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PM Certification

PMP Learning Experiences to Take Into the New Year

PMP Learning Experiences. The year is officially coming to an end and while it has been a busy and prosperous year, it has also been one with challenges and learning experiences.  But hey, we are PMP’s ~ it is expected right?   While I specialize in EPC Project Management with different Clients and international teams and have decades of experience, it would be quite silly and arrogant of me to say that I know-it-all.  Especially after this year!  So without further ado, here are some of my major learning experiences that luckily, I can take with me into the New Year (and so can you)!

My clients and projects I have undertaken for the year 2014 have been mainly in South East Asia, scattered mainly between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.  And though SE Asia is a very scalable region, the amount of different cultures and customs within this small area are mind-boggling.  One of my main challenges this year has been navigating the different cultures and language (not to mention all the holidays).  Many outsiders may say that despite these challenges most projects are similar, but on the working level it is definitely not.  Cultural and language barriers have been a major challenge for me even though I have been living in SE Asia for the better part of 10 years.  The issues usually make themselves known in the little nuances of emails or verbal communication which can cause upsets or create misunderstandings. The topic of proper communication is the key challenge in most of the projects. However, as the Project Director for multiple projects that are ongoing simultaneously (and with geographically distant teams), these communication issues are becoming more and more the main factor that can either ‘make or break’ a project.

My biggest lesson this year was this:  I made assumptions and as you may know, assumptions can kill a project.  I made many assumptions this year, but the one that REALLY got me was that if a team or an individual is nominated to deliver a specific job, and if several meetings had been done over that job, and people were nodding their heads to confirm, “YES – I/WE HAVE UNDERSTOOD,” that they would know what to do and would go out and eventually get the job done.  Boy was I wrong! I learned the hard way that this actually means nothing.  Even if they are looking at you, in the eye and nodding that they understand, it could be that they don’t understand at all and have no idea what their job scope is or what action items are the most urgent to complete.

I know a large-scale EPC project is not easy and it always has its issues and problems, but from my point of view, that’s the nature ofevery project.  This is what makes this job so wonderful ~ we constantly are getting different projects, working with different people and are learning how to navigate and respond to issues and challenges.  It is quite rewarding and satisfying!

My big learning experience here is that it doesn’t matter how many projects you are accountable for, you need a standardised monitoring and control for each project or program in order to control delays and respond to issues immediately…and especially important is finding a way to ensure (without micro-managing people) that people know their action-items and actually complete them in a timely manner.

For example, I had one project almost go south due to cash-flow issues and without any down-payments given to suppliers, while the lead project manager on this job confirmed to me that all was good and he was just waiting for the goods to arrive.  This issue happens and can happen often if departments work in silos and do not communicate properly with each other.  Communication… it really is the basis for all relationships.  Even professional ones!

This leads to my next big learning experience in managing multiple projects or programs:  it is compulsory to have a single point of contact or coordination for specific topics in order to have better or standard reporting, monitoring and control and with it significant cost reduction.  Here are some important tips in this area:

  1. You are always short on specialists. To manage them in all your projects, there needs to be one person or department to coordinate the specialist(s) to ensure they are not double-booked or based in another project or job. If you work in a matrix organisation like I do, then you need to nominate the person in charge who is doing this resource management to optimise flight schedules, meeting schedules etc.
  2. In another large-scale project I completed this year, we had challenges with overlapping works, mainly for testing where it required trains on the same track but for different purposes. One team planned a train-free area “Lineblock” to carry out their works, while another team required a train passing trough for their testing purpose. To avoid such a clash, everyone involved needs to be coordinated at one department or with one person. To solve it via process control will not help, otherwise the teams will just “book” the site for their job only and the other team cannot do anything.  Therefore the proper judgement of priorities for the benefit of the program or project is a MUST for successful testing and scheduling.
  3. I have also experienced a lot of miscommunication by too many communication channels to the client. To a certain extent, the communication has to be clarified via a proper process and agreed with the Client who will communicate about which topic with whom on the Client’s side. It should also include the right level of communication so that there is potential for escalation on both sides. However, empowerment must be given to the project manager and site manager to sign minutes of meetings and it is up to their judgment if a topic needs to be approved first by the Project Director or the Project Sponsor. This topic is typically clarified by the change management process anyway.

The final big learning experience I had this year was the fact that people sit in meetings or video conferences, but do not take notes or if they take notes, they do not follow up on their actions because it is not structured note-taking. Even minutes of meeting with action-items may be drafted, but the attitude of the people involved does not support active follow-up on the actions items listed or the pro-active actions to check with the other team members.   So what needs to get done is often not done or delayed.  This is a matter of personal management or taking initiative, and as Robin Sharma (a world-renown author and leadership coach) calls it; your action list and calendar is a reflection of your personal attitude.

The impact is noticeable:  important work is forgotten, work is not coordinated and it causes unnecessary delays to the projects. It can have several reasons: either people don’t know what to do, the job is not clear or people feel that it is not of high priority or their responsibility. As this is a laissez faire attitude, it can be corrected by continuous improvement speeches, specific leadership and ongoing training. Here it is my job to stop assuming and take more responsibility in terms of better communication, monitoring and control. One part of control is the training module I have developed based on best practises on how to get projects done by changing personal attitude and follow a clear process for taking action in EPC Projects.

In summary, I had many learning experiences this year that I will be taking with me into the New Year, but these were the core experiences that really hit me hard!  What were your learning experiences as a PM or PMP? 

Wishing you a safe and prosperous New Year,

Peter Wyss