APM Conference: Day 2

I attended the second day of the APM conference on Thursday 30th October. It was another full on day with an awful lot of interesting speakers providing a great deal of food for thought.

Nigel Smith, Chief Executive of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), presented an opening keynote speech in which he talked about the purpose of the OGC and the areas that they are looking to improve.

After a break for coffee I attended a session on sustainability. This was kicked off by Penny Pullan of Making Projects Work. Penny gave some really insightful tips for how to decide when to use conference calls instead of face to face meetings. Penny then went on to talk about the skills and techniques that are required to make conference calls effective. I couldn’t help but feel that a lot of these tips applied equally well to in-person meetings. I must also add that when Penny (and members of the audience) described day-long meetings I was reminded of my personal view that the best meetings are short. Following Penny’s talk Adrian Pyne talked about sustainability from a programme management perspective.

After another short break it was time for two keynote speeches from Sir David Normington (Permanent Secretary, Home Office) and Jonathan Simcock (Executive Director, OGC). Sir David Normington shared a list of six “non-negotiables” for successful projects which I think are worth repeating here:

  1. Clarity at the outset about the objective(s) of the project
  2. A clear focus on delivering measurable benefits
  3. Clear roles and responsibilities for those working on the project
  4. Clear roles and responsibilities for all suppliers and other stakeholders
  5. A simple plan with clear milestones
  6. Good risk management and appropriate escalation of issues

After a question from the audience, Sir David added an additional item which was “Ensuring sufficient resources are in place”.

Then Jonathan Simcock took to the stage. My favourite part of his speech was when he highlighted that knowing how to do something is very different from actually doing it. The analogy he used was a football game and he suggested that most people in the audience probably understood the rules of soccer but that didn’t mean we could form a premiership team.

The last session I attended was titled “How do you find that something extra?”. The presentation from Ian Anderson (Department for Work and Pensions) and Tony Teague (Human Systems) looked at what characteristics are important in project managers. They suggested that soft skills (which they actually called “tough skills”) are more important than understanding any particular process or methodology. This was a sentiment that the audience overwhelmingly agreed with. They also described certification as “necessary but far from sufficient”. The second presentation in this session was from Neil Mooney (Provek) and Jane Hodgen (Tata Consultancy Services) and this looked at how Tata Consultancy Services had selected 8 programme managers from a pool of 192 project managers.

The conference ended with an excellent summary of all the sessions provided by subject champions Adrian Dooley, Peter Simon, David Bright, Mary McKinlay and Tom Taylor. Overall I very much enjoyed this year’s APM conference. It was a real pleasure to present my paper and attending the other talks was a brilliant learning experience. I would thoroughly recommend the conference to any professional who is interested in deepening and broadening their understanding of this thing we call “project management”.

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