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Seven Recommendations for People Willing to Grow Their Career

In the domain of project management, a career develops over the years with a succession of jobs and projects. Many ask : “What career path can one have in the project management domain as a PMO, a Project Manager, or a Project Sponsor? What could be my next step?”. Here are my seven recommendations.

1- Get the most possible great opportunities to work in the domain of Project, Program, and Portfolio Management.

Life is a series of vibrations (small moves, peace, continuous development…) interrupted from time to time by big moves (strategic surprises, wars, transformations…). The big moves are the domain of Projects, Programs and Project Portfolios. This is a very exciting domain.

Fig. 1 – Achieve your strategic goals with excellence both in operations and in projects.

As a result, grow through a variety of exposures (sizes, domains, stakes, complexity…) in the domain of project management. Start with small projects. As a project team member, as a project leader, or as a PMO (Office or Officer) role. Go from projects to programs. Become a Portfolio Manager. Connect with the organization and business strategies.

Increase your scope of control and your challenges, until you learn and become a Strategy Management Officer, a Major Program (of the sort of these $xx bn IT or infrastructure programs) leader and / or an Enterprise PMO.

2- Remain thoroughly stakeholder-centric

You do not work primarily for yourself. You work for the community you belong to. Thus, identify each of your stakeholders (individuals and groups) and recognize the needs and the expectations of everyone.

Fig. 2 – Example of stakeholders gains, reluctance, and recommended actions.

Develop trusted interactions with all. Make sure no one has certainty about a project outcome while others have uncertainty. A single version of truth creates trust.

No amount of project advertising or communication will ever match the credibility of genuine stakeholders, as explain Nassim Taleb in his book Skin in the Game.

3- Do not fear failure

Do not fear failure nor poor results. Yet, at the same time, beware of success. Both are very relative and time dependant. Above all, prefer intertemporal strategies where you accept to earn less now in order to earn more later.

Fig 3. – Illustration of 2 difficult projects with opposite benefits profiles

You will face difficult decisions. Put your skin in the game. Will you guaranty your project delivery, save your career, at the risk of later dramatic losses (i.g. the Boeing 737 MAX 8)? Or will you be a project manager ready to miss the iron triangle (costs, time, scope) targets, to end his career, yet willing to prepare the foundations for a bright future (i.g. the Sidney Opera House)?

4- Stay as long as possible in the environment of great leaders AND strong communities.

Great leaders are like powerhouses that pull a train toward a certain (bright, but unfortunately not always) future. At all events, leave as soon as possible mediocre ones.

In particular, never get into a bed of Procrustes. Procrustes was a rogue bandit who forced his hosts to fit the size of the bed he offered them for the night. Procrustes is a symbol of standards, bureaucraty, or conformism.

Yet, above all, develop your influence, your network, and the community of agents you need. While hierarchies and managers are important in not-too-complex systems, horizontal influence is necessary in a complex systems.

Fig. 4 – Illustration of a decentralized community of change agents.

A single person may indeed never grasp everything needed to make a single project, program or portfolio successful.  Therefore, identify a variety of talents. And engage them to regularly meet, share knowledge, and support each other in working towards a shared goal. It is a very effective way of learning, working, and achieving results in higly complex environments.

Learn network and complex systems sciences. You will for example discover the power of decentralized and intransigent communities. This may drive you to reconsider totally the way you “manage change”.

5- Always build a mix of on-the-job learning and formal learning

For example, when I worked at Michelin, a great Global-500 company, the average employee had more than 65 hours each year of formal training. That represented the 10% of the famous 70-20-10 equilibrium between on-the-job learning, social learning, and classroom training. Where are you in comparison?

Learn and practice all sorts of methods and tools. Understand what works best where. Get advice from a mentor. Work with a coach. A coach may be the ideal partner of your personal development plan.

Fig. 5 – Illustration of a variety of methods and tools in project management.

And also, read, read, read. Make sure that you explore a variety of domains like history, biographies and memoirs, science, business and leadership. Here is a list of my 12 preferred business books. I will also publish soon a list of my favorite websites and blogs

6- Stay ahead of the wave

The universe is accelerating. So is the business environment. Cope with the Red Queen effect. ” Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Fig. 6 – The law of Maximum Entropy Production and the Red Queen effect.

Go beyond the golden triangle capabilities (technical, business and strategy, leadership) by studying, learning, and exploring three domains: complexity sciences, innovative (neo)strategies, and human dynamics.

Focus especially on human dynamics. Indeed, the world is not flat. And in-depth human understanding is a key succes factor.

Human dynamics comprise the actions and interactions of personal, interpersonal, and social / contextual factors and their effects on behavioral outcomes.

They are influenced by factors such as economics, religion, politics, and culture.

It encompasses languages, history, geopolitics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, cognitive sciences, neurosciences, computer science and other such fields.

7- Always search for the right equilibrium

A Project Management practitioner is often a kind of alchemist, always in search of the best balance between SOLVE and COAGULA, between YIN and YANG, or ORDER and ABSENCE of ORDER.

Systems that endure – that is, are sustainable – lie in dynamic balance somewhere between these two poles of order and disorder, efficient performance and adaptive resilience

  • Order leads to greater efficiency (usage of resources).
  • Absence of order, with means of interconnectivity and diversity, leads to greater resilience.

This is really something that must engage the project management community. The figure below shows this search of balance between order (planning) and diversity or interconnectivity.

Fig. 7 – Nature selects for a balance between efficiency and resilience.

An excess of either attribute leads to systemic instability and collapse. Ecosystems that survive and develop are those that achieve a balance between the mutually exclusive attributes of efficiency and resilience.

This is a “universal conversation between structure building and dissipation” that project management practitioners must engage when looking for their career moves.

Key takeaway follwing these seven recommendations

As a conclusion, a career develops over the years with a succession of missions and projects. Some succeed. Some fail. Learn from each. Try different environments (R&D, M&S, IT, Business…), different companies, and different countries. Move from one role to another one. Favor indirect and roundabout routes. Read the stories of people who made an impact. Discover how their journey has been a series of “vibrations and big moves”, including long periods of dessert and silence. Trust also that serendipity and providence will help you. And above all, never give up.

Little by little, you will learn, grow, and better serve the world around you.

To your continued success

Philippe

The article is inspired from the 5th version of my book The High-Impact PMO, Why and how agile project management officers deliver value in a complex world” that you can buy on Amazon

Or read my most successful articles here:

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Why and How PMOs Should Be “Ahead of the Wave”

PMOs should stay “ahead of the wave”. Only then can they provide the support one expects from them to make a strategy and its vital initiatives and projects a success.

I remember the time I took a PMO role in a great marketing team. I came with methods and tools that succeeded in information systems. Yet they simply did not work there. This marketing function was very advanced and effective. People cooperated closely with innovation teams and many others, especially customers all over the world. They all prepared the future. And they needed a very specific support from me, a support I was not prepared at this time to give. My mission ended rapidly…

I became later the PMO of a variety of large and complex transformation programs. I learned there that complex systems develop more through the interactions between their components than through these mere components. I also detected that living systems cannot be reduced to underlying laws of traditional “scientific” project management. Complex systems generate novel and coherent structures, emerging patterns and properties, during self-organizing processes. They are an exciting playground for innovative PMOs.

Therefore, I decided to spend the rest of my life to study and learn how to stay “ahead of the wave” and to support more effectively strategy, portfolio, and program execution.

A strategy prepares an organization to move successfully into a sustainable future. It requires advanced portfolio and project leadership. An effective PMO contributes to this leadership by staying “ahead of the wave”.

My message today: You stay “ahead of the wave” when you complement the fundamentals of the capability (technical, business and strategy, leadership) triangle with studying, learning, and exploring three domains: complexity sciences, innovative strategies, and human dynamics.

Complexity Sciences open new perspectives to project practioners. They explore nonlinearities, acceleration in dissipative systems, or unpredictability. They explore emergence, phase transitions, and avalanches. They compare system resilience and efficiency, order and lack of order. Yet these are only a few domains that challenge complex projects.

Innovative Strategies challenge direct routes and develop more roundabout approaches. They introduce multimodal strategies with a mix of high-risk low-probability events and low-risk high-probability events. Power laws, fat tails, and optionality are their domain of predilection.  They compare intertemporal approaches with temporal ones.

Human Dynamics go well beyond traditional leadership. Human Dynamics deal with extended social sciences, both hard (like social network analysis for example) and soft (like cultural understanding for example). What are the social structures, cultures, languages, behaviors, influence networks concerned by a project? What is the Procrustean bias? Why buddy systems are so powerful? How do synergies and antagonisms play a role? Do you need an enemy to succeed?

Yes, my message today is: project practioners, and especially PMOs, stay “ahead of the wave”.

To your continued success

Philippe

High-Impact PMO