Q1: You’ve been involved in many major capital projects. Do you ever get to start a project, enjoy the ups and downs, and see it come into operation?
Some years ago, I was Project Manager of the Systems partner, in a JV (Joint venture) that was awarded a contract for the expansion of Dublin’s light rail system, the LUAS. Our scope included everything related to electrification, tram signaling, and telecommunication works. I was lucky enough to have been involved in this project since its inception (the commercial offer) up to full commissioning and start of operation.
This project brought me from Portugal to Ireland back in 2006, and I combined the responsibilities of Project Manager with those of Country Manager. This meant I was responsible for setting up the company’s local subsidiary and responsible for delivering the project.
I retained the solicitors and accountants, opened bank accounts, rented an office, and, above all, recruited and set up the team who would work with me in the delivery of the project. It was very hectic but very exciting.
The early days of the project were focused mostly on the definition process, planning, and preparing for delivery. I remember how challenging (but also how rewarding) all tasks associated with (local) stakeholder management and setting up the governance and assurance framework were. The work developed during those early days set the foundations for what would be a very successful project.
Q2: Working in the Rail industry, safety is a top priority. Do you think this has an impact on the way projects are designed and executed?
Safety is the top priority on any rail project. I’d say that safety has much more than an impact on the way projects are designed; the best analogy I can find is that safety is the canvas on which all rail projects are designed.
When I think about the “iron triangle” (scope, schedule, and cost) I cannot consider safety together with the other three dimensions of project management. The dimensions of the “iron triangle” are all seen as variables: it is possible to accelerate delivery without changing the scope if you are prepared to pay more. Similarly, if you want to accelerate delivery without incurring more cost, you can reduce the scope. You can play with the variables without ever changing the area of the triangle.
However, you cannot do that with safety! Safety requirements are hierarchically above all other components in rail projects, therefore, safety is not a dimension that can vary. It is an environment within which you develop your entire project that spans the full extent of the project lifecycle: safe construction, safe operation, safe maintenance, and safe decommissioning.
Q3: You are a great supporter of Praxis Framework and have worked with several international PM approaches, what do you find so appealing about Praxis Framework?
The Praxis Framework helps organizations improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their project delivery by increasing  individual performance,  team effectiveness, and  organizational capability maturity.
In other words, by “acting” on these three dimensions (individual, team, and organization), the Praxis Framework increases the effectiveness and efficiency of project delivery, the combination of which, improves strategy execution.
Unlike any other framework I’ve tested, the Praxis Framework comprises a  Body of Knowledge, a  Method, a  Competency Framework, a  Capability Maturity Model, and an  Encyclopaedia of techniques and models.
Finally, there is the customization allowed by Praxis Local, a dynamic PowerPoint-based document that summarises the contents of the framework and provides links to the detail contained on the website. Praxis Local can be adapted and expanded with additional, organization-specific content either within the PowerPoint file or via links to organization assets.
Q4: You are working on some Organizational change initiatives; how do you blend the Change Management principles and Project Management principles? Do you have a hybrid approach?
According to Albert Einstein, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, is the definition of insanity.
When facing projects of dimension, complexity and impact never faced before, people and organizations must prepare and adapt. In organizations where some past projects have failed, it is mandatory to reset mindsets and behaviors and start from scratch.
In change initiatives, organizations create or adjust processes and people must be born again. Change of processes “per se” will not produce the desired outcome if people are not willing to go through the behavioral transformation.
Don’t give me that comment “project managers only deliver, therefore they are not responsible for change”. It is very important to accept that there is change within change. If we want more effective and efficient delivery of projects and more effective and efficient strategy execution, people need to embrace this vision. They need to accept the challenge and commit to the transformation process required to deliver the change (in the way we deliver projects and execute strategies).
Q5: What are three things you’ve learned that you wish you’d learned earlier in your career?
- How Project Management is so intertwined with Change Management, and that you cannot have the former without the latter.
- There are no bad projects, just bad business cases.
- I would have liked to know that the main critical success factor of a project is a good Sponsor.
Q6: Thinking of the great sponsors you have worked with, what set them apart from the rest?
The best project Sponsors are those that started their careers as team members of small projects and worked their way up the ladder until they got a seat at the organization’s strategy table.
Sponsors must excel in people management, be very supportive, and be the main protective shield of their project/program team. Teams that feel from day one they are utterly protected by their sponsor, increase their loyalty and delivery performance. Sponsors should take the heat in liaising with the most complex stakeholders, those that are typically a hard nut to crack. This will release the pressure from the project manager and their team, who can then focus on a better delivery.
Finally, Sponsors must master the “art of phases and gateways”. Whether with incremental delivery, iterative delivery, or a combination of both (hybrid models), projects must be stress-tested before being authorized to spend money and use resources on the next phase. This stress-test exercise is a permanent dance around benefits realization and business cases. Clarity on the objectives of the following phase, the path, cost, and resources needed to get there, and the performance metrics to measure effectiveness and efficiency of execution, are vital.