Project Management Institute

IBM PM Center of Excellence — Staying Relevant

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectfied with PMI, we'll help you stay ahead of the trends, as we talk about what that means for the industry and for everyone involved.

Stephen W Maye

I'm Stephen W Maye for Projectified with PMI. For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music and PMI.org/podcast. I'm here with Jim Boland, he's our guest today. Jim is the head of IBM's Project Management Centre of Excellence. IBM has set some sort of a record, I think, with a 20th anniversary not long ago of the IBM Centre of Excellence, they've learned a lot along the way and Jim has agreed to sit down with us and give us an insight into that experience, into that learning, into what they're doing now and where they're going. And we're excited to be talking to him. Jim, it's great to have you, thank you for being here.

Jim Boland

Thank you, Stephen, and good morning and thank you for getting up so early to suit my timezone over here in Ireland. I'm glad to be here.

Stephen W Maye

Happy to do it. I couldn't think of a better reason to be up early, so it's great to be talking with you.

Jim Boland

Thank you.

Stephen W Maye

So, listen, I want to jump right in. Give me a sense of the mission, the goals, the objectives, of the PMCOE. So why does it exist?

Jim Boland

Yeah, I suppose, let me go back a minute in time, you mention at the start about our 20th anniversary, well, we were actually founded in 1997, so we've actually gone over the 21 years now, which is scary how time passes so quickly. But back then, we were very much thought of as a hardware and services company, things like, for example, the Internet was only in its infancy, the WiFi network standard was only introduced in that year, so a lot has changed over those 21 years, but the organisation was set up, to move IBM into very much a project based enterprise, so it was very much around trying to enshrine project management disciplines into the fabric of everything we did within IBM, both internally and of course, with our customers. So that was the initial mission. So as time has gone on, we're doing things, for example, like we're responsible for setting the standards around project management methodology and processes, etc. we're responsible for the skills, the education, the career progression across our project management community and our tooling and methods are set as well. So the centre of excellence is broad in its remit, everything from the community and skills, through to the methodology and the tooling.

Stephen W Maye

That's fantastic, so you've got a fairly broad charge there. Do you also house the project managers, in a sense, do the project managers belong to the centre of excellence?

Jim Boland

No, the project managers, and in fact, the way I look at IBM, everybody's a project manager, right, so we probably have certified project managers, we have close to 40,000 certified project managers within IBM, but if you look across our workforce of 350,000 plus, I regard everybody as a project manager, so no matter what you do and for example, this week, I'm planning, myself and my wife are planning our daughter's first Holy Communion and we're operating that like a project, organising caterers, bouncy castles, etc., so everything we do involves project management discipline. So no, the project managers don't report directly into the PMCOE, they record into their individual business units and brands. So if you think of IBM today, where, traditionally it was a hardware and software company, we're now very much into cognitive solutions, cloud platform, of course, of outsourcing services, brand is probably still our biggest brand. So the project managers report into those brands, but they come to us and those brands come to us as well, in relation to, and we're responsible for the skills definition for the education. We all use a common methodology, common set of tooling. When it comes to, for example, that we rolled out last year, around the digital credentials, digital badging, etc., we're responsible for all of that. So it's very much around the profession is where our responsibility is.

Stephen W Maye

Is that responsibility for projects purely within IBM's four walls, or does that bleed across both within your four walls and out into all of your client work as well?

Jim Boland

It's very much the full remit, it's both internal and external projects. So for example, I could get a phone call as I quite often do, from a client facing team and they're looking for example, to roll out a new methodology, or one of our clients has come looking to us for help, to mature some of their own project management disciplines and again, we get involved and help those engagements as well, but it's both, it's projects executing internally and externally.

Stephen W Maye

You said a moment ago, tell me again how many IBM project managers do you support in some way?

Jim Boland

So, I would say we have 40,000 certified project managers, close to 40,000 certified, but as I said, we support 350,000 IBM-ers.

Stephen W Maye

That's amazing. So you very specifically refer to this as the PMCOE and so, I know people are wondering, is that the same thing as a PMO, how is that different from a PMO, why don't you call it a PMO? So, what for you, is the distinction, why a COE, versus a PMO, is it the same, how is it different, how do you define that at IBM?

Jim Boland

Yes, we're most definitely not a PMO, now the PMOs that exist within IBM would also be customers of ours, so again, they would come to us, if they want to establish. So let's say we sign a new engagement with a customer, large IBM serves as the involving IT infrastructure together with applications or cloud or cognitive etc. and we might set up a PMO within that account team that could have 15, 20, 50 project managers. We would help those PMOs set good in place the foundations for them to be successful, so what are the methods, what are the tools, what are the costs, what are the disciplines that they need to put in place. So, we would help to establish those PMOs, but we're not directly responsible for assigning project managers to a project, we're not directly responsible for the PNL, we provide the tools and the discipline, the training, but we're not directly responsible for them. So if I look at a PMO, we have, you know, dozens of PMOs, very large PMOs, we would have shared services PMOs, for example, where we would offer shared services to smaller project teams across the globe and we would have then dedicated account facing PMOs for those large engagements, but as I said, within the centre of excellence, it's around the skills, it's around the methodology, the disciplines around the tooling, the processes etc. and making sure that our project managers are qualified from the very top of the tree, what I call their pyramid, those very large complex deals where we're running very large programmes of work, or we're running first of a kind projects, right, we need to make sure that those, the creme de la creme of our complex project and programme managers have the skills and the expertise and the assistance to be successful, all the way down to, for example, our associate project managers, who may be relatively new to the profession. Again validating, making sure that they are developed in their skills and their experience as they climb that ladder. So that's how, I'm not sure if that's clear or not, but that's how I would differentiate our role, from the role of a PMO.

Stephen W Maye

That's very helpful. I want to take a step back for just a moment, so you talked a little about the PMCOE really being born out of a need for transformation, so born at a time when IBM was really redefining its focus, redefining itself in some significant ways. Well, you have succeeded through that transformation, so how does that change the focus or the charter of the PMCOE now? So, if you go back 21 years, then the focus really was to enable transformation, so how is that different today?

Jim Boland

Yes, I think back 21 years ago, when as we were transforming and operating at scale, there was a lot of time and investment put in place to develop, I would call large industrialised methods and tooling, that would be able to scale to the size of IBM and to the volume of projects we're doing. I think now, the challenge is more around pace and is more around the rate of change that's happening in the marketplace. So I think one of our biggest challenges now is that perhaps 21 years ago, when we might have said, look, it's gonna take 18 months to develop a methodology, a common methodology, instead of process and work practices that we can roll out across all IBM. Now, we need to do something similar in a matter of weeks, or at the most months. So we're adopting much of an agile type way of working, we're moving from a transformation phase into an acceleration phase. So we are, the biggest challenge I see is that we have to change with the organisation and of course, with the world and how do we stay relevant? So the solutions of 21 years ago, some of them are absolutely still relevant today. So if you were running a project and you need help on how to manage stakeholders or financial planning, or scope, etc., of course, those work practices, they still remain relevant, but we need to build in much more agile ways of working. We need to enable our project managers who are entering the marketplace today, how do we make them successful, so how do we give them, and sometimes it's instead of selling them for example, historically you could say, let's take all our project managers and put them on a five day classroom course, that's just one example around education. Now you deliver that in 15, 30 minute soundbites. At the same time and parallel to continually helping them to learn and to develop and improve, but I think it's the rate and pace of change and then, of course, IBM is front and centre in this new world of digital transformation and digital disruption. Again, some of the projects we're working on today, our project managers are change agents, so they're in front of the customer and they're trying to help the customer understand their own journeys, so quite often customers are coming to us and saying, look, we need to adopt, we need to change, we need to very much bring new offerings to our customers and they're looking to IBM for help, of course and quite often, the project managers are there at the forefront and they're helping design those solutions, so they're being those change agents as well. So it's trying to balance in today's world, it's trying to balance and get the right balance between some of the traditional skills and expertise with what I call the new learnings and the new age skills, etc. So, and doing that at a pace that is very different to what it was 20 years ago.

Stephen W Maye

Yes, and dramatically so. I mean, you're talking about the example you gave of taking something that 21 years ago, you would have given yourself 12 or 8 months to accomplish and now you're saying, you're measuring in weeks, I mean, that's just dramatic, you know, dramatic change.

Jim Boland

Yes, it sure is and we need to bring the tools and the techniques and the work practices, we need to enable our project managers to succeed in that everyone and I think that's one of our biggest challenges. If I give you another one of the other things we're grappling with in IBM and I think in society at large, particularly in the more mature markets, so the likes of North America and Europe and Japan and a place like that, we're losing a lot of experience, so you have a lot of people who are coming to retirement age in the project management profession, who have 30, 40 years' experience. How do we make project management sexy? How do we make it cool and relevant to b who's leaving college today, who's 21 and wants to get into digital design, or IX or cloud or cognitive? How do we help them to, A, make project management successful, but even if they want to dedicate their careers to project management, they will still be able to manage projects. So we still need to develop their skills and learnings, etc. So I think part of the challenge we have is that if we fail, I think at some stage in the future is where it would actually come home to roost and that's the challenge, I think, we always have, is that tomorrow, or Monday or Tuesday, the company and the organisation will continue to work, but in five years' time, or ten years' time, when you look at some of the percentages of retirement age of our most experienced people, together with the challenges we have about attracting new entrants in the marketplace, to me it would turn into a ticking time bomb and so I think it's more of, you know, and the great thing about IBM and the senior executives in the organisation, they recognise that, so even though my success factors and my time frames are not measure in days, they're measure in months and years, it's great that that the organisation has the foresight to actually look that far ahead and make sure we avoid that Armageddon.

Stephen W Maye

What are the red flags, when you're working on something that is long view, then what tells you in the near term that you need to course correct, or you need to catch something, or something's not going as you intended?

Jim Boland

Yes, I think you need to sense check pretty frequently right, and there's balance and counterbalance, so we would have a number of different professions that operate within the IBM corporation and one of those, for example, would be the agile academy and quite often I look at the agile academy and it's a little bit of ying and yang going on, where they continually challenge and say, we need to do things faster, we need to do things quicker. What I do is go across those different academies and professions and try and go out and talk to the executives across the different brands and ensure that are we continuing to remain relevant. For example, our certification levels, are we actually making the profession attractive for people to enter? Are we actually making it attractive and incentivising people to actually invest in their careers, to learn the tooling, to adopt the methods and practices? Are we seeing a drop off in the structures around the tooling and the practices, etc? So you continually measure and monitor and it is about that relevancy, are the tools we use, are the methods and practices, is there something cooler and newer and fresher in the marketplace that we're seeing people migrate to? How do we arrest that before it gets too late? It's not about stopping people, it's about making sure that we offer the best products, the best methodologies, that the certification is attractive for people, that people see value in what we're doing. A lot of that, you just do by continually sense checking across the organisation.

Stephen W Maye

So, you mentioned certification a couple of times, do you use external certifications, or do you purely certify internally?

Jim Boland

So it's a combination of both, so of course, we recognise and promote, for example, the PMI certifications and also there are other certifications that are relevant in particular geographies that we promote, like Prince 2 in Europe, for example, is quite popular, but we have our own IBM certification programme, so we rolled out digital badging, digital credentials, back at the tail end of 2016. We have, as I said, close to 40,000 certified project managers today, it's across four different levels, so we have associate, advisory, senior and executive and we have a very structured process in place that validates folks' experience, education skills, etc. So we run our own entire profession and in fact, as soon as about four or five months ago, we go an approach from Northeastern University in the US, they've recognised the great work we've done and they've now brought that into some of their degree masters programmes and degree courses, where, if you have an IBM project management certification, it goes towards advanced credits, advanced learning credits on some of those degree courses. So the digital credentials has been a great way for us to advertise externally, the power and the experience and the skills of our project management community.

Stephen W Maye

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so has the IBM PMCOE been copied, are other people taking this model and applying it?

Jim Boland

I do think a lot of what we're doing, companies are looking at it. If you look at, for example, some of our education programmes and you look at some of the work we're doing with universities, they are beginning to look and see how can they adopt it, they're recognising it. I think the work the IBM Corporation is doing around, traditionally we would have talked about blue collar and white collar, we now talk about new collar, where we're rolling out education programmes at the high school level and we're helping folks in the high school get ready for tomorrow's world. So I do think we're at the forefront of a lot of getting ready for that digital transformation that we're living in.

Stephen W Maye

You talked earlier about the need to make project management sexy, to keep the pipeline healthy, to ensure that you have people coming through and coming up and advancing their skills for a variety of reasons and part of that you were talking about an aging population that is perhaps retiring out of the profession and so forth. Are you finding it to be a challenge? So is it a greater challenge now, to attract strong talent into a project management pat, or are you finding that's getting easier, is that relatively flat? What are you experiencing in terms of that mission of making it sexy and attractive and bringing strong talent into that stream?

Jim Boland

Yes, I think we need to, with the people entering the workforce today, we need to look at it differently, and we need to come up with new thinking. So if you look at a linear career path, where you join a company in a particular role and you invest in your career over 20 years, that day is gone, so what we need to is we need to make it interesting and attractive for people entering the workforce today. IBM as a corporation is very good at doing this. For example, I can look at myself in the mirror and I've gone through this, where the role you might start doing is very different to the role you're going to end up doing in three or four years. So what you want to do, that linear part, I think is nearly over and if you look at an analogy, like if you look at something like Google Maps and you want to get from A to B. B, there are many different routes you can get there. So you don't have to say, well, here's my career path and it's mapped out and I see where I'm going for the next ten, 15 years, we need to give people the opportunity to move around, gain different experiences. We need to make sure they're learning those life skills, those business skills, those project management skills as they move around. So I see my remit, not just focus on bringing people into project management profession and keeping them there, my remit is how do I ensure that everybody entering IBM gets those project management skills and disciplines. Then in five or ten years, you're hoping and you're seeing that many of those folks say, well, you know what, I've tried this and I've tried that, I love project, management, I think I've gained the skills I want to invest, so I can now move around the different brands, but my career is in project management. So I'm looking in as much as giving people the skills and the expertise and recognising those, even if they don't call themselves a project manager today. So it's a slightly different way of thinking of it and a less linear approach.

Stephen W Maye

Is there anything shifting in what you're looking for in that talent pool, has the profile changed?

Jim Boland

Yes, Stephen, I think what our project managers today need to have a much broader set of skills than the traditional project management skills of, for example, managing scope, managing budget, managing resources. Quite often and quite frequently, our project managers are now front and centre of the customer and they're talking across multiple different customer organisations, so they could be going in and they'd be talking with the marketing department, with the finance department, with the IT department, they have need to have skills in industry domains, so they need to be very comfortable talking about the financial sector and about banking, insurance, the healthcare sector, etc. Also, they need to be very comfortable in technologies as well and understanding what are the IBM offerings and how the IBM offerings can differentiate themselves in a customer environment. So that much more consultant type approach, much more change agent. So it's a much broader set of skills. Of course, we need to make sure those project managers continue to have those project management skills and techniques in their kit bag that they can take out and use, so they still need to be able manage scope, manage the finance and budget, but they need to be much more comfortable in a broader environment, broader context and be that trusted advisor and that change agent in front of the customer.

Stephen W Maye

That's a high bar, I mean, you're describing a very rich, deep skill set and experience set and even ways of thinking, that's a very high bar that you're describing.

Jim Boland

Yes, it is, it is definitely a high bar and I think a challenge that we have is in a world that's moving so fast and where our customers are looking for that, looking for that expertise, looking for everybody to have a point of view and an opinion, one of the challenges to counteract that, or to help bring that balance, is for those people entering the workforce, we need to continue to provide a safe environment and give them the space and time to learn those skills and not expose them to something that they will drown in. I think that's a challenge that we have, not just my challenge or IBM's challenge, but I think it's a much broader challenge, where everything is going so fast now and our customers need solutions tomorrow. They need their partners, such as IBM to be very clear in their point of view and help them on that journey. At the same time, we need to provide a safe environment to give those people an opportunity to learn those skills and get comfortable in those environments and I think that's a challenge everyone has.

Stephen W Maye

Yes, so it's really cultivating a very professional culture, to put one label on it anyway. What do you see as the role of the PMCOE in culture? Obviously, you have the opportunity to touch, to influence so many people, you talked about 40,000 certified project managers and then 300 plus thousand others that you serve at large, what is the role of the PMCOE in either developing or facilitating or even just to reinforce significant cultural aspects of what you're looking for in that community?

Jim Boland

Yes, I think we play a key role, because we're very active with our community members and our community members are very active. A number of years ago, IBM on their reexamination of their values and that was the first reexamination in 100 years and what I thought was a pretty cool thing to do, they created a jam over a 72 hour window, where they asked everyone of the IBM-ers across the globe to come together and define the values of the company, so it was IBM-ers buying into the values and buying into the culture and the corporation listened to that feedback over those 72 hours and they created a set of values and they created a set of practises. Those values and practices are now enshrined in the organisation. So when I look at those and there's nine practices and I look at those, they're still very relevant to today's world and we within the PMCOE, the good job was our work was done through that jam and through that redefinition, but our job is to reinforce it, make sure people don't forget, make sure that we continually drive our culture and because the IBM-ers themselves defined it, we find that they're brought into it. So one of the nine practices that I quite like and is near and dear to my heart is, unite to get it done now. So when you think of the two words, unite and now, that's very much around, okay, guys, we're all busy doing out own things and we're all maybe operating in individual silos our own priorities, somebody needs help, how do we get together, how do we get it done and get it done now, showing personal interest, dare to create original ideas, so on and so forth. So I use every opportunity to reinforce those practices and the culture that has arisen as a result of the values and practices that we deployed.

Stephen W Maye

I think that's brilliant and interesting that you can do that across such a large and diverse company. So going very tactical for a moment, what's next in the way you see the PMCOE continuing to fulfil its mission, so how will things change at a tactical level, how will you do things differently? You've talked about some of the shifts that have taken place over the 21 years, where you said, years ago, you immersed people in multi day face to face training and now you need to be able to accomplish the same things through 15, 30 minute segments, what else is going to continue to shift as you look into the near future?

Jim Boland

Yes, I think that's definitely one aspect, another aspect is around our agility, so we're on a journey and I'm very much, and this is the personal Jim Boland view, that some of the traditional waterfall methods of delivering projects, they're not going to go away, because we're talking to our customers and quite often, our customers are saying, I have a fixed budget, I need to get this done at this time, so we can't lose that set of skills and disciplines that have served us so well, but we are operating in this agile environment at the same time. So how do we balance some of the traditional ways of working with agile and with agility and things like, for example, all of our project managers now, in order to get certified, they all have to first get certified in design thinking, so that in itself, might sound like a small change, but that's pretty fundamental, so we're saying, you as a project manager needs to be able to demonstrate that you understand the design thinking concepts, you can run a design thinking workshop with our customer, so adopting agile of course as well, but adopting some of these new techniques and bringing them into the profession and forcing our project managers to think differently, to learn new skills, on top of their project management skills. So that idea of the agility, design thinking, all these new skills is a key change as well and that's a journey we're on. Then I think the third aspect, which goes back to an earlier conversation that we had was around, people entering the workforce today, who may put their hands up and say, you know what? I don't want to be a project manager and what I'll be saying is, that's fine, if you want to be a designer, software developer, architect, we will still develop your project management skills and techniques, we will continue to bring those offerings to you, you will need them. Then, at stage in the future, those people will turn around and say, you know what? Of all the jobs I've enjoyed over the last five years, this is the piece I enjoyed most, running a project and that'll be job well done for me.

Stephen W Maye

One final question before we take off. So if someone is that 23 year old and they're thinking that they have an interest in project management, what is your single best piece of advice to him or her?

Jim Boland

I would say, be comfortable with change, so understand who to manage change, both you personally and within your environment, find a really good mentor, so find somebody who has been there, done that and help support you and then start building out your toolkit, start making sure you have the right tools and techniques and tips and tricks to help you be successful, or at least, to help you waffle through your first project, like I did.

Stephen W Maye

Fantastic. So, get comfortable with change, find a great mentor and develop the skills, including your waffle skills and with that, Jim Boland gets the last word. Jim, thank you so much, it's been a pleasure talking with you.

Jim Boland

My pleasure, Stephen, thank you.

Stephen W Maye

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