ILLUSTRATION BY JOEL KIMMEL
Richard Palczynski, head of program management, Mace Group, London, England
When projects in a portfolio range from carving a new neighborhood from London's Olympic Village to expanding a Nigerian cement factory without disrupting daily operations, organization and efficiency aren't nice-to-haves. They're musts.
So when Mace Group recruited Richard Palczynski as its new head of program management, the global construction company gave him one major goal: Embed program management as a core competency across the enterprise.
What keeps such a large portfolio organized and working efficiently?
We break our portfolio down into different business units, but the key is they all follow what we call “The Mace Way.” We don't want different parts of the business taking different approaches to program management. So while we have to recognize that different business units have to be flexible in the way each one carries out work, the overarching Mace Way is really what keeps the consistency across the board. That and a strong ethos of performance review and accountability are how we keep a grip on our portfolio.
What is The Mace Way?
It's 23 years of developed understanding about how Mace makes program management work. We've consolidated all of that into a set of internal processes and procedures. It's part of what our clients are buying when they decide to work with us. Any company can follow a standard, but The Mace Way is our own version of doing things.
“The number-one lesson learned [from past high-profile projects]: If you think something can't be done, you need to retrain your thinking.”
It's also an internal toolbox for our program and project management community. Employees can go to a dedicated site and dig deeper into the key areas that they need to be thinking about when they're delivering work.
My role is to lead the way in taking what we have today and turning it into something that will be fit for business in 2020. So it's an evolving set of tools and processes.
What is your top priority in reshaping the company's program management office?
We have started the process by recognizing that in order to be really successful at program management, we have to have three building blocks firmly in place. First of all, we have to have the people piece. We have to make sure we have a program management framework that supports the development and growth of people, so we're looking at building and developing our program and project management career framework.
Another building block is processes and procedures—The Mace Way.
The third part is the underlying systems and tools. If you're going to set down some processes and procedures for people to follow, you then have to give them the tools to execute the work. So we're taking stock of what tools we've become most comfortable using over the last few years. And we're also looking to the marketplace to see what tools we need to bring in over the next few years. What we're really after is a repeatable and reproducible model that we can quickly roll out on large projects anywhere in the world.
How do you approach project management when working across different countries?
It's important to recognize there is no one size that fits all. Every single new cultural environment or country that we go to presents unique challenges.
A great example is the current work we're doing with a client in Russia. Our project team in St. Petersburg has had to do an awful lot of listening. It's fair to say they're on the steepest learning curve of any particular team we have at the moment. But experiencing such a different cultural environment is what's enabling the team to really think about innovation.
It's actually really good from our perspective, because that team has had to ruthlessly simplify the approach to program management that will work in that environment, with a group of contracting organizations that are not used to doing things the way we expect them to be done here in the United Kingdom. For example, we currently have to figure out a way to monitor the progress on-site when the majority of contractors won't submit programs with the level of detail we typically see. So we're looking for ways to measure progress on-site in real time and automate as much of the process as possible—automation through hand-held devices, used across the supply chain.
You've worked on some high-profile public projects, including the Channel Tunnel connecting England and France. What's the most important lesson you've learned from such highly scrutinized projects?
To never give up. I've had many situations where there would appear to be overwhelming odds against achieving a certain milestone or getting something done on time. Sometimes you are able to take some time and say, “Let's wait for a better day,” and sometimes you don't have that option. It's about being efficient and figuring out a way of overcoming obstacles quickly. PM
Best professional advice you ever got?
Learn what makes your company successful and build your career path around that.
What's the best book you've read recently?
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I got three-quarters of the way through it and thought I had it nailed, and then everything changed.
If you could go anywhere in the world, it would be_____.
The top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
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