Project Management Institute

PMI Straight Talk with Sunil Episode 2

Participants
Sunil Prashara, PMI President & CEO
Joe Cahill, PMI Chief Operating Officer

Sunil:
Hi everyone. Sunil here again. This is the second episode of "Straight Talk with Sunil." I'm sitting in our fancy studio in GHQ and I've got Joe [Cahill] with me here. We're going to talk about the transformation and what's been going on in the world of change within PMI. So welcome, Joe.

Joe:
Happy to be here.

Sunil:
So now let me kick off by asking you, okay, so we're doing a transformation. Why are we doing a transformation?

Joe:
Well, the company and the management team realized a number of years ago that we needed to refresh our strategy. And part of that process, Murat [Bicak] came on board, the rest of the ELT spent quite a bit of time refreshing the strategy and we focused on three key areas as a result of that. And that's focus -- strategic focus on the individual and the careers of individuals. We also are focused, we're engaging in this transformation in a customer-centric way, that means we're doing what every other company’s doing out there, who our stakeholders work for. They are engaged in what does the customer need? How can we be there to give them what they want, when they need it? And thirdly, we are highly focused on having ourselves set up as an agile organization, org agility and everything we do so that we can quickly respond to the market and lead the market, quite frankly. You have to be able to do both. And that's a key part of some of the back office stuff that we're doing that get ourselves set up so that we can do that -- coupled with some front office activities that are directly focused on helping our stakeholders succeed in their career.

Sunil:
So after doing that strategy work, you identified a series of activities that need to take place that change programs or…?
Joe: Yeah, in fact, I'd say that the transformation plan that we put forth to the board at the end of 2017 is the embodiment of how we're going to execute the strategy. So it is the plan. One of the things worth noting here is that it wasn't a plan that was set in stone and we put together an initial, directionally correct plan that aligned to the strategy and we made adjustments along the way, with regard to the plan itself and how we execute at the timing of it, the scheduling of it. What happens first, what's more important than something else? Because we've learned a lot. There are a lot of assumptions on the front end of this where we thought something was more important than something else. And we've learned that's not the case. We’ve made adjustments and shifted.

Sunil:
Let's get into some of the specifics. I mean, from a high level perspective and as I've come on board, I see kind of like two components. There's the back office optimization, productivity improvement, automation of the PMI organization, our administrative functions. And then there's a series of activities, all forward leaning, making the interaction with our stakeholders more effective given that they are using different technologies today to communicate around the world. So there's two components of it. Should we first of all talk about the back office piece and so there's a bunch of those. Talk to me about that approach.

Joe:
I'm going to frame it first by restating the fact that we're doing all this to support the careers of our stakeholders -- members, credential holders, volunteers, chapter leaders, chapter members. They are in our focus on everything we do, including the back office, right? Customer centricity. So what is the back office about? I refer to it as plumbing, in the sense that there's many things you need to have in place and in a successful company today to actually just operate. And we've had a challenge to get ourselves a two-step or three-step move on the back office and that's what we're doing. It's not just an incremental change. And what we're putting in place are what you would expect -- ERP systems, CRM systems, modern data architecture, modern application architecture. We put a new data analytics center of excellence capability in last year. That's really the fuel, if you will. It's going to help us understand what our customers need, what our stakeholders need and give them what they need in their careers to actually be out in front of it…is really the goal so that when they come to us for that next step, that next move in their career, we have something for them.

Sunil:
Okay. So getting into a bit more detail and because this is straight talk, there's a bunch of initiatives in here, which automate the back office or optimize the back office. Which is the one that you feel is the one that's going to give us the best impact and support us into the future? There's quite a few.

Joe:
All right. So yeah, I would take the combination of the data, new modern data architecture and modern application architecture.  That becomes the foundation on which we can build the solutions that our stakeholders need. I would say that's the key for the organizational agility. So some of the issues we've had in the past where, and I always characterize it this way, when we wanted to make a change in the system, even a small change, it was equivalent to  when you change your oil, we'd have to take the engine apart, to change that oil. That was the analogy that was used. And it was true. So we can't operate that way. There's no tolerance for that in the marketplace, in any business quite frankly. And I'll say that all of us, everybody that’s listening here today, have little devices in their back pockets that really set the bar on what is acceptable in terms of an experience and then what's acceptable in terms of technology. And we have to at least be there. So from a technology perspective, I think that's the most important.

Sunil:
And then along with the technology, you know, and the transformations that I've been involved in, there's a technology component, there's a workflow process component, and then there's obviously change in anxiety that's created with the employees as a consequence of the transformation that's going on. I mean, how are we addressing that? Because I noticed that you have a section here called “people and change” and what is that?

Joe:
So we clearly acknowledge that culture eats strategy for breakfast. You know, it's a cliché -- but you can't understate the importance of it. In that context, we do understand that the culture that made PMI successful for the first 50 years is not going to be the culture that we need to make us successful and protect the future, quite frankly. So we've made very specific efforts on mapping and defining where we need to go in terms of culture to actually execute those three things I said at the top of the conversation -- the org agility, customer centricity and strategic focus. So the culture is embedded in everything. Quite frankly, it's not a program in the sense that it's a technical program that you have to execute and check boxes. It's how we behave. It's how you and I behave. It's how other leaders in the organization behave at the end of the day, regardless of how many 3x5 cards we hand out to people. Culture is what we show to one another and how we hold each other accountable.

Sunil:
What should people expect happening over the next six months or so from an optimization perspective -- internally, admin stuff?

Joe:
From a back office perspective, we've just begun the projects at the beginning of this year. So there's an ERP project, a CRM project. We'll be rolling out pilots of the capability -- and then by 2020, we're going to have full capability in those systems. And that includes, which I didn't mention, seamless purchase experience is one of the programs where we're solving one of our biggest problems in terms of our customer experience, a new way for the customer to pay. We've traditionally, today I should say, we accept all of our transactions around the world with one price in U.S. dollars. So we are venturing to take ourselves to the next level as I described. When you pick the phone out of your pocket and you're trying to get an Uber and you're in a different country, you're going to pay in a different currency. We are going to do the same. That's a baseline. You have to be able to do this to do business. Yeah, so I want to take rupees. I want to take other currencies. I want to have different payment plans. So the people in Brazil, for example, can pay over 12 months or 24 months instead of all upfront. [These are] things that are expected. 

Sunil:
That's great. 

Joe:
But things that we don't have [now]. That's why I say it's a double-, triple-step move.

Sunil:
Can I flip over to the front end of the business? Because at the same time as the transformation internally within the organization, there's quite a lot of steps being taken to optimize the experience, and to increase the support of our members and the communities that we support globally. And why don't we talk about some of those and which ones you think are the most important ones?

Joe:
Well, the big one is clear to us and it's embedded in our strategy to fill the gap on agile -- to really advance the Institute in the agile marketplace in a different way. And most of our programs are on the front end of the business are recognizing that -- embedding that thought process in our products and our approach to the market and in our openness to different ways of working. We call it the value delivery landscape. We keep saying that to the market. And that means there's not just one way to get an idea to reality. There's multiple ways. In a software and IT type structure, agile is more adopted these days than a waterfall approach -- and of course there's hybrid approaches. So we view that whole landscape as what we have to deliver to our stakeholders. It's not just the PMP. It's not just one way of working. It’s multiple ways of working and it keeps changing, as you know. You've come to the organization and brought things into the dialogue around “no code” and “citizen developer” and things of that.

Joe:
All those concepts have to come into the palette on which a project manager needs to paint. If they don't have those tools, they're not going to really be successful. And we recognize that at a high level and on the front end of the business. So in specifics, we're doing a number of things. In an agile way, we are developing new products, new digital products, that we've never had before. PM Edge is an example of one where we piloted it in October of last year. We're in the process of taking it through innovations and operations -- taking it through its paces, maybe making some changes to it. That's one thing where we make it ourselves, right? We're looking into the marketplace -- starting last September, October -- last year, we established an innovation function and we're out in the marketplace meeting with other partners that can bring things to our stakeholders that we cannot.

Joe:
We talk about the talent triangle, which is the rubric that you need in terms of skills: strategy, skills, PM skills, business acumen skills. You need them all to be a good project manager. Digital skills, you need those as well. PMI doesn't provide all those, but there's partners who can. So we lined up in the marketplace, a long list – we’ll call it a pipeline – of innovation, of those partners that can help us provide service to our stakeholders. So that's really different. So you [can] build it, partner, [or] we could potentially buy some technology, some capabilities, some methodology that makes sense.

Sunil:
How do people who are listening in on this broadcast, how do they provide their inputs into our products and our activities around trying to find partnerships? Surely out there, across the globe, there must be a bunch of organizations that they may want us to talk to. So how do they get access to us and how do we take their input?

Joe:
Well, it's an interesting question and I'll contextualize it and then answer it very specifically. Part of the transformation, the strategy itself, is approaching the market in a new way, in a “sense and respond” way. Murat and his group have put in place a process and a method of going out to the market to gather that information, whether it's from the Global Executive Council meetings or our own chapter meetings out in the marketplace. Or it's even at the global conference. We've done things differently to understand what people want. So that's actually happening. More specifically, if people have something in mind and they're on the bus or train somewhere and they want to share with this, maybe they can share it with us at Sunil@PMI.org.

Sunil:
That's not a bad idea to do that. Yeah. I mean, that's what that's there for. 
So I see the work going on around product. What about channels? I mean, we've got global channels, we've got 300 chapters, thousands of volunteers. How do we improve our interaction? How do we make our experience of the service that we provide better for them? What are we doing in that space?

Joe:
So channels, it sounds like a commercial term and it's okay. I mean, it's a way to describe all the things you just said. As part of the transformation, we're looking at all the customer experience, whether it's digital, at an event, at a chapter meeting, the volunteer experience – and unifying it into one way. So every time you're with PMI, it feels a certain way. And I would say that across those channels we should have a same/similar experience, even if it's across the different channel…channel one being my mobile phone, Chapter Meeting, volunteer experience. So we're looking at each one of these channels and we're developing a specific strategy for each to, stepwise, improve the experience -- and then tie it into the unified experience that I'm talking about it at the top of the conversation.

Sunil:
Okay. So great outcome-based projects. One thing you haven't mentioned is digital and we are sort of branding this whole activity as a digital transformation.

Joe:
It's the heartbeat.

Sunil:
So what [is] the digital bit?

Joe:
We talked about the plumbing. We talked about the customer -and stakeholder-facing -- but the real heartbeat of it is the digital experience, the digital platform, how we serve products, services in a different and digital way that's consumable by the next generation. I mean, quite frankly, every business -- I don't care if it was my dad's business or my dad's dad's business or my kids' business -- has to think about who's coming next. And we've been very successful in the last 50 years and we are keenly focused on protecting the next 50 for our current stakeholders and our future stakeholders. So part of that is giving them the experience in the way that they want it.

Joe:
And digital is certainly the way.

Sunil:
So have you got any views about [how] web PMI could really go? I've shared some thoughts from my perspective. I’d love to understand yours.

Joe:
Well, the way we're looking at it is to position ourselves so that we're on the tip of the spear, as you say, on what folks need in their careers. So what does that mean? That means [what] I talked about earlier. We have to be very credible and lead in the agile space, in addition to the traditional project management and the hybrid approaches of those two. I think by having ourselves in that position and the “sense and respond” capabilities that we discussed that we’re out in front…we're talking in the marketplace, feeding that back into our system with an agile organization that can respond to it.

Joe:
That is the key. There's not a silver bullet on all this stuff. All these pieces have to work together in order for this transformation to be successful. That's why we designed it the way we did. North and south, east and west and we’re changing in everything and we're retaining what's actually part of the heart of what PMI is, right? The volunteerism, right? Those values of volunteerism. Providing the right products and services to our stakeholders. That's what we intend to do. And by staying out in front of it through a better system, we can be positioned to be there for what that next thing is. I can't sit here and tell you what the next thing is, right? But that's our job to know -- if I'm a stakeholder, I'm a member. I'm looking for you, PMI, to come to me and tell me what's coming next. And not only what's coming next, but how I can double click on it and learn more about it and be a part of it. Or not.

Sunil:
And share it. We put a lot of thought behind it. The thought processes has lasted two years by the sound of it. And we're now ready. And we’re pressing the button and the train's leaving the station and there are several trains, 11 programs, all running off at the same time. How are we going to track them? How are we going to make sure that they're going to land? How are they going to make sure that there's no roadblocks and there's no leaves on the track that are going to slow us down? How are we doing that?

Joe:
So we have a transformation management office that is given responsibility to work with all the teams to achieve the outcomes. We've defined outcomes for all the programs, [and] for the transformation as a whole. So it's at a project level, program level. And then in total, because as I said earlier, the total matters. The individual programs I think are interesting and are going to improve where we are. But if they're not connected to these other programs, they will not succeed. It will be a failure. So they all have to work together to define the success. And the ultimate success for me is in the engagement with our stakeholders. So think of the network we have today. We have millions of people that have been touched by PMI. We have half a million plus members. We have 1.5 million certification holders through history.  Imagine that they're more engaged in this new digital way.

Joe:
From a network effect perspective, we can really multiply that impact where people can connect with each other on the other side of the planet, through their phone in a different way to help each other do a better job on that day or to get a better path in their career. So that's part of the vision of the strategy. And it's definitely achievable. We achieve it in many ways in some of the apps we use daily, but we want to do in a different way around the globe. And a network that far exceeds what we have today, far superior. And what we have today is pretty damn special. So we acknowledge that, and taking it to the next level is where we're going to go.

Sunil:
So if I wanted to find out more about how we’re getting on with our programs and how it can add more value, how I might want to contribute to it? Is there a place I can go to? How do I track our performance? I mean, are we issuing key metrics out globally to people about this now?

Joe:
We haven't done it. 

Sunil:
Are we going public with what we're doing here?

Joe:
It’s interesting and ironic that this is the first conversation we've had outside the walls of PMI. Last year we were deep, starting in May, we were deep into a design, the design portion of the transformation where your head's down here on paper, you're trying to figure out what we're going to do in detail [depth]. This year, we're starting the process where we're rolling things out. So this conversation would be the first of many.

Sunil: Do you see us having several of these?

Joe:
Then there's no other way to do it. We definitely intend to do that through all of our stakeholder community. And this is a broad community that's going to be seeing this one as well.

Sunil:
No, that's really good. So I get an overview which I really appreciate -- a bunch of programs to support the productivity improvements that we need internally…which will encompass workflow optimization, enhancing the skillsets of our employees to support our stakeholders better going forward. And then on top of that, a series of activities and projects which are designed to improve the customer experience…or we're using customer experience, like thinking to enhance the experience our stakeholders have apps. Is that the way to that?

Joe:
That’s the best way to put it. I like that.

Sunil:
And then layered around that is a people program there as well. And we're going to put in some kind of feedback channel. And we’re gonna have communications going forward over the rest of this year and beyond until the program lands and finishes.

Sunil:
First of all, Joe, thanks very much and I'm glad that this is the first of many communications about how we track our transformation. It's a critical program for the organization.  It will take us forward into the next 10 years and beyond, and I’m completely committed to it. It's a key priority for me. I don't want to get in the way because it looks like you've got a fantastic plan. We need to communicate a bit more and wherever I can add value, I'll try to. The most important piece for me is that folks who are listening in on this have the opportunity to comment, come up with ideas. I had a couple of amazing ideas from folks around partnering. They sent me emails a few days ago, which I forwarded onto Murat actually, and he's following up on those. I also have a fantastic network of folks who have done huge numbers of transformations and we may want to talk to them to get some guidance and coaching. So there's areas where I might be able to help like that, but I don't want to step in and get in the way in your plan. It sounds really cool.

Joe:
I would say, we're moving fast, so you've got to get it in now.

Sunil:
Well, I'll try. But the key thing for me is, you know, be visible. Show everyone what you're doing, allow people to comment, but keep on track and keep going. It's a critical program for us. Thanks very much. All right. Cheers, buddy. Thanks.

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