout.  And it’s something that needs to be cultivated similar to if you’re growing a healthy plant.  If you want to grow a healthy team, have a healthy culture, you need to cultivate that.  So I appreciated the use of that word that you used because it just opens my mind up to a whole different approach.

RICARDO VARGAS:  Let me give you one thing, just to make a connection with my previous answer.  Remember when I said people act on their own best interest?  By doing this, by creating this bond and this culture, it means that every one of us – now I believe only three of them are still with PMI.  However, we are all connected.  We care for each other in their different journeys.  You know, this is exactly what we want.  So we want people to act on their own best interest.  So many times they come to me and say, “Ricardo, would you give me a reference?”  Of course.  You know, and I don’t know what you’re going through.  “No, I want to do a Ph.D.  I want to do this.  I want to do….”

And this is what is important.  For example, I think one year and a half, something like that, someone was not able to be present in an event, a Brightline event online, and they missed one participant.  And Tahirou came to me, that became the director, said, “Ricardo, I need your help.  Can you step in because I cannot prepare anyone?”  And I stepped in, and I say, “Look, I’m not with Brightline anymore, but I’m here to help.”  And I did this absolutely for free, you know, and I did that.  Why?  Because it is important to cultivate this.

BILL YATES:  That connection.

RICARDO VARGAS:  This is how we keep evolving, you know, in life.  And this is exactly what I think it’s very valid.  And look, if you take a look on the leading companies today, again, if you go to this Google, this tech company, most of them – or these ultra-large companies like P&G, Procter & Gamble, and they put a lot of effort creating a solid culture of the company that respect different social aspects, a different set of beliefs, and then they create a community that allows the company to prosper.  This is exactly what I’m talking here.

Getting Stakeholders Onboard

BILL YATES:  I want to go back to one point that you made because I think it’s so important.  And as I was reading over my notes prior to this conversation today, I was thinking, you make such a strong point about the importance of leaders on project teams engaging all team members and describing to them, connecting with them, empathizing with them so that they know what’s in it for me.  You know, you brought this up early on in our conversation.

In my experience, many times that’s been a little bit broader beyond just the team, but I need to get the customer onboard.  I need to get the end-user onboard because right now they have fear because my project is transforming the way they’re going to do their work.  They think they may lose their job, or they may think they’re not going to be smart enough to learn the new technology or whatever.  So there’s fear there.  So give us some advice to project managers about how do I address the “What’s in it for me?” for those stakeholders that are going to be impacted by my project.

RICARDO VARGAS:  Yeah.  What I think is that, first, all projects and mainly these transformative projects, we need to realize that we are human beings, and we have a vital sense of survival.  So fear, it’s legitimate.  You know, if you don’t have fear, you become very dangerous; right?  You become very dangerous.  So it’s unnatural.  I tell people because many people think that I would say because I became, I would say, quite successful.  You know, I did, and I transform project management in my profession.  I was able to raise my kids by making money with project management.  And people think that I’m relaxed.  I’m not.  You know, I’m not.  I have fear as anyone.

What is the difference is how you manage your fear.  You need to have fear, but you cannot have panic because fear will help you to move forward.  Because you have fear as an animal that you survive, right, against your predators.  And why I said that, because if I am a project manager facing all of this, first I need to understand fear is natural – fear about losing the job, not having money.  But this fear must bring to you a desire to learn, to increase your options.  You know, I talk all the time to increase your options in life because then you become your own destiny.

For example, one thing I tell absolutely everybody, people don’t believe.  I spend 10% of my time and 10% of my annual income in personal development.  It’s not my company paying.  It’s to do a course, go to Congress, go to something that will improve myself.  Let me give you an example for this year.  This year, 2023, I was preparing my plan for this year.  So I am going to a meditation retreat to stay between five and seven days in complete silence.  And I’m paying for that.  Why I’m doing this?  It’s exactly because I want to explore some of my fears, trying to understand how I can become better.

Second, I’m going to the Burning Man this year in the Black Rock.  Why I’m going?  It’s not because I like parties.  No, because I want to learn what is in the mind of the people that create a city in the desert.  They create this, I would say, counterculture.  I’m not the person that say, you know, I want to dress up like a king and stay five days dressing up like.  But I want to see what is going on, and this will help me.  I’m going to TED in Vancouver to see what are the trends, and I’m spending it.  Why?  Because I need to be continuously learning, learning because learning will help me to identify new paths that I haven’t analyzed before.

For example, on the AI, the article we recently published, everything started because, you know, what’s going on and this.  And I said, you know, we need to talk to the project managers what’s going on.  People love talking about what’s ChatGPT, what is this, what is that?  And you know what I asked them?  Have you tried it?  90% of them have not tried it.  Some of them are saying this is wonderful, or this is awful.  And say, have you tried it?  Have you used it?  But not once.  Have you used it for a week?  And this is how you get more comfortable with this changing environment, and you can adapt yourself, talking to different people, learning different things and expanding your horizons.

BILL YATES:  This is terrific, Ricardo.  Thank you so much.

Contact Ricardo

WENDY GROUNDS:  If our listeners want to find out more about what you do or get in touch with you, where can they go?

RICARDO VARGAS:  Yeah, look, I’m very easy to find because I’m very active, and people don’t know.  People think that I have a team.  No, no.  Every single post, I write it.  So I work around 14 to 15 hours a day.  And because for me – this is one thing that I want also to say to you, is that for me, this concept of work-life balance does not work very well because when you think about work-life balance, you think that when you are working, you are not living.  Leave work to start living.  And for me, it’s not.  For example, on this podcast, am I living or working?  You know, it doesn’t make any difference for me.

So for me, going on social media and helping someone or sharing an idea, it’s living, as going to a dinner with my wife and spending some quality time with my daughters.  So I’m very active, and it’s myself.  People can find me.  I have my website, Ricardo-Vargas.com.  And on this website you can find the papers, everything I publish, everything we just spoke here about everything is there.  People can get in touch with me on all social media.  I have a quite relevant YouTube channel, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter.

On LinkedIn, people can follow me.  I don’t have links anymore because I don’t have any available connections, but people can follow me, and normally it’s all open.  And people can also send an email to info@ricardo-vargas.com.  And I answer.  I answer all emails I receive, every single – because you know it’s a matter of respect with people, even telling if I cannot help.  I don’t answer only when it’s advertisement and spam.  But if people send to me, I will do my best to answer because I think it’s important for you that they hear you have an opinion on that.

BILL YATES:  Well, Ricardo, thank you so much.  Your thought leadership in the industry of project management is huge, and it’s influenced so many people.  I know just from the articles that I’ve read and just seeing the experiences that you’ve had, they’re such rich experiences.  Even the United Nations, I’m so glad you brought that up because that’s such a great example.  So thank you for all that you’re doing.  Thank you for your energy.  Maybe you’ll get one or two hours of sleep a night.  I don’t know.  Maybe you don’t need it.  But we appreciate the energy that you bring, and thank you so much for your time today.

RICARDO VARGAS:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  All the best.


WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  Thank you for listening today.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can subscribe to this podcast and see a complete transcript of the show.  Thank you to our listeners who reach out to us and leave comments on our website or on social media.  We love hearing from you, and we always appreciate your positive ratings wherever you listen to our podcasts.

To claim your free PDUs, go to Velociteach.com, choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page, click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.


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