Mega Projects – The ideal lab for integrated leadership, communications, and innovation By Dr. Al Zeitoun, PMP
Project management is just starting to be fun. Organizations are getting it! Or are they? How wonderful this reality could be for professionals who have been trying to get to this position for generations. Everything around us has a project at its heart. Creating, changing, improving, and inventing all require distinct and clear missions that are headed by someone who cares and who would see it to completion.
Mega projects offer the rare opportunities that give project managers the chance to bring it all together! Whether we are considering the London Olympics, the Brazil World Cup, smart cities, smart airports, or industrial zones around the world, the size, complexity, dynamics, and the constraints form a lab like no others. The six elements addressed here provide attributes that are fundamental to delivering the results expected of mega projects. These are the attributes for excelling in realizing the true benefits of projects beyond the classic expectations. For each of the six attributes, we will address a small story to facilitate understanding the relevance to mega projects. Fictional events are used in this article using real world projects to illustrate some key points.
Vision alignment is one of the most important of these attributes. Hasnaa has always struggled in defining the meaning of this attribute so she went to a simulated training session. She was very surprised when a big portion of the session was dedicated to emotional intelligence. Hasnaa was put in a variety of challenging team situations and asked to express how she would handle them. One situation showed the team she was leading starting to exercise defeating behaviors and heavy negativity that was taking the project off course. She had to dig deep and spend enough energy understanding and analyzing the project’s stakeholders in order to find the trick to inspiring them. When she finally got to her team, she understood that the core of vision alignment is motivating the hearts of the team, a must-have attribute for successful mega projects that typically cross cultures, contractors, and teams. Hasnaa was quite energized, especially as we was getting ready to be part of the Qatari growth story around mega projects. She has been recently aligned to the Doha Bay Crossing 7-year mega project. She was also expected to work with a colleague from a past project, Mohamed, who has been part of the initial design team for the Crossing.
Mohamed has been managing projects for the last 10 years and has learned the importance of applying his learning and experiences across different types of projects. He found this aspect of project management to be rewarding. He recently asked his manager to be given the chance to manage a new smart airport in the Middle East and he was faced with a surprising discussion with his boss, Salem. Salem asked him to work on one attribute “innovation.” Mohamed immediately thought that his boss was referring to his IT background and the number of ERP implementations he has been part of and how he might need to polish that part of his background. He was shocked to hear Salem’s views on innovation and how much of it had to do with the approach and the way of thinking. Applying the same management approach to handling projects in one environment does not mean that it would be successful in another and Mohamed was surprised about Salem’s experiences around applying creating ways of thinking to solving problems and breaking down obstacles that would be essential for Mohamed’s new Qatar adventure. He conducted a brainstorming session with Hasnaa and concluded that their biggest challenges for the next stages of their mega project center around capacity building, resources, and supply chain. They planned on conducting detailed sessions for each of these 3 key ingredients for their Crossing project.
Thinking of risk as a positive tool is hard to grasp, however for Suzanne, she understood that it could be just the right missing ingredient to managing the complex initiatives that she has been part of recently. She has realized that creating environments of transparency and openness around her teams and clients has been valuable in thinking through a full scale version of what the mega project lifecycle could encounter and being fully prepared to handle the unknowns and also create synergies for positive outcomes. In a recent lab-like event, she showed her German colleagues how investing in business case development skills has enabled everyone on the team to ask more of the right root cause questions that served them well in prioritizing and balancing the major investments in the portfolio pieces of their mega projects. This was a strong reminder for her as she had experienced this in the past effort on the A380 aircraft team. She was remembering the essential need of crisp alignment of contractors involved which required continual, almost weekly, major trade offs and a very rigorous escalation procedure.
Nariaki has been trained in business school on system thinking and yet struggled in implementing this to real life situations. He was finding himself quickly taken by the details and this has been creating tremendous distractions and noise for him. He wanted to experiment with his team around this attribute and has found this effort quite rewarding. They went on a two day offsite by the lake and, as they got into their accommodations, they were given the chance to do one last call to friends/family of their choice. Their phones and electronic devices were then surrendered for the next 48 hours. Although tough, this helped the team to learn a lot during this time about the power of focus and how to utilize the experiences within the team to get to the most relevant solutions to projects’ problems. These were not the type of solutions that were mainly treating a given symptom but the ones that looked at the problem as part of a complete system where the cause could be elsewhere or the solution could be in addressing a multitude of different problem sources together. This was a very creative time for his team that generated many WOW moments and key ideas to take back and implement to their new assignment. Nariaki and his team were about to be part of the mega project of rolling out an asset management system for 120 hospitals in Japan. This ERP implementation had a complex number of stakeholders, contractors, and users.
Joe has always thought that he was an excellent communicator. He was well-liked by his friends and colleagues and he seemed to get his points across. He was in a recent leadership conference where he learned of the concept of integrated communications. The presenter spoke of communicating with purpose and intensity. Joe witnessed examples of how the communication needed to be customized for the many audiences around mega projects and how the goal is for the communication to cross boundaries and create desired impact. More importantly, he learned how to use communication to speak for the project in order to unite energies and get the most out of participants. Mega projects require a very detailed and integrated communications plan that ties the purpose to the results in a disciplined life cycle designed to move a complex system of stakeholders towards achieving a joint mission. Joe was quite happy that this experiment strengthened his grasp for what he will encounter in his work with the Dubai Metro Green Line. He is expecting that the environmental and safety concerns will be of utmost importance and he was gearing up to ensure that the right policies and agencies are synced up.
Dynamic leadership is the icing on the cake. A mega project manager is a very sophisticated leader. She is very responsible for her on-going and nonstop learning journey. He understands the changing nature of delivering on mega projects that, in many cases, will span several years, experience varying political agendas, and face very intense global economic challenges. These project managers are on a quest to create efficiencies and employing best practices. They are very intelligent in forecasting the environment, preparing for it, and then staying flexible enough to redirect the course. These leaders motivate by a strong example of taking on accountability for their actions and for the overall results of their projects. This includes the success of their teammates. They stay dynamic and yet maintain their integrity and continually apply a diplomatic and charismatic style to handle the most of difficult conflicts. This attitude enables the extreme value driven and focused information digestion needed for the smooth execution of complex programs and projects.
By practicing these attributes, the project manager will not only excel in delivering on mega projects but she will be shaping the new professional human being of the future.
© 2012 allPM
Dr. Al Zeitoun, PMP, built his leadership on 28 years of global experiences in portfolio, program, and project management. In his current role as the MENA Director for Portfolio Solutions at Booz Allen Hamilton, he is providing program management discipline and human resources competency building for major clients. Previously, Dr. Zeitoun was a Chief Projects Officer and a Senior Executive for International Institute for Learning, Inc., responsible for developing, executing, instructing and delivering program management methodology and thought leadership globally. Dr. Zeitoun is a frequent speaker, teaches for UMD, serves on PMI’s Global Executive Council and has been on the Board of Directors.