Project Management Institute

Coaching and Entrepreneurship

Transcript

JOE CAHILL

I want to welcome everybody to the Center Stage Podcast, I’m Joe Cahill, the COO of PMI, and we are here today to learn about Enactus and how they have been partnering with PMI and some of the outcomes that they have achieved to generate social good through youth. 

Enactus is a community of student, academic, and business leaders taking entrepreneurial action for social impact. And their overall goal is to create a better world through these activities. So through our over 300 chapters, PMI partners with Enactus and their national chapters to provide project management mentorship to students. PMI is also a sponsor of several Enactus national competitions. 

So today this podcast features, from Enactus UK and from PMI’s United Kingdom chapter, two special guests — Lili Csorba, who serves as a Corporate Relations Executive for the Enactus Queen Mary Student Team, and Gavin Henderson, who is a project management and agility business advisor from the PMI UK Chapter, London Branch. Gavin has volunteered for PMI for over eight years for which we are eternally grateful. So, I am so happy to have you both here today. So welcome to Center Stage.

GAVIN HENDERSON

Thank you, Joe, its lovely to be here.

LILI CSORBA

Thank you very much. 

CAHILL

So I could see from our earlier interaction before the call that PMI and Enactus have a lot in common across our focus on youth and volunteerism and our goals for social good impact. So Lili, tell us about your involvement with Enactus. How did you get engaged?

CSORBA

It was actually my first year of university. My meeting with Enactus was actually a very lucky encounter because I didn’t know what I was looking for but I was looking for something where I can be active, I can make an impact and I can grow professionally and personally as well. And so while I was looking for a building, I actually just bumped into the president of the team and he just mentioned that, yeah, if I want, just check them out later. So I went to their desk, we talked about it and I was convinced that minute that yeah, this is something I was actually looking for.

CAHILL

So, serendipity as we call it, just a chance meeting, and here we are today talking about it. Gavin, how did you become involved with the team?

HENDERSON

I guess, as you mentioned, it comes back to joining the Project Management Institute in the first place and that was in 2012 for myself and then I passed my PMP later that year. And immediately after that, I started my first volunteer role. In 2016, I moved to London and looked at PMI for some volunteer opportunities and ended up becoming the London Branch Chair, organizing the events for the region there. 

Due to a change of role, I realized I was going to be traveling every week and so I had to look for a new volunteer opportunity. As the London Branch Chair, I had had the opportunity to participate in both regional and national judging for Enactus. So I was very interested in what they were doing. So I was really keen to try and get involved in that and took the opportunity to express my interest to Enactus and that is how it all commenced for me, back in 2017. 

CAHILL

And that’s how we got here today. Lili, do you want to talk to us about the project that you engaged in, the community in which you engaged and what kind of results did you have from that project? How did you even come up with the project? What was the thought process and then what were the results of the project?

CSORBA

When I joined, I actually didn’t really know much about the project itself. So we have these three big projects going on or at least the idea of those projects. I tried to make sure that they have everything they might need including feedback, funding, but focusing on the business advisory area. 

So we had one main project last year called Common Sense, which is a package-free delivery system idea, because the team identified the problem that still... we are students, most of us don’t have a big budget to work with. When we go shopping, most of the groceries we can buy is full of plastic, I mean from the outside. So we were trying to figure out something that would enable students to still get those ingredients from grocery shops that are not working with package, for example, you can use your jars, but without traveling across the whole cities because there aren’t many possibilities to buy these groceries. So that’s why we were thinking about coming up with a delivery system idea.  

CAHILL

Tell me a little bit more about the delivery. You talked about some of the constraints and some of the challenges. What was the biggest… Usually resources are the biggest challenge, right? You’re always trying to make sure resources were in place and people had everything they needed. How did that come into play?

CSORBA

Yes, I think the biggest challenge was that we had an idea but it was really in the initial stage. And when we had the regionals last year, we were still in the thinking process and we didn’t really have the full, developed idea. And we felt like at that stage we should have been in a more developed place where we could actually show the results, but we didn’t have that. So at that time we didn’t even have many team members, which was a great problem because of course a project like this requires many, many team members, usually, at least we thought that at the beginning.

CAHILL

Gavin, how did you feel your involvement in the project influenced or contributed to the team’s result?

HENDERSON

My key role was as a business advisor and for that I was looking to give guidance on projects, project management, and the overall management and I was... in this role, I was acting as a coach and a mentor looking to provide ideas for consideration of the team. And I felt that, basically identified that agile project management was a potential opportunity for the Queen Mary Enactus Team where they were at the early stage of their projects, where they could really take more of an iterative approach and try to have more of a quick feedback loop to develop the ideas. It was very much in a sort of evolutionary phase, I would say.

CAHILL

So from your background you knew there were different ways of working that would come into play here and this was the best fit for what they needed. That’s pretty cool.

HENDERSON

Yeah. So at the end of the day, I would present ideas but it was for the team to decide whether they felt any of these ideas were of interest to them. And actually when I presented the agile concept to them last December I think it was, I had no idea of the impact of that presentation in the future and the direction of the team following that.

CAHILL

That’s great, we’re going to get into more of this. So let me ask Lili, because we are really keen here with our Knowledge Initiative to talk about knowledge and the importance of knowledge and managing the assets of knowledge, so what are some of the key gaps in knowledge that you and your team identified, that were in the way for your ultimate success?

CSORBA

I think the roots of this gap were in the team management. Because actually in May when we tried to close the year and prepare for the next year there were only three of us in the whole team. And then in May, we started to look at the potential issues that might arise in September including, for example, virtual meetings and lack of members, difficulties in recruitment. 

So we tried to find a way to overcome these issues because, for example, last year, when we started the whole year, our plan was laid out at the beginning of the year. It was a more traditional approach. So we knew in September that yes, we want to achieve this, for example, in April, in March, and we knew everything. But this case and situation that we only had three members and we didn’t really know what to expect and we didn’t know how we should go forward with our existing projects or we should come up with new ones, we actually went back to get training we got from Gavin that time. 

Because we felt like agile management in this case would be actually a perfect fit, even if it’s not strictly one project but it’s more like the project of how to manage a team. And it was actually a really good fit because this approach enabled us to constantly review our process, then we can get more members and then adjust our team approach to a bigger team. And when we have new regulations, we can also adjust our approach to these regulations. 

CAHILL

What did you know about project management just in general before all this started? You did some traditional project management and then realized that agile was a better approach for what you were doing. I want to know how it felt in terms of your level of knowledge along the way and how it felt, that learning process?

CSORBA

I was actually a volunteer since I was 15, and since that age I always use traditional project management. Because in my volunteer position, I also was responsible for mainly projects. And I always heard that yes, this is what we usually do, that we plan everything in advance and we just follow those rules. 

While it was successful in a way, it was not a good fit in this case. And also last year we struggled several times with recruitment and fitting those projects for the members. So when we heard about this training and we heard about the approach, it was like a lightbulb lighting up in our head. And it was very surprising because we didn’t really know that this was something that could work.

CAHILL

It’s amazing when you learn a new concept and it makes sense and it clicks and it applies directly to what you’re doing. It is a great feeling. Gavin, let me ask you, just share with the audience your background in project management and agile, and then share with us the role in detail as a coach, what you did day to day or week to week with the team.

HENDERSON

I actually commenced my career working for software startups and that’s where I first experience agile working practices. I think that’s actually where agile grew, from the software teams.

CAHILL

Yeah, I think you were telling me earlier, it’s the early days of agile, for sure.

HENDERSON

Relatively, maybe... it was back in 2003 that I first experienced it. Yeah, for me it was an eye-opening experience as well. It helped to break down silos between the teams within the organization as they took ownership of the solution as well. They had the cross-functional resources and they were working together rather than working on things and passing it over the fence and then maybe disagreements, misalignments in requirements and scoping and development and testing.

So, when I saw how that could work, yes, it was really good. And since then I have transitioned a number of teams to agile where it’s the appropriate way to move. I actually personally identified project management as an area of interest myself back in 2007 and that was when I had my first role as project manager. I wanted to use this to take my career forward and so I studied and worked in three different continents and concluded taking a role as a project management consultant, delivering e-health products for big pharma clients in Switzerland. 

And it was actually right at the start of that... So I had been working as a project manager but I had never had any formal training or experience, or only just, I think, a half-day session through one of my employers and I was looking out there to try and identify the appropriate training for me and certification. And that’s where I picked up on the PMI, the Project Management Institute. And then, as I mentioned earlier, acquired my Project Management Professional certification and it has put me in great stead, to be honest.

CAHILL

Yes, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t do some project managing, right? It’s just a pervasive skill, for sure.

HENDERSON

And I think you were asking as well a bit about my role as a coach within the team. So I suppose it’s similar to what I was saying above, it was to a degree identifying where I felt I could bring additional value to them, and there were two years were I was heavily engaged, I would say, with the Queen Mary. And of the three years I think the first year there wasn’t much happening with Queen Mary and then there was a new president who took over the club and he started to get things driving.

In the second year, I had a bit of a better understanding of where they were. We had the opportunity to have more meetings and felt that that was the time when I could give a bit more guidance and help to try and structure things a bit better for them. And that’s when I identified the opportunity with the agile.

CAHILL

So can you think at a time... like when you’re coaching young university students, was there maybe one or two examples where you were like, what you were teaching them had tremendous impact and it surprised you, you were like, wow, this thing really worked and it worked fast?

HENDERSON

So the best example we have of that is actually the adoption of agile. I actually didn’t know about that until, about how it had been taken up, until a couple of months ago. And I think it’s because they were working on that more in the summertime last year and potentially a bit over the summer as well to get themselves really ready for this year as a springboard for what they’re looking to do now.

CAHILL

Other times I saw similarities with concepts. I remember giving some insight into design thinking to the team. 

Can you think of a time when you gave them advice and you wish they had followed it? Maybe you had to go back to them on something?

HENDERSON

A couple of times I suggested could we meet earlier in the term. So the business advisor meetings, the first one would normally be November. They actually have quite a short window to work on these projects. So that is certainly one aspect which I brought to their attention a couple of times, as well as an opportunity for, rather than the bigger meetings that we were having, perhaps more regular, shorter interactions. And this could align with iterative feedback loops there, sprint reviews or sprint retrospectives if they decide to take that approach for the projects as well. And given the way things have changed in the world in the last year, perhaps the opportunity for more virtual meetings rather than the need to go there physically. 

CAHILL

So what lessons learned, like personal lessons learned, would you share with other project leaders who are acting as a coach and further, not just as a coach but as a volunteer?

HENDERSON

Fundamentally understanding the context of the stakeholders and the challenges that they face. So actually, the first point that I mentioned above about my suggestion, could the business advisors meet with the team earlier in the term, I realize now that that actually wouldn’t work, and the reason is that the team need to get themselves organized at the start, they need to focus on recruiting the new members during refresher fairs and otherwise working out the team’s and the project’s configuration.

CAHILL

So a question for both of you - which agile principles did the team practice, what were the most important ones? What worked in that regard and then which things didn’t work?

CSORBA

In the team we are still experiencing this approach because we just started to adapt. So, for example, we can already see that there was a huge growth within the team members. So we started with three members in September with the plan, and then currently we have 15 and still getting applications to join the team. So we can already see how it worked, certain aspects, and now we are starting to go to a new field within agile management so we can adapt properly.

HENDERSON

That’s really interesting. And congratulations, by the way, on those numbers. I guess on my side, I probably need to understand a bit better where the teams are in their practices. I know that they have already asked could I give them another presentation and of course there’s new team members who wouldn’t have seen this so it would give them a foundation. 

I think for me one of the key things is going to be the team taking the ownership, the team deciding which practices are going to work for them. And the sprint retrospective would drive that where they look at which practices are working well and what they want to try to change, what they need to improve in current iterations. So it’s not just focusing on the project but there is also some effort put to thinking about how they could improve the delivery and the velocity of their output.

CAHILL

Let’s talk about results or the outcomes and the impact and just get some insight from you. Lili, from both the team perspective and for you personally, what has been the most rewarding part of the project?

CSORBA

I think at this point, it’s great to see that these all new members, they are picking up the mentality of Enactus really quickly and thinking about what they want to improve in the world but also combining this with their own passion. I just started as a co-president this year so I am trying to now focus on the team members’ perspective and seeing that change especially with new members. 

We are a student body but still students wanting to do something and becoming leaders in the future. I think it’s really rewarding. And from the project management side, many of them are not from business schools, they are in medical, biology or artistic courses. But it is still a different perspective and they all still can use these new skills that they pick up along the way.

CAHILL

Yeah because everybody needs to get things done, right, regardless of what your major is in school, your career? So yes, these skills are transferrable across many different disciplines. So Gavin, as the coach, did you encounter any major “a-ha”s during the journey, whether that’s personal or professional or otherwise?

HENDERSON

When I realized it was not practical or appropriate to meet with the Enactus team right at the start of their academic year, that was really useful for me. It was about... You know, it’s easy to talk about putting yourself into someone else’s shoes or looking at things from someone else’s perspective but the reality can be very different.

CAHILL

Just to bring the conversation back to Enactus and the mission of Enactus, I’d like to focus on Enactus and how its role in supporting social initiatives appealed to you, Lili. So from a student perspective, you had lots of activities going on, very busy, classes… Why did the Enactus value proposition speak to you? What about it is making you say yes, I’m going to spend my time, I’m going to volunteer? Tell me, Lili, about that from the beginning of it and all the way through today, how has the promise of Enactus come true for you?

CSORBA

I think it is very important especially at the beginning of the university life. The majority of students are still trying to find their way and their goals and their passion. I knew I wanted to do something with project management because of my previous experiences in another NGO but at the same time I started to study biology. So I wanted to combine these in a way that could help with my professional goals. And Enactus really provided me a huge support network. And within the team, everyone is trying to focus on one big thing, which is creating an impact. 

And the other main part that really got me in Enactus was that it’s a place where you can find like-minded people who don’t just want to focus on their study, but at the same time also want to create something bigger while they are working with the team, collaborating with other teams, advisors, and creating a huge collaboration at the end, which is really powerful.

CAHILL

Yeah, the community aspects of it, it’s there, right? And everybody has that common purpose and it really does bind together individuals that are in it and thinking about being in it, and then you’re going from one project to the next, for sure. But I can tell you this, being a volunteer myself for many, many years, it is a big challenge as I was saying, and an organization like Enactus has to face that challenge. So I’ll ask Gavin, how did Enactus provide support, knowing all of the great things about volunteering and some of the more challenging things about getting people’s time?

HENDERSON

I guess as I touched on before... So I had the opportunity to participate in the regional judging and the national judging beforehand and this was really good for me. That was my first experience of it and I performed some training for that, read up on the materials, understood the needs assessment and how the projects should be evaluated. And if you understand the end goal then that is obviously very good to understand what you are trying to ultimately achieve in helping to guide the teams.

The other guidance which is there, is actually similar, well, sort of parallel to what Lili was talking about, and this is the like-minded individuals. Because I’m not the only business advisor. Each of the colleges and universities, each of the teams, have multiple business advisors from different backgrounds who bring different perspectives, and we are all working together and we’re working with the teams and we are brainstorming in the sessions and putting forward ideas. Yes, we are challenging some things as well, of course, and encouraging them to think about, well, myself, different project management aspects such as the human resource management, the communication, the stakeholders, the risks, but we are really working together and getting different perspectives.

CAHILL

So let me ask you both as we close out here what message or what additional message do you want to share with the PMI community about why members and others that are listening should engage with Enactus?

CSORBA

I think it is really inspiring to see that, while these students have their responsibility towards their studies, they also have the power and the passion and inspiration to create something bigger and while they are growing as a leader simultaneously. I think these students are often really talented and purpose driven and at the same time eager to learn, and with this background they can create innovative solutions. But of course while it is great to see, we also need that guidance in the meantime to make sure that our ideas can come true.

CAHILL

Excellent. How about you, Gavin?

HENDERSON

Yes, so throughout my years as a member of PMI, as I have already said, I have held numerous volunteer roles and the PMI Enactus business advisor role has certainly been one of the most rewarding for me, the opportunity to attend the events, to work with the teams on these social entrepreneurship projects is... it is just tremendous, to be honest. 

And when I look back at the time for me, learning about how the team took to the agile project management from a seed that I planted during just a one-hour session at the end of last year, is incredible, right? And I’m really looking forward to helping support them in the coming year as they develop these projects and helping them to adapt to overcome any future challenges.

CAHILL

I tell you, when you look at what Enactus does and what PMI does, you look at it at the individual project level that we’re talking about, and then you multiply it by the millions of people that are involved each year, and then you multiply it by the years and then you grow it over years, you have tremendous impact. 

And PMI, we are engaging and we’re starting on a journey of a new... what we call 4.0, PMI 4.0 strategy, it’s heavily, heavily engaging in social good activities. So we are intending to work with companies like Enactus groups, like Enactus and others, to really leverage our worldwide impact in social good through projects and through youth. 

So I am very excited to hear what you guys are doing. This is just one of many, many, many stories that we’re going to be telling as PMI in the upcoming months, years and decades, if you will. So stay tuned and thank you both for your volunteerism and all the impact that you’ve made. Lili Csorba and Gavin Henderson, thank you again, take care.