Project Management Institute

Straight Talk with Sunil Episode 10 Transcript - Part 1


  • Sunil Prashara, PMI President & CEO
  • Cathy LaTona
  • Jennifer Tharp
  • Davidson Frame

SUNIL PRASHARA:  Hi there, Sunil Prashara here, the President and the CEO of the Project Management Institute and boy do we have a fantastic session for you today. 

I am joined by three board members who sadly will be leaving us this year as we bring on three brand new board members. And we’re going to be sharing some of their insights and thoughts and experiences of their tenure whilst they’ve been driving, been in the hot seat really, and driving PMI forward over the last few years. 

I’m going to start by introducing you first to Kathy Latona who joins us along with Davison (Frayn?), and also Jennifer (Tharp?). So let me just kick off very quickly by saying hello to Kathy. Kathy, are you there?

KATHY LATONA: Yes, yes, I am, hello, Sunil.

SUNIL: Great. Hey, would you like to just share a little bit about your background and your time with PMI and your time with the board?

KATHY: Yes. So my background, I was born in a very small town in Sicily. [laughter] But actually that’s probably going a little bit too far. I have spent over 30 years in the IT industry and have had an amazing career predominantly because of project management. Within two years of my working with General Motors – I’ve worked at General Motors, EDS, with (HP?) – within two years I was asked to work on a project. And I fell in love with projects, you know, all the twists and turns and no two projects are the same.

So I actually sought out from then on different projects, more complex, more geographically oriented. So I’ve done a lot of traveling and I have really enjoyed where project management has taken me. Being executive director (in HP?) for transition, transformation, program and project management, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of amazing things, so.. and to include being on this board.

SUNIL: Wonderful. That’s really nice. Jennifer, tell us a little bit about you.

JENNIFER: Hi, it’s wonderful to be here. Like Kathy, project management has been my secret sauce for my entire career. So I have also been working for about 30 years in various capacities for manufacturing companies, biotech, high technology firms in Silicon Valley. And always, always, project management has been that thing in my back pocket that insures that I am successful.

And so I have always been very involved with PMI because PMI has been that little item that makes me successful is making sure that I have those fundamentals and that I understand how to do things well. Yeah, so it’s been a lot of fun. My only regret at this point is that this is my last year on the board. Serving on the board for PMI has been just awesome, it has been wonderful to represent everyone in the world that’s involved in project management and to help guide the organization.

SUNIL: Lovely, it’s great to have you on. And Davidson, why don’t you introduce yourself?

DAVIDSON: Okay. Hello, Sunil and gang. I am a professor from the academic sector but I am a hands-on professor. I have been involved with entrepreneurship and I’ve built lots of things. And I got into PMI on the technical side because a long time ago they had me come in and to work on trying to build PMP and then later, when I was.. After I’d done the PMP work, it was how do you study for PMP. So then I was Education Director for a couple years.

So I came in from the technical side, which is interesting because I just want to point out that my buddies - because the three of us have been together now for five and a half years and we’re all best buddies - but Kathy came in from the corporate side, so she was with the Corporate Counsel. So that represents one of our audience, one of our stakeholder groups at PMI. Jennifer came in through the membership side. She was the President of the San Francisco Chapter. And I don’t know if at that time it was the largest but it’s certainly one of the largest chapters of PMI. And then I came in on the academic side. And again, we are so close to each other we even informally have called ourselves the ‘Class of 2020’ because this is it for us.

SUNIL: Wonderful. Just turning to Kathy, many times perhaps you have had a very strong point of view about the direction of PMI and the direction you’d like the organization to go in, yet you find resistance from other board members and sometimes you might get voted down. And that does happen, right? How do you deal with that situation? Because at the end of the day with one team, and you may have a very strong opinion about something yet the other board members may not. Has there been times during your time at the board where that has actually happened and you felt particularly strong about it?

KATHY: Yes. As independent directors, we come in with a point of view. And as we discuss the specific topic, you get all the different points of views from others, as Jennifer said, from their perspective, their experiences, where they are coming from. Being able to understand those points of views I think is important.

I think that’s one of the key learnings and takeaways from the board is that you really grow as an individual in your thinking because you come in with a point of view and as you listen to the other point of views, you really hear what you may have missed. So there are times absolutely that I have changed my point of view based on what I have heard as well as times that I think it reinforces what I’m thinking. So it’s important to be able to share that point of view.

At the end of the day, the will of the board and the decisions are the decisions that need to be taken forward but it’s important as a director to be able to share that point of view based on your experience to be able to understand and listen and potentially shift.

SUNIL: Yes. And I think what I’ve experienced in the board meetings I have been in, the format, which has developed and evolved over the 50 years that PMI has been around, really supports the ability for everybody to speak their.. Everybody is a peer. It’s not like there is one person that’s more superior. Even though they may not have as much experience or whatever or subject matter expertise, their voice is as loud as anyone else’s on the board, which is fantastic.

And the fact that everybody endorses that means that you really do get into some great discussions. And sometimes those discussions go on beyond the time that is allotted for the discussion. And so that becomes a challenge at times when there are so many things that you can debate and double click on. Davidson, how do you find that the board manages its time effectively when there is so much diversity in views? How have  you been able to handle that?

DAVIDSON: I was just going to interrupt you to raise the point. So you read my mind on that. Because ultimately what we do a lot.. actually, we are pretty good at staying to the agenda. There are occasions, as you mentioned, where we may go over but everyone does have a chance to talk. But at a certain point as a board we need to come to closure on a topic and move forward.

And I think one of the things, I think there are two practices that, you know, you mentioned over 50 years we’ve evolved, one is we follow the rule of can you live with it. So even if you’re really passionate about something and you want to convince other people to vote your side, if it’s clear that the people are going the other way, can you live with it? And invariably when people think about that they say yes, I can  live with it. So that’s one of the things that helps to bring in a friendly way, in a kind way, an end to some of the discussion.

And another thing is, and this began back in the year 2000.. At that time, and in 1998 the whole structure of the PMI governance changed so we were struggling as an organization. And at that time, one of the things that we came up with, that we’ve been living with - and we raise this constantly in our meetings – is that we speak with one voice.

SUNIL: Yeah.

DAVIDSON: So once the decision is made.. Back in 2000 we said we have to speak with one voice, that’s one thing we’ve got to learn. And we are very good at that, we are very good at that.

SUNIL: Yeah, no, I would definitely attest to that. And the other thing that I think is worthy for people to know, and let me speak on your behalf, all of you, is just because you have all of these diverse experiences and content and competencies doesn’t necessarily mean you have everything to solve a particular problem. So the board is actually quite humble.

And that’s one thing I would like to highlight is that the board does set the direction of the organization. And the decisions that are made in that board room become reality and then that’s what the staff do over the next few six months, year, whatever it takes, whatever, for that particular initiative to pivot or transformation. A decision is made in that board to go in a certain direction and then there is an execution arm, which is the staff, my team, to actually make that happen.

So the board absolutely drive the direction that PMI takes. And you’re right, I mean, I’ve seen it as well, tremendous transformation. And Jennifer, on your side, you also brought unique, specific skills. Did you see the same, did you see that they were valued and that they were contributory to the direction the organization went?

JENNIFER: One of the things that I think was one of the biggest surprises for me was I definitely came to the board with a specific perspective. I had written a book about integrating sustainability with project management. I came onto the board feeling like I was going to be an advocate for this particular perspective, that I thought it was really critical that project management take elements of sustainability into account.

But I think one of the biggest growing points for me was realizing when I joined the board, it’s like, oh, it’s a lot bigger than just me. It’s a lot bigger than my own ideas and my own perspectives. And I certainly bring all that research and all those ideas into the board room with me but I’m not just there representing my own interests, I’m there representing hundreds of thousands of project managers all over the world and that weighs on me. I’m not just here to do the thing that I think is important, I need to do what’s best for members all over the world.

SUNIL: And I really am a big advocate for having more and more sensory input coming in from different parts of the world. Kathy, as you now move on as well, what would be your one or two guiding messages for the incoming board?

KATHY: Yes, so first of all, I’m excited about who will be chosen. I think all the candidates are fantastic so I think they’re going to contribute significantly to both the diversity and the conversation that we have at the board.

What I would say is that don’t be shy. Don’t think that oh I don’t know enough to be able to engage in the conversation. Ask questions, be curious, put  your point of view on the table. It’s interesting, some of us who have been on the board for a while, we know things, we tend to look at things certain ways, and it is refreshing to actually hear someone who is first to the conversation, who is new to the conversation and how they view it.

So it really adds a lot of value to be able to engage. So don’t hold back. Engage in the conversation, ask questions, leverage your advisor –the board uses a process where you’re assigned an advisor to be able to help you through the process and to be able to be there for you, to be able to help you orient.

SUNIL: Working with the board is and continues to be and I’m sure it will continue to be in the future a big highlight of my month when I deal with having to (put work together?) and update the board on things that are happening in the organization, which were originally ideas and we’re turning them into reality and we’re making them.

It’s a wonderful experience to go and present back to the board a particular idea or a plan that was developed in the boardroom and then we bring it back and say hey, this is reality, its working and here’s how it’s all been implemented, etcetera. It’s a lovely feeling. And it’s nice to know that there are people there that totally care and own this with me as well. So it’s super support from each and every one of you, actually, collectively as a team but then also as individuals.