Project Management Institute

Driver of change

Jan Mandrup, PMI-RMP, PMP, senior project manager, IBM Asia, Bangkok, Thailand

Jan Mandrup, PMI-RMP, PMP, senior project manager, IBM Asia, Bangkok, Thailand



When companies expand rapidly, they often outgrow technologies and require a complete system overhaul. As its Asia Pacific clients implement enterprise-wide projects to transform their business systems, PMI Global Executive Council member IBM looks to Jan Mandrup to ensure major change initiatives are executed smoothly and meet strategic goals.

Although he now oversees multiyear projects with budgets reaching hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars, Mr. Mandrup began his career as an electronics technician in the healthcare industry. “I became an expert in structured troubleshooting and isolating problems,” he says. And that, he later discovered, laid an ideal foundation for a project management career.

What types of projects do you manage?

Large, complex IT projects where the clients’ core business processes undergo transformation. They're enterprise resource-planning projects that involve the suite of enterprise-wide software that every company has—everything from finance to sales to procurement to manufacturing to logistics.

Do your initiatives sometimes require their own project management offices (PMOs)?

If it's a very large project, I might establish a dedicated project-specific PMO team responsible for risk and schedule management. But with all my projects, the first thing I do is establish the project governance processes to ensure we're in control from start to finish, and bring in any needed experts.

“You can always make the technology work. The challenge is changing the habits of people who have to use it.”

What leads a client to sponsor these transformation projects?

A company might have grown—either through acquisitions or organizational growth—and it might now be in a situation where one part of the organization isn't working the same way as another part. So executives want to streamline or consolidate how they do business. They look to us to recommend what the new process should be. It could simply mean they need to modernize the technology they use. But typically they want to change the way their people work. That's the transformation.

What's the primary challenge you encounter?

Resistance to change. In every organization, there are always people who don't want to change what they've been doing for many years. You can always make the technology work. The challenge is changing the habits of people who have to use it.

How do you change habits?

Everyone is more receptive to change if they are involved in the process. You need to make them feel they're a driving part of it, even though it might have been with a guided hand. That requires a little finesse. Trying to change people through brute force hardly ever works.

Can you offer an example of finessed change?

I had a project with three very independent business units that were equal in terms of what they brought to the company. Before I could put a new system and process in place, I had to reach consensus among them. I had a number of workshops where I had equal representation from each business unit. Through these workshops we got to an agreement about how the transformation would work. Then we staffed a joint project team with representatives from all three units.

So you give all stakeholders a voice?

A voice—and also help. Everyone needs to know they can't just voice their opinion and then sit back—that's the easiest thing in the world. You also have to get their active participation and commitment.

How do you ensure project benefits are realized?

Before you start the project, you have to get an agreement on what project success is—not just finishing on time or on budget. Without clear agreement, you might complete the project, but along the way people have made so many change requests that what they wanted in the beginning is not what they actually get in the end.

How do you interact effectively with the C-suite?

To communicate effectively with the C-suite, I familiarize myself with their industry and their industry's challenges. I have to speak their language. By clicking with them, I establish trust.

As someone from Denmark who's been working in Asia for over a decade, how do cultural differences affect your work?

In Europe, people are very straightforward in expressing what they're happy or unhappy with, or what's working or not working. In Asian cultures, there's a reluctance to say there's a problem. The answer is normally “everything is fine.” You seldom hear a “no.” So you have to probe a little bit more.

How do you negotiate the language barrier—given how crucial stakeholder buy-in is?

You become really good at reading body language and emotions. And you don't need to be fluent in the local language; if you know a little, experience will tell you if there's something you need to drill into. You also need to have a couple trusted people on your team who will tell you what the problem really is, even when something else was communicated to you. PM


Small Talk

What's the one skill every project manager should have?

People management. You need to understand different people and different cultures. Without that, you won't have a functional team.

What's the best professional advice you ever received?

“The tail always follows the head.” I never ask my team to do something I wouldn't do myself.

What's your favorite activity off the clock?

Golfing—there's no better place to golf than Asia.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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