Project Leadership Interview with Prof. Te Wu By Kobi Zalait (Graduate MBA Student) on June 17, 2017
1. What is your professional mission?
Dr. Wu’s professional mission and focus is on strategy execution – help to transform business strategies and ideas into tangible results through innovative approaches. He has over 20 years of hands-on experience as a management consultant, corporate leader, non-profit executive, college professor, thought leader, and entrepreneur. Plus he is highly certified in project (PMP), program (PgMP), portfolio (PfMP), risk (PMI-RMP) and ITIL. Collectively these qualities produce a powerful combination that connects the dots between practice, thought leadership, research, mentoring, and education.
As the CEO of PMO Advisory, Prof. Wu works with clients to evaluate and improve their project management and business execution capabilities. As an Assistant Professor at Montclair State University’s School of Business, he teaches project management, business strategy, management principles, international business, and experiential learning courses
2. What makes a great leader?
This depends on the organization type, set of traits, understanding, strategy and execution. A great leader needs to:
- Know what stakeholders want as an outcome, design and activity of the project
- Be able to make tough decisions
- Be flexible
- Put together a strong team, and know when to micromanage and when to empower a specific team member
3. What advice to you have for a leader today?
Managing a project is a tough job. As with many endeavors in organizational life, projects can also be political. Thus, even the best project managers will sometimes be criticized for being not fast enough, not as effective as clients want, and sometimes “do more with less” pertaining to budgets and resources. Guess what? On large and complex projects, all of these criticisms are probably true. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback and point out all the things that can be improved. But when you are in the heat of the moment dealing with fires and stress, the human aspects of magement (e.g. making decisions under pressure and often with limited or imperfect information) is real.
Thus, strong project managers learn to have a more balanced outlook and to build confidence in his/her capabilities. Project managers must have a “can-do” attitude and be able to look at the glass as “half full”. You must have the ability to know what to say to lead teams and to say thank you.
4. What are your biggest challenges as a leader today?
There are many challenges today. Some are:
- Diversity of the team is a major challenge, and it is more than cultural, ethnic, gender, or other more obvious differences. Different jobs and positions bring together different skill sets, and project managers must develop the ability to understand and appreciate the value that they bring. Your job is to have them all agree on the project at hand.
- The disruption and opportunity of agile methodology, since most employees do not understand agile methodology sufficiently. They love the “sound” of the word agile and its implicit promises. But when poorly implemented, it’s just chaos with a sexy name. Agile, when done right, is very powerful. I just wish that more people would still pay attention to the classic elements of management: planning, organizing, and controlling.
- Virtual space has become a common method of running a project. This bring a challenge of managing people remotely. A phone conversation or email, is not the same as a face to face meeting.
- Time zone difference is another challenge for global teams. It’s hard to be connected 24×7. Imagine working a normal day from 9-5 and have calls with Asia at midnight because its mid-afternoon somewhere. This is normal in today’s connected and virtual world.
5. How can a manager without sufficient knowledge or background in multiple important areas of a project still be a successful project manager?
It is important that the role of the project manager is the management and leadership of the entire project. More important than any technical skills, project managers must learn to build teams, develop trust, delegate effectively, and perform work through OTHERS and not him/herself.
In information technology for example, a project manager does not need to know all the details of the project. They need to know the scope, break down engineering, development, testing, training and deployment. In some cases, there can be a transition to operations management. A project manager will have a dedicated leader that will know the job of the core team. The project manager needs to know about the team’s personalities, which is key to the success of a manager. A project manager must agree on the implementation approach with the right processes as well as manage cost.
6. Growth of the PBA certification has the highest percentage increase — is there a higher demand? What is the learning curve like?
Business Analysis is going through more changes than Project Management is. The project management role does not change within the field. Agile methodology is changing Business Analysis, and this role is morphing into project owners on agile teams. On the flip side, today’s product owners are also learning about Business Analysis, so they are effectively becoming business analysts too. In traditional software development using SDLC, for example, there used to be 3-4 Business Analysts for every Project Manager on large projects. Nowadays it is more of a 1-1 ratio in agile, since agile is accelerating the Business Analyst role.
7. How much training do companies offer today?
This depends, and there are significant changes in today’s training industry. Some of the largest companies may be doing more training, including building their own “internal universities”, but a fast majority of companies are doing less, at least less quality training “in house”. This is partly driven by the speed of change, where it is difficult to keep internally but also driven by reality as companies and employees are less loyal with each other. Furthermore, training is dependent on the state of economy and employment. Here’s my observation:
- During low employment times, where unemployment is at 3-5%, companies are too busy to train
- During high unemployment of about 8% and above, the companies do not have money to spend on training
- During an average rate of 6% unemployment, there winds up being the most amount of training in the marketplace
8. How does the Project Management Institute verify the PMP applicant’s qualifications?
The applicant’s experience must be defensible and verifiable. It’s important to focus on project leadership. But in actual jobs, this leadership experience can come from multiple roles including project manager (most obvious), team leads (especially of large teams), sponsorship roles with ownership, and sometimes even functional or operational leadership experience that directly contributes to the execution of the project.
9. Why is certification important?
Certifications, such as PMI’s PMP or CAPM can serve important differentiators but they should not be confused with job performance per se. When I used to lead global project services for one of the Big 4 audit, tax, and advisory firms, I never once hired someone just because he/she has the PMP certification. Instead, I looked for their experience and skills. Have they led teams, solved tough problems, and met business challenges? But when two candidates are nearly identical in most respects, the PMP and CAPM became the differentiators.
Certifications have three major benefits:
- Some jobs today require the project management credential. The US government, for example, passed the PMIAA (Program Management Improvement Accountability Act) in 2016. This Act requires our federal government to apply project management. While it does not make PMP or other PMI certifications mandatory, people without one or more of these certifications will be significantly disadvantaged
- They serve as an objective badge of competence. In the United States alone, there are slightly over 4000 institutions of higher learning. Most people can probably name 20 or so great schools, and the vast majority are just not well known. Thus, certifications are especially for students and professionals graduating from non-Ivy-League and other not highly recognizable schools. For employers, they cannot easily compare the rigor of the schools, but they can easily compare certifications.
- Certifications also demonstrate the seriousness of your interest in project management. This is especially important at an entry level when there is not much experience to compare. Thus, CAPM bearers tell their prospective employers of their dedication, focus, and interest in project management.
BTW, there’s a fourth reason that’s more general. Project management today is commonly accepted as the discipline of choice for business execution, or getting things done. The application of project management largely started with mega projects (ancient to present), construction projects (pre-dating project management as a discipline), and information technology projects (1970’s and onward). But today, project management is applied to human resources, marketing, training, operations, event planning, crisis management, and practically every field of human endeavor.
Project management is getting both broader (e.g. more functional areas and industries) and deeper (e.g. program, portfolio, risk, agile, PMO, and other developments in project management). It’s an exciting area of pursuit for today’s young and growing professionals.
But certification is not a replacement of obtaining bona fide experiences; I view certification as an enhancement. I think the worst can happen to a professional is aim very high because he/she has the certification(s) and then fail because of lack of true battle tested experiences. The failure can have devastating consequences both for the sponsoring organization but also for the individual’s sense of confidence. Project management is challenging, and it’s difficult to “swing it”, with or without certifications.