Today, I’d like to share a very interesting conversation that I recently had with Brian Weiss, VP of Practitioner Markets at PMI. Working for PMI since 2007, Brian brings more than 18 years of his product management, marketing and consulting experience to this global organization. Together with his team, Brian is focused on the ongoing engagement of PMI members, certification holders and volunteers, and leads a number of PMI’s fundamental programs. As a person who constantly interacts with a community of more than 500,000 people who are somewhat involved into project management, Brian always keeps abreast of the latest trends in the field. Check out the podcast to hear Brian’s insights into such prominent topics as the expansion of virtual collaboration, the rise of social media, the challenges and opportunities of project management in a creative economy, and more. If you prefer eye over ear, you also can read the transcript of the interview below.
Brian, it’s a pleasure to have you on this podcast! First of all, could you please tell us a couple of words about your career in PMI?
I’ve just celebrated my 4th anniversary with PMI. Previously, as VP for Product Management, I was responsible for various products and services we produced for practitioners and organizations looking to embrace project management. Earlier this year, we reorganized around our market focus, and now I serve as the VP of Practitioner Markets. I’m focused on the individuals, whether be it one of 20 million people who are somehow involved in project management (those who are leading or directing teams, as well as team members), 450,000 people credentialed by PMI, 350,000 PMI members, members of chapters, volunteer leaders, and more.
I know that a few weeks ago PMI held its Global Congress in Dublin, and it was a big success. Can you give a short summary of the most popular topics and project management trends that were discussed at the event?
We had almost a thousand attendants who came to share their knowledge and experience, as well as professional speakers. There were all the things you could imagine at a world-class project management conference! The content of the program followed the trends going on in the field. For instance, we’re now launching a new course on agile. This was the primary focus of one of the tracks.
An interesting thing – we picked social media as a keynote. Among the thousands of individuals in 180+ countries that are part of the PMI family, not everyone is necessarily working, sitting right next to you and getting information from traditional sources. So social media as a keynote topic was a strong theme at the congress.
PMI is a global organization, so you’re very well aware of the recent expansion of virtual collaboration. Do you see it as a challenge or an opportunity for project managers? Among the practitioners who turn to PMI, how many deal with virtual teams on a regular basis?
I’m not sure we have an exact number of stakeholders dealing with virtual teams. But seeing that they work for the largest and most influential companies, down to startups from 180+ countries, you can imagine that in some way or another, a large proportion of them is dealing with a virtual work and collaborating with people who are not co-located with them. It’s the same exact environment that we’re working in.
There are a lot of advantages organizations are reaping from working with a virtual or dispersed workforce. Some people typically point to such tangible ones as cost savings. I can set up my operation where the cost of labor is less. But most organizations have migrated beyond that, and they’re looking at productivity and competitive advantages they can get from what I’d call a “follow the sun” workforce. When employees in one part of the world finish their workday, in another one they’re only starting it, so work doesn’t stop. On one level, you can produce more. As you’re producing things more quickly, we call it schedule compression. From the point of competitive advantage, it’s speed to market, i.e., you can get to the market quicker than your competitor.
Working with virtual teams also allows organizations to take advantage of products and services they create in one environment and then localize them. If you take a look at consumer goods manufacturers, they try to make them work in different locations. It’s not about changing the labels or making sure the colors are right. It’s about understanding the tastes, culture, laws and regulations of the new market. They need local teams.
Here’s the main reason that I see behind dispersed teams: I’ve never been to any location on the planet that has all the smart, creative and talented people in one spot. To tap into global talents, companies need individuals who can help tie it all together. Project managers come to the forefront because they lead and direct dispersed teams in this complex environment.
This is a great comment, and I absolutely agree with you. As a professional with extensive experience in product management and marketing, you are part of growing information and creative industries, where the profile of the worker and the project is different from the industrial economy. In your opinion, which project management practices are the most and the least helpful in that environment? How should project managers adjust their behavior, tools and processes?
Recently, PMI completed its multi-year “Value of Project Management” research that produced 60-70 case studies on how different organizations can get ROI out of project management. The primary thing we found in the research is that there is no one way to do it. Project management needs to fit your organization’s culture, its DNA, the way you do work, your maturity level, etc. To give companies the basis to figure out the way to do it, sort of a framework – that’s where our standards come into play. Produced by global experts, they provide common practices for individuals that they can evaluate and figure out how to adapt the practices to their own company.
This becomes even more critical as we move from an industrialized world, where there was a very systematic way of work, to the type of environment you’re talking about, where work can be done anywhere at any time. People need to tap into our standards and flexibly adapt the common practices to their environment.
Another critical thing in this type of environment – while there is no one way, if you figure out your way and standardize your process of work, good things happen to you. Our research shows that organizations which achieved that alleviate themselves from many typical problems of our profession.
Now let’s get back to another interesting trend we started our conversation with – the social media in the consumer and business world. What are your thoughts on the recent rise of the “social” as in “social networks,” “social media,” “enterprise social software” and “social project management”?
I think it’s great that our industry is embracing this powerful trend. It’s a tool that enables individuals to be more informed. Our profession has the exact same challenges as any other profession has with regard to social media; “instant expert” is what I call it. If you can have a site, blog or any other ability to communicate with the masses, people tend to put more credibility and relevance into that than they previously did with traditional sources of information. It’s changed our paradigm for where we turn to get insights into information. Yes, there’s a risk with that, but with every risk comes an opportunity: it opens a door for lots more people to collaborate and generate knowledge. All the smart people don’t live in one location. As I’ve already said, they are spread around the word. They get a tool for collaborating and sharing information like never before. It’s a good thing as long as we look at it wisely, understand our sources and place the right sort of validation and credibility upon them.
A great point! Recently, Gartner released a research note where, for the first time, it analyzed collaboration as an essential component of project portfolio management. How big do you think the input of collaboration is for the overall success of a project?
You can never ignore organizational context. In my job, I’m responsible for the largest community of project management practitioners, and according to their feedback, collaboration and networking is where they get the most value of PMI. I’m a strong proponent of allowing individuals to gather and network, whether virtually or in person.
Organizations have different styles. Some are asking their employees to be more collaborative, and some are more directive. Different cultures obviously have different perspectives. We can’t ignore that. But, in my role, I come with a very strong emphasis on networking and collaboration between individuals. Again, I keep going back to my point on global workforce. When organizations really want to tap into the best talents, they’re not going to do it in one location. When individuals want to gain knowledge and insights on this, they can refer to PMI standards as a starting point. Then they need to interact in order to figure out the best way to work in the context of their environment.
Brian, this has been a very insightful conversation. Before we wrap it up, I’d like to ask you for advice that you would give to the listeners of the podcast, to project managers who are still looking for tools and techniques to make their work more efficient?
The advice that I would give is based on what we hear from our 600,000 global practitioners. The No. 1 thing is getting connected to an organization like PMI that gives them access to knowledge resources and networking opportunities. Within our environment, you get the right references to templates and tools when you’re interacting with people. With the support that PMI gives, you’ll find a myriad of tools and techniques that were already tested by other people that you can learn from. Also, you can give your feedback and let other people know about your experience.
Thank you for the interesting updates on project management trends and the great advice you shared, Brian! Our profession is growing and penetrating more industries and more verticals within companies. I wish you the best of luck in growing the PMI community even bigger.