As the Country's Economy Diversifies, Project Professionals Are Stepping Up to Help Manage Change
The main business district in Mexico City, Mexico
BY AMBREEN ALI
The office of tech company Wizeline Inc. in Guadalajara, Mexico
PHOTO BY HECTOR GUERRERO/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES
Mexico is building momentum. After years of liberalizing the economy, the country's government is welcoming organizations from around the world to back big-ticket projects—and spur growth.
A prime example: The US$7 billion public-private partnership to build a 4G network covering nearly all of the country got underway last year. Major sponsors include the Chinese government's US$1.2 billion China Mexico Fund and Morgan Stanley. But Mexico's government is trying to boost more than just infrastructure—it's supporting lots of private-sector projects as well. For example, it granted more than 450 mining permits between September 2016 and June 2017. An estimated US$5.5 billion in investments for the sector last year represents a 47.5 percent increase over 2016. And the government expected to inject about US$1 billion into the country's burgeoning tech scene from 2014 through this year, helping entrepreneurs get startups and their projects off the ground.
“There are few people who have formal training in project management.”
—Leonardo Martínez, PMP, Retail Consult, Mexico City
Years ago, uncertainty about Mexico's relationship with its big northern neighbor might have dampened economic growth. Not so today: Despite the North American Free Trade Agreement's cloudy future, Mexico's GDP growth rate is projected to reach as high as 3 percent in 2018. The country also is on pace to become the world's seventh-largest economy by 2050, rising from the 11th slot in 2016.
Yubitza Lara, an IT project manager at InterContinental Hotels Group in Guadalajara, says Mexico's globalizing economy gives its project professionals a chance to demonstrate their unique skill set to the world. “We have the opportunity to show our potential while working on global teams,” she says. “We have learned to be adaptable, and we have problem-solving skills.”
“We have the opportunity to show our potential while working on global teams.”
—Yubitza Lara, InterContinental Hotels Group, Guadalajara
With change accelerating and project portfolios expanding in many sectors, more organizations are realizing the need to formalize project management practices to ensure benefits are realized. That's a welcome shift, says Zacil González, senior project manager, Televisa, Mexico City. Formal delivery processes are relatively new—projects have “traditionally kicked off without much planning or knowledge of the scope, budget or project best practices,” she says.
Sectors long dominated by state-controlled organizations have opened up to private players this century. These industries range from mining to energy to telecommunications. But Mexico's project landscape also has been transformed by the rise of digital technologies. The country's tech industry has exploded in recent decades—fueled in part by the close proximity of industry giants situated just to the north in California, USA.
Mexico at a Glance
2 million square kilometers (756,760 square miles)
GDP growth rate (2016)
GDP growth forecast (2018)
Mining, food and beverages, petroleum, chemicals, iron and steel, tourism
Gross national income per capita (2016)
Sources: Bank of Mexico, CIA World Factbook, The World Bank
“When a wider set of people contribute to strategic planning efforts, it can improve the overall corporate culture and strengthen delivery support.”
—Marisol Vera, Prudential Seguros México, Mexico City
In Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco, U.S. venture capitalists see the makings of a Mexican Silicon Valley and have steered US$120 million to startups in the city since 2014. Tech giants, including IBM, Intel, HP, Oracle and Dell, have set up outposts there, and the state exports US$21 billion annually in technology products and services.
A project announced in 2016 promises to further boost Jalisco's tech fortunes. U.S.-based electronics maker Sanmina is executing a US$48 million expansion in Jalisco to deliver technology to telecom and auto industry clients. Like many other multinational tech organizations doing business in Mexico, Sanmina relies on a pool of tech-savvy talent to deliver projects.
But Mexico's talent pool of project professionals experienced in the IT sector is not deep enough, says Leonardo Martínez, PMP, project manager, Retail Consult, Mexico City. “There are few people who have formal training in project management,” Mr. Martínez says.
And tech organizations are looking for more than just hard skills from project managers. Leadership and communication are in high demand, says J. Miguel Madero M., PMP, financial project manager, IBM México, Guadalajara. Project managers with technical know-how are easier to come by than talent able to adeptly oversee teams or work effectively with stakeholders and customers, he says. Agile delivery chops are also sought after, but Mr. Madero said many organizations are willing to teach those skills on the job.
One misstep that Mr. Martínez frequently sees tech organizations make is bringing project managers on board after the company has made unrealistic scope-related promises to a client. “This is a big challenge to deal with,” he says. “I try to negotiate with the customer and to sit down with all stakeholders and set up a clear scope of work. One way to have a smooth handover and ensure success is to assure early involvement of the project manager in the presales or bid phases.”
Canadian aeronautics manufacturer Bombardier Inc.'s factory in Queretaro, Mexico
PHOTO BY CARLOS TISCHLER/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES
Some organizations in Mexico aren't taking advantage of what project managers can offer them—that's according to Ms. González, who works in the media industry. By not empowering project managers, they're setting themselves up for trouble, she says: She has worked on projects where there is very limited managing authority, making her a de facto delivery facilitator rather than a manager.
“In organizations that aren't projectized, the functional leader and stakeholders are considered the project's owners, and they define how it will be managed. I can only give them advice and best practices. If they don't want to take the advice and use the knowledge, the project can be a disaster,” she says. What's missing is clear authority given to project managers to intervene if things begin to go off track.
“In organizations that aren't projectized, the functional leader and stakeholders are considered the project's owners, and they define how it will be managed.”
—Zacil González, Televisa, Mexico City
That's why project managers need to educate co-workers and stakeholders about the strategic planning and execution roles they can play, says Marisol Vera, project officer at Prudential Seguros México in Mexico City. Organizations can help improve the culture of planning by establishing clear roles and priorities, and ensuring that team members have the knowledge and skills needed to fulfill their responsibilities, she says.
“When a wider set of people contribute to strategic planning efforts, it can improve the overall corporate culture and strengthen delivery support.” PM
We asked project professionals: What project management skills are in demand in Mexico today?
“Crisis management and risk mitigation. External factors, such as complying with local government and community interests transmitted through sudden change requests, demand agile project managers.”
—Ignacio Ortiz-Mendoza, PMP, senior project manager, Pemex, Mexico City
“For me, risk management and change management are two of the most important skills needed. It's really challenging to implement a project with a long-term vision while going against traditional and sometimes corrupt ways of doing things.”
—Yunive Moreno Sánchez, project manager, Visor Urbano, Guadalajara
“Project managers need to increase their knowledge and ability to get results, and they need to strengthen project planning culture.”
—Marisol Vera, project officer, Prudential Seguros México, Mexico City
“Scheduling, negotiating, risk management, problem-solving and agile delivery approaches.”
—Yubitza Lara, IT project manager, InterContinental Hotels Group, Guadalajara
Yunive Moreno Sánchez believes project management can help turn the tide of corruption in Mexico. (Transparency International ranked Mexico at 123 out of 176 countries in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index published early last year; a higher number means a higher perception of corruption.) Ms. Sánchez is a project manager leading the implementation of Visor Urbano, an anti-corruption initiative in the city of Guadalajara backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies for Government Innovation. The US$1 million project aims to shed light on the process by which the municipal government issues building permits. Guadalajara has grown rapidly in recent years, but some construction projects haven't been properly reviewed: Illegally issued building permits have been prevalent, Ms. Sánchez says.
But project managers with high ethical standards can make a difference by avoiding corruption in contracts and ensuring budgets are monitored properly, she says. “Project management principles let you promote an anti-corruption environment and set clear rules and procedures to follow in order to have a clean and successful project implementation.”
“Project management principles let you promote an anti-corruption environment and set clear rules and procedures to follow to have a clean and successful implementation.”
—Yunive Moreno Sánchez
Ms. Sánchez says she has faced resistance from the government while trying to implement change. She does have the support of the current mayor, which helps enact her change agenda. She's made a point of engaging external stakeholders so that the project can continue after the next municipal administration takes office in September 2018.
“We are communicating the project to stakeholders all over the city to make them owners and part of the project,” she says. The goal is to leverage strong backing from the public and civil society organizations to counter any political resistance to change. “We want to assure the continuity of the project beyond any future political change.”
At a time when other economies in Latin America have hit rough patches, Mexico's project landscape is alive and well.
Rendering of Mexico City's new international airport
Foreign oil companies flocked to win contracts for deep-water drilling projects made available by the government in late 2016. Mexican organizations also are digging into new possibilities: Cotemar will have invested US$200 million in two new onshore oil field projects by the end of the year.
Renewables are in the mix as well. Mexico could be the world's seventh-largest solar photovoltaic market by 2021, according to a 2017 report from SolarPower Europe. To help integrate renewable energy into Mexico's power grid, General Electric has plans to launch five grid-scale battery storage projects at a cost of at least US$25 million.
Aura Solar I plant in La Paz, Mexico
Mexico City-Toluca intercity train
There's no lack of ambition in the transportation infrastructure project space. A US$13.4 billion project is underway to construct a new international airport in Mexico City, increasing the city's airport capacity by 50 percent. Slated for completion in 2020, the 4,430-hectare (10,947-acre) site east of the city will be the world's third-largest airport.
The country's ground transport network is also prepping for a boost: The US$2.2 billion Mexico City-Toluca intercity train project promises to cut travel times between the two locales from two hours to 39 minutes for an estimated 230,000 daily commuters. The route is slated to open this year.
Rendering of the international convention center in Mérida, Mexico
Last year was one of Mexico's most violent years on record, but tourists keep pouring in. As of October, nearly 60 hotel projects were under construction, with plans to increase the country's tourism capacity by more than 9,800 rooms. In Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatán, a new international convention center has inspired a building boomlet: 16 new hotel projects were in the works as of last April.