Project Management Institute

In for the long haul

Jesper Kjaerulf-Moller, PMP, head of the program management office, global project implementation, APM Terminals, the Hague, the Netherlands



Jesper Kjaerulf-Moller, PMP, head of the program management office, global project implementation, APM Terminals, The Hague, the Netherlands

During the past two decades, the quantity of goods shipped worldwide has quadrupled. APM Terminals is living up to those numbers—handling more than 38 million containers and providing inland cargo transportation services in nearly 40 countries.

Jesper Kjaerulf-Moller and APM Terminals’ program management office (PMO) keep the organization's port projects moving forward smoothly. Mr. Kjaerulf-Moller's job is to ensure that new port projects—which can take two to seven years to complete—are successfully delivered while meeting business needs.

Mr. Kjaerulf-Moller began his career as an economist, but when he realized he was more challenged by organizational improvement he gravitated toward project and change management, earning a master's degree in major program management from Oxford University.

Before, it was more document-based: At certain stages in a project, certain documents had to be completed. But documentation alone will not ensure we act toward the same goal the next day. To achieve that crucial action and progress in project environments, discussions need to happen.

Now, it's not just a reporting experience. We emphasize much more proactive engagement through hands-on workshops. We make sure the right stakeholders get involved and we all understand what we're doing as a collective unit.

To achieve that crucial action and progress in project environments, discussions need to happen.

Also, when we secure a major port development project, instead of setting out a lot of requirements around what the local team needs to do, we send a team member from the PMO in The Hague to set up a long-term plan and project strategy with them.


Small Talk

What's one skill every project manager should have?

Integration. You need to be able to make different personalities work together, instead of trying to change people.

What's the best professional advice you ever received?

If the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught. If your contractor, partner or subordinate doesn't deliver, you could complain—but there's something that you as a project manager didn't do or should've done differently.

What do you most enjoy in your leisure time?

Snorkeling, because I can do it with my two boys, who are 4 and 6 years old. We've recently snorkeled in Egypt, Spain and the Caribbean, and it's never the same.

Why do you focus on project strategy?

Our projects are in extremely different environments, and they have extremely different commercial conditions. So we focus on putting in place a local team with a strong project management infrastructure so that, as it grows from 20 team members in the early days to a few hundred when it's fully ramped up, the team can manage its own environment.

It's really not possible to manage a project in Costa Rica from a head office in the Netherlands. It doesn't work, stakeholder-wise or community-wise.

How do you leverage project managers’ expertise across borders?

Every six months, we have reviews. We bring project managers from across the globe to visit a specific project to get an outside perspective and have cross-project learning. We pick areas that may need to be improved, like procurement, permits, organization, etc. Then the outside experts conduct deep dives into the project and make action plans. This helps us improve the project management locally, while creating a project management community across the organization.

What challenges do your project teams typically encounter?

In these kinds of projects, so many different elements need to work together. Integrating the overall aim of the project in an emerging market environment is extremely difficult over time. With a completely new container terminal, we first have to build the asset. Then, we have to build the entire business around it, including the customers and the cargo owners. Plus, in some emerging markets, there isn't an available workforce, so we also have to build and train them.

Our office offers a methodology for project teams to manage that integration and alignment. We make sure we have a strong team on the ground that can respond to specific challenges and maintain a long-term view of all of them.

Why did APM Terminals change the way it managed the development of port projects?

We wanted a more holistic view of the projects to create a better balance between the asset part of the port and the business need for it.

We need to adjust to market and business needs while we competently manage the port construction. So it's very important that we make these opposites coexist: Construction-wise, we want to lock down our options and create certainty, while commercially, we want to keep options open. That's why we focus on getting the team to react and adjust optimally.

At the end of the day, the business need is the most important thing. It doesn't matter if a project is early and under budget if the organization doesn't need it anymore.

How do you know that the PMO's changes have been successful?

From the project directors in the field to the executives in The Hague, there's a more engaged project management approach. That enables decision makers to make better decisions.

In the past, decision makers had a lot of discussions where they were trying to find the facts. Now the discussions are more future-oriented, so that we start to look at value creation: Can we do this better? How do we attack this future challenge? Because we're not in a reactive fact-finding mode, we have more opportunity to create value. PM

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