Webinar recap: Upscale your business by upskilling ‘accidental project managers’

upskilling project managers

Annie Sheehan, ANZ head of Project Management Institute (PMI); Ariel Achtman, project manager at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI); and John Khoury, executive of delivery at Telstra Purple.

Every organisation has one. A project manager. That person who coordinates the different elements of a project, consistently helping to create better outcomes for businesses, communities and society. 

These project-management skills are invaluable at work (and at home). And, as a business owner, one of the smartest things you can do is help your changemakers take their talents to the next level. 

In a recent webinar, SmartCompany spoke with Ariel Achtman, project manager at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI), John Khoury, executive of delivery at Telstra Purple, and Annie Sheehan, ANZ head of Project Management Institute (PMI). 

The goal was to give SMEs a new perspective on project management, how to do it better, and how it’s changed post-COVID. Here are some of their key insights.

Look at projects in a broader context

At the ONJCRI, Achtman looks at all projects with a long-term lens. This means considering how they fit into the overall organisational strategy, how their results will impact the organisation, and what their implementation will look like a few years down the line. 

This is called “rolling-wave planning”, she explains, “where you plan the broad, rough strokes into the future”. The detailed planning you do “six weeks in advance, so that you’re not continually having to revise every timeline.”

Watch our webinar: Managing projects, managing change: How to guide your teams through the future of work.

Use storytelling to create a sense of purpose

At Telstra Purple, storytelling establishes the community value of each project, which helps boost engagement and motivation.

“A good example of that would be [our] Tasmanian Government Radio Network upgrade,” Khoury says. “If you were to describe the scope of that project, you’d probably put the audience to sleep. But actually, the context is that it’s setting a new standard for 13 different emergency services around Tasmania to respond on the same network. That is the value of that project.” 

Understanding the ‘why’ of a project and how their contribution matters helps employees stay internally motivated “even when they’re doing the mundane or beat-your-head-against-the-wall tasks,” Achtman says.

Deliver incrementally to stay flexible

COVID took a lot of the predictability out of project management planning and delivery, Sheehan says. Not only did it force almost every company to undergo a digital transformation and normalise remote work, it was also the catalyst for supply chain issues and skills shortages. 

For this reason, the seventh and most recent edition of PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) — the go-to information resource written for and by changemakers — is “very much focused on how to adapt your projects for agile delivery,” Sheehan says. 

This includes looking at how you can deliver in minimum business increments, rather than “trying to deliver a whole project with a ‘Big Bang’ implementation at the end,” she explains. An approach that makes it much easier to adapt and change when things get disrupted. 

The aim is “to use traditional practices, like having your eye on the vision and achieving the outcomes and benefits, but very much: how do we do it in the smallest viable business increments to build up to something that’s of great value?

Some final thoughts

There were enough tips and insights covered in the webinar to fill an eBook — and one is in the works. But for now, here’s a super-quick rundown of some key areas for changemakers to focus on: 

  • Communication. “They say that 80% of project management is communication,” Achtman says, so make sure you’re “breaking down silos [and] communicating cross-functionally between projects.”
  • Clear assignment of responsibilities. Knowing what everybody is responsible for, but also what they expect from other people. 
  • Risk management. A consistency of risk management processes, and how each project identifies and reports risk.
  • Consult a subject-matter expert. Khoury gives the example of a communications upgrade at a Melbourne stadium, where Telstra Purple is working with a specialist in stadium technology from Cisco.
  • Team maintenance. It’s of the utmost importance to invest in your team, manage morale and job satisfaction, and create a sense of belonging, especially when people are working remotely and/or asynchronously. 

Many employees dislike change, but with the proper frameworks and knowledge systems, the process of implementing it can be a lot smoother. 

Equipping yourself and/or your employees with the right project-management tools and skills can help you set up, lead and land more successful and lasting change.

Read now: How project management is supporting growth of Australian businesses

Project Management Institute

Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world's leading professional association for a growing global community of millions of project professionals and changemakers worldwide. Building on a proud legacy dating to 1969, PMI is a “for-purpose” organisation working to advance careers, strengthen organisational success, and enable changemakers with new skills and ways of working to maximise their impact. PMI offerings include globally recognised standards, certifications, online courses, thought leadership, tools, digital publications, and communities.

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