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Recap: International Project Management Day 2018

By Henk-Jan van der Klis (@hjvanderklis)
Capgemini Engagement Manager, Financial Services and Project Management Consultant

On 1 November 2018, thousands of people gathered online for International Project Management Day 2018: Project, Program, and Portfolio Management in an Age of Digital Disruption, an online learning and knowledge sharing event organized by IIL. The virtual conference gives attendees the opportunity to watch live content, interact in Q&A sessions right after keynote speakers finish their talks, and select some prerecorded presentations in between the keynotes, even in the weeks after the actual event on 1 November 2018.

I will highlight takeaways from some of the presentations I have attended so far. There’s way more content available, ranging from Microsoft® Project going Agile, cracking social media, building machine learning models to transparency being key to project success.

KEYNOTE: Innovation Project Management

Dr. Harold Kerzner (Senior Executive Director, IIL) first introduces his audience to innovation. Be aware that cost reduction measures are a short-term solution, whereas innovation aims at future profits. The outputs of innovation are products and services, new business models. Peter Drucker stated that only marketing and innovation drive growth.

Kerzner explains the difference between incremental and disruptive innovation. Project management approaches should differ between the two. Project management is what delivers business value. Innovation management, in its purest form, is a combination of the management of innovation processes and change management. While incremental innovation may not bring significant changes, disruptive innovation will demand changes.

Three ways the project management and innovation combination is criticized:

  • Traditional project management is a one-size-fits-all approach
  • There’s no controlled environment for contemporary projects
  • The devil’s triangle for project success (time, cost, scope) cannot be used for innovation

Note that the Sixth Edition of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) addresses value and benefits management. Just like Agile and Scrum are frameworks and require project management to accommodate, innovation also requires project management to evolve and be less rigid. Managers need to recognize the type of project at the start, resist institutional pressure to adapt traditional ‘rational’ approaches to all projects, and apply an appropriate approach – one tailored for the type of project.

Must-haves in innovation project management in order to deliver value:

  • Feel comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty
  • See the big picture
  • Know and relate to the team and the firm’s growth objectives
  • Know the firm’s tangible and intangible assets (capabilities and resources)
  • Get close enough to the customers to know what they will buy

KEYNOTE: Reaching New Heights in Project Management

Alan Mallory (Speaker / Author / Performance Coach) shares his two-month quest to climb Mount Everest with his parents and siblings.

His keynote highlights the importance of project management strategies and techniques such as procurement, scope, time management, planning, work breakdown structure, communications, risk, and stakeholder management, and so on.

In hindsight, a hybrid approach with elements from a waterfall and an Agile approach could be derived from the expedition.

KEYNOTE: Design Sinking: How to Fail at Design Thinking – And How to Do It Better

Lukas Bosch (consultant, moderator, trainer, lecturer) teases his audience that he may be talking about Design Sinking. Design thinking could mean thinking about (re)design. Design Thinking can also be understood as a design of a thinking process. Combining the two leads us to think like designers, even if you’re not trained as a designer, and to design thoroughly. A holistic view of innovation combines feasibility, viability, and desirability. Design Thinking starts at desirability.

Design Thinking focuses radically on the users, their behavior, and needs, instead of asking what they want. Ideas, innovation, and culture are three dimensions to apply and fail at Design Thinking.

Bosch shows examples of:

  • Putting ideas of a perfect solution by using our experience and imagination as a guiding principle and risk designing for our users rather than ourselves.
  • Claiming to know your customers. First-hand customer insights are critical for Design Thinking’s success. We often build on assumptions.
  • Falling in love with an idea. Are your ideas solutions to users’ problems? Can you kill your darlings? Fall in love with your users.
  • Not implementing the ideas by lack of ownership and execution power.
  • Judging the new by old standards.
  • Being chained in the system (organization, network). Not only sparks innovation but gives space for solutions to be implemented and improved.

In conclusion, Bosch’s presentation teaches us to start, be prepared to fail at some points, avoid pitfalls, and take Design Thinking as an open-ended journey to the future.

Shared Knowledge is Power – Building an Agile Project Management Community

Paul Jones (EMEA Project & Prog. Mgmt. Community Lead, Fujitsu) presents how the project management community at Fujitsu is empowered and stimulated to share knowledge and experience among each other. Use projects to enable change by taking a more Agile approach instead of managing by command and control, require different skill sets, and thrive when lessons learned are passed onto next projects.

The myriad of approaches and practices nowadays is overwhelming, shows the Deloitte blog and tube map Navigating the Agile Landscape. How to meet the challenge?

  • Empower your people to drive the direction of your project management capability
  • Utilize the combined knowledge and experience of your people
  • Put in place a supportive environment to foster knowledge transfer
  • Make knowledge sharing part of the culture

Company size doesn’t matter. Learn from failures, embrace what works. Everyone has the opportunity to shape the community. How do you engage with your people? How do you foster knowledge?

Are You Another Project Manager or Mission-Critical?

Mario Arit (Vice President, Project Management, ABB) stresses the importance of critical thinking, way beyond the technical project management skills. Why? The project environment requires certain awareness, if not competencies of the field of expertise, e.g. Financial Services, Construction management, health, and safety. Project managers and teams should be problem solvers and critical thinkers, proactive managers, out-of-the-box thinkers, and fire preventers, rather than firefighters.

Technical skills are not sufficient (think of the factors such as communications and risk management that were failing at the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986). The National Education Association lists four C’s:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving. Be aware that bias leads to poor decisions.
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity and innovation

Where do you learn these skills? Arit doesn’t give an answer but states that adding creative and critical thinking skills is a rewarding opportunity and can make the difference between being just another PM or a truly strategic asset.

I’d recommend you study books like Thinking, Fast and Slow and Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

KEYNOTE: Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

What does it take to build an organization that can innovate in today’s global economy and embrace new technologies? What kind of leadership is needed? How can you select and develop the kind of leadership talent needed?

These are questions that organization anthropologist Dr. Linda Hill (Harvard Business School Professor) has been researching along with, among others, the former SVP of Technology for Pixar.

She shares examples of leaders from her book, Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, who have learned how to cultivate “collective genius” and provide a framework for creating organizations in which people are willing and able to innovate.

KEYNOTE: How to Get in Front of Conflict Before It Gets in Front of You

In this presentation on workplace conflict management, Christa Kirby (VP, Global Learning Innovation, IIL) first distinguishes between functional and dysfunctional conflicts. What makes conflicts so hard to deal with?

Can’t conflicts be solved in a collaborative and productive way? There’s a strong business case for it because the costs of dysfunctional conflicts are embedded in time spent on dealing with the conflict, resulting in increased absence levels, legal procedures, and disengagement, and loss of productivity and motivation.

Feedback from managers directly impacts employee engagement. Perceptions often are only assumptions, but with real emotions coming in. Human nature (fight, flight, freeze), culture (the way we do things here), and our own personalities (e.g. using the DISC model) kick in.

Are biological survival mechanisms, cultural elements, and our own personality traits effective in a specific situation?

Kirby refers to Thomas Crum’s The Magic of Conflict. Conflict is just an interference pattern of energy. Although many ‘tricks’ don’t have a lasting effect, you can try to transform the patterns, channel energy in a more effective direction. What pops up as an issue, may have many underlying problems like personalities, emotions, interests, self-perceptions, hidden expectations, and unresolved issues from the past. Feelings are important and cannot be neglected.

It’s easier to dehumanize other people than to accept them as complex human beings. Kirby explains the lifecycle of conflict. Challenges on the personal, cultural, and biological level can make conflict management difficult. Solutions can be found in taking a ‘whole brain’ approach.

Six steps to a conflict resolution conversation:

  1. Identify your goals for the conversation
  2. Create a safe space for the discussion to take place
  3. Seek out the other party’s perspective
  4. Listen to understand instead of reply
  5. Share your observations and perspective
  6. Engage in collaborative problem solving


The IIL International Project Management Day virtual event is a great learning opportunity, with personal experiences, insights from project management trainers, and research-based findings to help you face tomorrow’s challenges as project manager.

About the Author
Henk-Jan van der Klis is a Capgemini engagement manager, financial services & project management consultant, project management trainer for the Capgemini Academy, seasoned editor, and daily blogger. He lives in Balkbrug, the Netherlands with his wife and three children. Check out www.henkjanvanderklis.nl or connect through www.linkedin.com/in/henkjanvanderklis/.

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