What are the real enablers behind projects and programs?

by Mustafa Hafızoglu

What are the real project and program enablers? In the project management challenge 2007 video below, Scott Horowitz, a former astronaut and NASA associate administrator for the exploration systems mission once, said, “People ask me, having flown on the shuttle four times, what makes the shuttle go up?” Many people might be apt to say, ‘well, it’s the giant solid rocket motors, the space shuttles main engines, and all that flame and propellant that propels the shuttle,’ however, this isn’t the key enabler. It’s the blood, sweat, and the dedication of thousands of people that make this very complex machine soar to staggering heights.”

Each day, companies deal with many complex, time constraints, uncertainty, multicultural and virtual projects. These challenges are expected to increase in the future as the trend for globalization, market competition, and high technology increases. The aerospace and defense industry has been dealing with these types of challenges for a long time. So what are the true project and program enablers?

How can project managers and businesses effectively deal with these challenges?

Turkey’s former undersecretary for the defense industries (SSM), Murad Bayar, manages multi-billion dollar projects and suggests that the solution to these challenges lies in the need for highly qualified project managers. In fact, in his 2013 keynote speech to project managers at the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) Global Congress in İstanbul, Bayer addressed aerospace and defense challenges by simply stating, “project managers, we need your help.”

What makes a project manager highly qualified, and how does such a project manager ensure they can successfully tackle the new challenges?

PMI has conducted various studies that indicate while technical skills are core to project and program management, they’re not enough in today’s increasingly complex, multi-cultural, and competitive global marketplace. PMI suggests, in their PMI Talent Triangle, that companies are seeking added skills in leadership and business intelligence.

Highly qualified project managers should be able to:

Manage communication to deal with complexity

Complexity, defined as many parts having interaction with each other in multiple ways, requires various channels of high-level communication.  

Manage change to deal with uncertainty and fierce competition

Uncertainty and fierce competition create not only risks but also opportunities. It is crucial to be able to manage change and the associated risks and maximize any potential opportunities.

Manage stakeholder expectations to deal with customers’ demands and multicultural environment

Multi-cultural environment, time pressures relating to markets, and customer demands become more important to project success. The key to tackling these challenges lies in being able to identify all stakeholders’ expectations and manage them wisely. I once asked the CEO of one of the largest defense companies what he thought about project managers. His answer was very clear, “project managers are the only ones in my company who can help me sleep without nightmares.” This provides some affirmation that project managers play a pivotal role in ensuring projects and programs are effectively managed to ensure overall success. Project managers are vital enablers in both projects and programs.


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