Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For putting a future-focused lens on achieving strategic goals

Khaleel Baba’s employer manages some of the most luxurious and high-profile structures in the world—from the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) to the Dubai Mall (one of the world’s largest shopping centers). When Baba joined the company in 2017, he worked on implementing new and practical strategies for embedding and elevating project management practices within the company’s operation, shifting the focus from day-to-day operational activities to achieving long-term strategic vision. Working on several engineering and technology transformation programs across industries, Baba helped establish a best-in-class strategy project management office to deliver the programs on time, within budget, and with precision and quality. This includes transforming the facility management operations of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall, and prior to that, delivering end-to-end engineering transformation of telecom Etisalat and designing the overall solution architecture for 11 programs, including mobile network modernization, data centers and Internet of Things deployment.

“There can’t be any more running activities with no goals and no specific targets and initiatives for continual improvement,” says Baba. “To keep providing best-in-class services to customers, we need to have our strategy done very well, with these projects delivered on time and realizing the financial and customer satisfaction measures.”

With that ambitious goal in mind, Baba helped set up a strategy project management office (SPMO) focused on five strategic pillars: financial optimization, customer centricity, operational excellence, digital innovation and people focus.

Some pillars, such as financial optimization, called for prioritizing dozens of projects overseen by the SPMO. Over just two years, the SPMO led the delivery of 40 projects aimed at reducing energy consumption across the portfolio. The initiatives ranged in complexity from adjusting set points of HVAC systems to installing solar-powered systems—changes that resulted in achieving targeted energy and utilities cost savings.

The organization is also striving to implement greater automation across operations. In collaboration with the facilities management’s team, an Internet of Things pilot project was deployed at the Burj Khalifa, transforming from a traditional planned and preventive maintenance regime to a predictive, analytics-based maintenance program. The project saw a deep analysis of maintenance tasks, asset coverage for data collection, data validation and data mining to meet the desired outcome. “That could reduce the overall maintenance hours, reduce energy waste and enhance asset availability,” says Baba.

“We work to keep these projects managed at a world-class level; we are always benchmarking our performance,” says Baba. “We have to be adaptive, with our service at the top level.”

Q&A: Khaleel Baba on the COVID-19 vaccine, self-awareness and the automated future

What project has most influenced you personally?

The development of the COVID-19 vaccine, which potentially saves millions of lives. It can take up to a decade to go from vaccine discovery and development to approval, but scientists were able to accelerate the process and supply a safe, effective vaccine in a much shorter timeframe.

How are young people changing the world of projects?

Young people are energetic and can apply new, efficient ways of managing projects, such as scrum and agile. They can deliver complex projects faster with higher productivity and lower costs.

What’s the biggest challenge facing young project leaders right now? 

Lack of self-awareness about their thoughts and emotions, from moment to moment. This skill requires years of self-training. Young leaders need to acknowledge what they have yet to learn and admit they don’t have all the answers. They should never hesitate to ask for help.

What’s one way managing projects will change over the next decade?

As project environments get more complex and uncertain, we’ll need more flexible tools. Another change is the rise of artificial intelligence and data analytics. Tasks currently performed by project managers, including resource allocation, scheduling and budgeting, can be automated. Project managers can then focus their efforts and energy on tasks that affect greater change and increase the likelihood of achieving strategic goals.

Advice to My (Even) Younger Self

We asked the Future 50: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Follow your dreams, and when you have an idea, be passionate about it and keep pushing to achieve it. Do not allow fear of failure to hold you back from expressing yourself creatively.—Khaleel Baba, PMP

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Youth Movement

Perspectives on how young people are changing the world of projects. 

Young people are energetic and can apply new efficient ways of managing projects, such as scrum and agile. They can deliver complex projects faster with higher productivity and lower costs. —Khaleel Baba, PMP