How 5 Big Waves of Change Will Alter Project Management


In this episode, Caitríona speaks to Karl Reilly about how five big waves of change will alter project management.

Karl is the Head of Design and Innovation with Cora Systems and in this role, he is in charge of the company’s R&D team, helping to shape its software direction in exciting fields like artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and PPM. Previously, Karl has spent 30 years managing projects in the public sector, construction, and aviation sectors, including 15 years working for PWC.

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Highlights from Episode 130 “How 5 Big Waves of Change Will Alter Project Management”

Karl, I know you’ve got a huge background in the project management industry across many verticals, construction, public sector, aviation. Tell us a little about how you got into project management and what are the common themes across all of the verticals you worked in.

So, how I got into it, it was 30 years ago. It was by accident. I was going to read Civil Engineering University and got into construction management as a way of funding some of that. So, a few years in construction management, site management, contract management, delivering capital projects in and around London, multimillion-pound developments. And then went from there to the client side because I could see rather than just delivering somebody else’s thoughts and problems. I could then be driving what design and what the program is going to look like. So, that then became working for another consultancy around helping people deliver their chosen capital projects. So, it was still a delivery for somebody else and using that with hospitals, office refurbs, office new-build, retail parks, all sorts.

So, I got quite an exposure to different types of clients and what was driving their business to gradually work that through to rather than just building a building for somebody, why do you need a building and then what’s your business need for building a building and that they’re sort of morphed into more of this business-business, management-management consulting side of things. So, from that company, I joined PWC, a completely different way of looking at project management and program delivery. And then I was involved in delivering central government, projects public sector projects, much more, we use the word “stratosphere” or “strategic” way too often, but they were more strategic project programs for quite major clients. And it was aviation, there’s rail, there’s government, there’s a local authority, the different public sector organizations, lots of health. And the core through all of those is the science and the art of delivering projects and for me, it’s all about people. And the people are the folks who are delivering programs and project work.

Our clients are all people, the people on the receiving end of what we deliver are all people. So, for me, it’s all about the people. So, things like stakeholder engagement, making sure we’ve got stakeholders to engage right the way through, and communicating with them become fundamental to successful delivery for me. And we are not just looking at what our project or a program is delivering, one of the outputs. but also what are the outcomes, what’s the business change that is delivered by us doing what we’re doing. So, it goes from just doing stuff to make sure we’re doing the right thing and engaging with the people that matter all the way through the program. So here I am now looking at how we can deliver portfolio management through digital solutions like Cora.

Tell us how these five waves can really affect the PPM industry?

So, I don’t think we can take each of them completely independently, then it’s like standing on a beach and the waves are crashing, it is this constant pressure of these different areas. So, in terms of project management, something looking broadly to start with, everything in the last 18 months, a firm will come up with a strategy and this is the program of the project we’re going to deliver and we’re expecting these outcomes to be delivered at the end of it. And then external factors come and hit us and knock us completely off course, and it’s a multitude of these things crashing in at different times and different rhythms.

The main project managers have to be really responsive to change. So, if we just take Covid, nobody would have believed 18 months ago how the workplace would have changed so massively. So, as you’re looking at people delivering capital projects, delivering office space or transport infrastructure, but then would have been planning around the old world of how we were working with delivering. Suddenly, our plans are going to change, revenue forecasts and the monetary drivers are now completely different from where they were with the project when it started. So, as a project manager, we need to have a beta at our fingertips, so that we can be, I hesitate to use the word agile, but we can be fleet of foot in responding to those changes and we can use data to enable decision making.

So, we the project managers aren’t driving the outcome of the project for the firm. We’re helping them deliver it. But the C-suite, the execs, and the project sponsors will determine what needs to be delivered and the outcomes. So, we need to provide data around all of the factors of the project’s success, the value of what’s being delivered to enable those leaders to make the right decisions. So, we are not just about project delivery. We are now the advisors to those decision-makers based on what we’re doing. So, when it comes to things like basic stuff from the early stages of the project, what’s the risk of us hitting or missing our deadlines? And what is the consequence of those deadlines being missed? We need good solid data around plans. So, when we do the traditional thing, you know, we do the stages reporting, it goes green, green, green, green, green, green, flashing red, it should never ever happen. So, we should be looking at the indicators. We should be having suitable key performance indicators to track data, so we can see the trend and we can take corrective action before it becomes a flashing red issue. The data is all there. You just need to be better at using it.

How do you define that value with different users when I might be an absolute alarmist and everything is – the sky is going to fall down, whereas my colleague on the next desk might just be so laconic and say “You know, it’s okay, we will get over.” How do you instil the importance of those indicators there?

So, as the project manager or program manager, control that area of work towards those individuals gather data, you’re looking backwards at what you’ve been told before and what’s happened and what’s being delivered. So you’ve got good cases on how things are coming forward. So you can put your judgment layer over the top. The thing is it’s looking at the qualitative information you’re being told so the person was going “Yeah. It’s all right. It will be fine on the day.”

This is like, this is like, this is like, this is like, that’s not quite right and this is wrong. You can make a good judgment of that because you can change them back and go so what means is going to be all right. And is that having enough knowledge as the project manager to drill down into a workstream or an area of the program to say “And so what?” And if you can’t understand the answer to the so what question, you need to get up to speed and be able to answer that question. So, it’s not being the guru on every single aspect of the program but it’s knowing all the bits of it together. So, when you’re being told something you can question your challenges and you can do that based on data. So, when you then switch to the alarm instead of running around and around like a headless chicken.

You also need to know to challenge them and go and say “Why you say that? How can we turn it around? How can we make it better? So what’s the real status?” And it’s coming down to measuring things by a set of values. If the person is panicking and is an absolute perfectionist, and wants to get everything 100% right. Will 80% will get us over the line? Is that good enough? So when is good enough, good enough, and when is good enough just to be slapdash happy? And it’s a judgment call and it’s all down to knowing what the values are of the client organization. What do they really value? If it’s a retailer and there’s massive publicity around the product launch or store opening or something like that, the date is absolutely sacrosanct. So it’s to understand what the value drivers are for every client. We’re going to deliver some outputs. Hopefully, they’ll deliver outcomes with the value.

And to bring that right back up to top-level again and you know, when we speak about portfolio and the portfolios that organizations will have, how can organizations respond to these changes and these markers and this information to prioritize the projects that they will proceed with, the ones they may put on hold or the ones that they will defer to later periods in time perhaps?

So, for me, there’s a valuable ecosystem within every organization. There’s the business as usual and there are change projects and I use the change in the broadest spectrum of what it could possibly be. But they’re all going to deliver value and that could be the return. It could be increasing profit. It could be stable employment for their staff. So, it is understanding what are an organization’s values and how they measure them. And then if you stand down the project, which are those that will be the delivering a proper value. So, pure portfolio management. I’ve done reviewed portfolios in the past and you get 10 different projects for each thing, they’re going to increase profitability by 10% and customer retention by 10%.

So, when you look at the benefit statements and we’re looking at benefits realization as a portfolio view, which of those projects are really contributing to the benefit they stated, or are they co-dependent? So, it is a portfolio lead we need to understand needs and dependencies and we need to understand the co-dependencies to achieve value. So, we come back from where is the value coming from, which projects are they going to help us deliver that value, and then if we got some projects that aren’t delivering that value, they are the ones we should be really critiquing going either stop or pause or understand what’s driving them because all organizations to understand will have some vanity projects.

A great leader said, “We must do this” or a politician who said, “We must do this” and a company has to respond even though it may not be the biggest back to the bank in terms of the value delivered but there is an alternative drive to what all these things are. So, we then end up with a nice hierarchy of decision-making criteria, value by whatever metric, and any other needs. It could be – somebody’s been really committed to achieving their social agenda. It could be “We got to meet a political aim” or “We got to meet some legal requirements to deliver value, but we have to do it.” So, if you want to deliver, we can then judge all the projects against them and then determine what delivers and what doesn’t. Ultimately, we shouldn’t be afraid to stop projects, just because we started doesn’t mean we have to finish.

So, are those kinds of vanity projects the sixth wave?

If you look at something like climate change, you might be within that, because people are greening their business. It could be green-washed, and they may not be actually doing something at the heart of the project. I hope they are, but it needs to be done because public perception can change a company’s bottom line so very quickly. So, if we just take climate change, McDonald’s doing their way with plastic straws. Did it really change things? But public perception changed massively. So, it needed to be done. And it’s those sorts of projects to come through.

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