Apply project management principles and lessons to your own lifecycle says Amaury Aubrée Dauchez

I had a very interesting conversation with Amaury Aubrée Dauchez. Amaury has worked for United Nations, NATO and the European Commission. We spoke about his experience and his views on project management. Amaury believes that the future lies in new work skills, people, flexible solutions streamlining business processes and aligning activities to corporate objectives.

 Do you want to start off by telling us how you got started in your project management career and how you got to where you are now? 

Back in the early nineties in Europe, project management was the activity one was doing on the top of his line management duties. As Head of Accounting, EDP & Organization for the biggest retail South Korean Bank, I have supervised for its Luxembourg subsidiary the installation of an accounting solution together with SWIFT Alliance enforcing tight control on all transactions. For the record, EDP stands for Electronic Data Processing, one would call ICT today.

 Later, at the European Central Bank, I have supervised all controlling aspects of the implementation of SAP, in particular by coordinating the development of the position planning and monitoring system bringing detailed personnel insight in this fast growing highly visible organization. That was the beginning of my story in project management.  By joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), my role transformed more into program and portfolio management supervising several project managers. After having provided overall programme/project support to the project managers in day-to-day activities and made recommendations for project management practices improvement based on lessons learned, I have supervised software and hardware acquisition, software engineering, system integration and information security support, especially with regard to the Maritime Command & Control Information System (MCCIS).

 Currently I provide project management direction for leading initiatives worldwide. In this context I have supervised development of strategies particularly those relating to fund raising and external relations. With 18 years of delivering business-centric solutions, I reached the conclusion that I bring more value inside a structure that wants to evolve than outside. I can bridge the gap with a project management culture that is sometimes looked as a nice to have, even in mature organizations.

 What is your vision for the future of project management?

This is not the first time I am asked the question. I usually like to split the answer along three axes namely people – which I think is the most important-, tools and governance.

PEOPLE

About people, I have recently read a leading study titled “Future work skills 2020”. It has been published by the Institute for the Future; a Palo Alto based non-profit organization. It highlights some of the key skills that will shape the landscape of the work in project management. They have proposed 10 newer skills that will be critical. Concurring pretty much with the study, I would like to spread the word about these skills that will be the key for knowledge workers like you and me. This is a 10 item list:

  1. Sense Making – ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  2. Social Intelligence – ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  3. Novel and Adaptive thinking – proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is role or rule-based
  4. Cross cultural competency – ability to operate in different cultural settings
  5. Computational Thinking – ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning. Google or LinkedIn are good examples.
  6. New Media Literacy – ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms and to leverage these media for persuasive communication. Like you are doing on your blog for instance.
  7. Transdisciplinarity – literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines. This is super critical in my view for project managers, sometimes they focus on their field and it is difficult for them to look around.
  8. Design Mindset – ability to represent and develop tasks and processes for desired outcomes.
  9. Cognitive Load Management – ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques. Simply because people like you and me process so much information everyday.
  10. Virtual Collaboration – ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrates presence as a member of a virtual team.

 TOOLS

 On the tools side, I have been using tools for many years to my satisfaction or dissatisfaction. I am a former speaker for Microsoft. Based on my experience, I think that project leaders understand that team members understand their work the best. Work assignments have to evolve into a more collaborative process that gives individual workers more control over what they do and when they do it. It sounds strange, because we are used to a very top down project management approach, but I think there are changes on the way.

I am currently assessing solutions embedding this democratization of the work management process so as to empower workers to contribute maximum value and give executives higher visibility. In a nutshell, such solutions should have the three following main characteristics: improve workplace harmony, go social and be on-demand.

Improve harmony in the workplace: new tools should give people at all levels of the organization tools to help them better understand and organize their work. In that respect, project, portfolio and programme management, the so-called PPM become more and more critical.

 New solutions should go social by facilitating deeper worker buy-in instead of saying, “You do that by this time”. No. One can aim to beat the estimate or plan by being extremely motivated. On the other, they should deliver to executives conversational insights into the work environment more than just stop light colors like red and yellow and green. Top down and bottom up approaches should now be combined whereas command-and-control management habits should be replaced by connect-and-collaborate corporate culture.

Be on-demand. New platforms should be able to capture both structured, project-based work and unstructured, free form work, giving users control over their own tasks, a bit like for fully-fledged customer relationship management systems. For instance, I have deployed at NATO Software as a Service (SaaS) project management technology; at closure, we were about 300 users. These new platforms should be able to capture both structured project based work and at the same time unstructured information. Segregation between line and project management is likely to vanish. Of course, it will be up to the organization to either stick to a pure SaaS model or internalize these solutions for legal reasons such as the European Union Data Protection Directive or on security grounds especially in some of my fields of specialization, namely defense and finance.

  GOVERNANCE

 Lastly let’s talk about governance which goes along with standards. I have been thorough a number of methodologies – not only PMP, PgMP, but also in PRINCE2 and CMMI. For me, certifications are not that important. As a matter of fact, certification process is a proactive way to meet people; one enters a community of practice and meets very interesting people. There is a proliferation of sector specific standards worldwide which have had no overarching standard to set the generic principles and procedures of project management globally. One could work in Dubai with a PRINCE2 background or in San Diego applying a PMP framework. These standards have no common vocabulary or processes that could be referenced by the global project management community resulting in different definitions and interpretations. During various certification processes, I found appalling that the same objects had several definitions.

To me, competition between players such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) with its PMP and PgMP certifications, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) with PRINCE2 and Managing Successful Program (MSP), the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) with its Capability Maturity Model (CMMI) should gradually transforms into collaboration along the lines of the ISO 21500: Guide to Project Management though there is still a long way to go for interconnecting the pieces of the puzzle. People or those representing these people shall keep in mind that, after all, “a fool with a methodology is still a fool”.

What role do you think Agile has in the future of project management?

I understand from your blog that you are quite interested in the Agile methodology. I would like to take a holistic approach for answering your question referring the above-mentioned optimal mix of top down and bottom-up, decentralized and centralized attributes.  To me, competition among methodologies is useless. You can apply a PMBOK like high level framework and then, at the level of software development, you can definitely apply Agile or Scrum. It’s about mutual respect. Of course using the best or the most appropriate framework or practice or methodology for the project. At the same time it sounds difficult to manage a large multi-million, multi-stakeholder project using only Agile.

 So back to what I said, take the pieces you need and put them where they can be best to be used for. So I would put your question in that framework, for PMI agile is good as there is today a market for agile, they are pushing into that, fine, but then there will be something else. That is a good thing – that brings innovation, force fine tuning of existing practices.

Many project managers have stumbled into the profession. What do you think is the career path for project managers? I have met many project managers who are trying to figure out the “what’s next” in their careers.

Without revisiting the usual Harvard Business Review causeries, with all due respect for HRB esteemed writers, it all depends on the individual project manager business and social environment, his willingness to evolve and the values he’s putting forward. For those targeting a CXO position or its equivalent in public sector, an advanced university degree in Business Administration for instance will be a must.

However, it can prove more important to nurture future work skills. The project manager can start blogging; join groups, tweet, and link in, etc. In that respect, the debate over public versus privacy is quite interesting to follow. Previous non core activities can become of great value over time. For instance, I was teaching part time after work being a junior manager. It helped my a lot later on when I had to do speeches, present business cases to the Board or managed elder people. Besides, the project manager can further develop social skills and engage into sports or volunteer work. Who knows, it can bring to other business areas such as not-for-profit if that individual looks at fulfillment, values or going hyper local. Let’s put it as a question: what about applying project management skills and lessons learned to one own life’s life cycle?

 Looking back at your career, do you think there were certain decisions or tipping points that took you to the next level?

 It is a pretty complex and interesting question. I guess that things started when I moved out of France for living at three-month old in a foreign country. From scratch, the world got international and global while putting emphasis on roots and localization thanks to childhood.

Studies were key; well, not as predicted. I recall being hesitant between studying information technology or economic and social sciences which is why I followed a preparatory class in mathematics so as to make up my mind without loosing precious time and hardly acquired financial resources by my maternal grand-parents. At the end, I opted for economics thinking it would involve more travels than if I was a pure IT guy.

 Remember, we are back to the good old mainframes time. When graduating, client-server technology has significantly changed the situation with most my IT peers travelling like crazy and me stuck in the safe of a bank. That is life!

 Since then, I switched from the international private to public sector always keeping feet in line and project management allowing me to further develop transdisciplinarity getting expertise on procurement, strategy, controlling, organization, human resources, resources mobilization, philanthropy, fund-raising, etc. It logically leads  me to the programme direction.

 Today, the world, our world is on the verge to shift drastically: finance, technology, politics, social factors bring major fundamental and unequivocal changes to what we know from the so-called post-World War II period of time. I am very attentive to these recent changes. Whether wanted or not by most people, the paradigm is evolving, “no man is an island”, so are our tipping points.

What do you like to do in your free time? Any particular hobbies?

The lives we live are very stressful and all of us need anti-stress activities. In my case, family, sports and friends are my secret weapons. I really enjoy free-ride skiing, snowboarding, trekking, whatever takes me close to nature. I go along with people I trust, as sometimes when you are doing these activities, it is challenging and can prove risky.

 

And finally what advice would you give to project managers today?

I would say when you are in a situation, sit down, and think about it, you will arrive at a solution. People tend to sometimes to be blindly over busy, and that’s when I tell them take rest, sit down and think about it – what went wrong, what can be done better, what can be done to mitigate and resolve the situation.

About Samir Penkar

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