If the test of a successful project is to deliver on the promises made, whatever be the circumstances, the Project Management Regional Conference 2020 is an example of that.
The virtual conference, held on 20 and 21 June with the theme, Project Management in Entrepreneurial Innovation, attracted around 1,500 participants from across South Asia. True to the theme, the project managers behind the conference displayed an entrepreneurial mindset of agility, creative thinking, and collaboration to overcome difficulties and setbacks.
PMI India and PMI West Bengal Chapter, the conference hosts, decided to take the event online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a month to go and the planning in its final sta ges, West Bengal and other parts of east India were hit by super cyclone Amphan, a tropical storm that left 98 dead and the state’s infrastructure battered. However, it did not deter the team from going all out and making the conference a memorable experience for the participants.
It is often believed that startups and project management do not go hand in hand – startups operate in a chaotic environment and need to be extremely agile, whereas project management prescribes well-defined systems and practices. However, there is a lot that entrepreneurs can apply in their startup journey from project management. The conference theme provided a forum to explore ways in which entrepreneurs and project practitioners can learn from one another. It was a timely theme in the country where the growing startup ecosystem is attracting global attention.
The conference started with an introduction and welcome address by Chapter Vice President Saon Sen Nandi and Chapter President Sumit Kumar Sinha, respectively.
Mr. Sinha spoke of the need to marry the classical project management approach with an innovative mindset to provide value to customers and bring change in society.
As industries continue to get disrupted and the move toward digital technologies accelerates, professionals will need to adapt to the new market demands. Reminding project managers to continually re-evaluate their skills basket and stay relevant, Dr. Srini Srinivasan, managing director, PMI India, said, “While all of you are making this journey toward innovation, please know that we at PMI are there to help and support you in any upskilling and reskilling needs that you might have.”
Over the next two days, delegates listened to speakers from a variety of sectors. On day one, Amitabh Ray, managing director, Ericsson India Global Services, spoke about managing uncertainty in projects; Major General (retd.) A.K.Sapra, director, Army Institute of Management, Kolkata, shared his experiences of fencing the Line of Control; Avelo Roy, managing director, Kolkata Ventures, offered lessons on the entrepreneurial mindset; Nimish Gupta, managing director, South Asia-RICS, spoke on stakeholder communication; and Anita Ganesh, partner, IBM India, talked about grassroot innovation in projects.
The other highlights of the day were a panel discussion on ‘Technology: A Savior in Disruptions,’ moderated by Ms. Sen Nandi, and an introduction of the initiative, ‘Empowerment of women in project management,’ by Komal Mathur, chair, Region 11 Women Engagement Committee. The speakers on the panel were Dr. Sandip Sarkar, technology executive, IBM; Dr. Arpan Pal, chief scientist, TCS; and Utpal Garin, professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.
The speakers and topics for the next day were: Priya Patra, project manager, Capgemini, on the Project Management Technology Quotient; Quazi Ahmed, executive and leadership coach, on resilient leadership; Tanya Elizabeth Ken, founder, LakshyaShala EduTech, on project management and innovation in social entrepreneurship; Swami Vedatitananda, monk of the Ramakrishna order, on spirituality and project management in technical industry; Ashutosh Chatterji and Adam Stoffel, venture technologists, on enabling entrepreneurial innovation through engineering excellence; and Ashish Vidyarthi, National Award winning actor, on being a ‘juggler in the storm’.
The conference was a volunteer-driven effort that saw volunteers from other PMI chapters in the country come together to help the PMI West Bengal Chapter successfully organize the first virtual regional conference. The conference co-hosts were Koushik Srinivasan from PMI Chennai Chapter and Monika Muddamshetty from PMI Pearl City Chapter.
Embrace Uncertainty, Change Work Practices
Amitabh Ray drew practitioners’ attention to some common work practices of project managers, and how these need a change in today’s times. Project managers are usually unaware of the chaos that surrounds them. COVID-19 has forced them to rethink the way they work. In a talk peppered with anecdotes and philosophical thinking, Mr. Ray explored ways to deal with uncertainties in projects.
His first advice is that project managers should not focus on perfecting the plan. He believes that overengineered plans give little importance to execution, thereby increasing the chances of failure. Instead, aiming to flawlessly execute smaller aspects each day will make success inevitable.
Uncertainty can be unsettling to project managers who see their ventures as having only binary outcomes – success or failure. Instead, when the result of a project is not in one’s control, they must think like innovators and focus on opportunities for growth and development. Mr. Ray urged project managers to “think like a gambler,” appreciate the constant risk of failure, and relentlessly work to improve oneself so as to be less wrong with time. “If the situation is as turbulent as it is today, the only thing that we can do is to work in sync with this dynamic situation to adapt, survive, and thrive,” he said.
He spoke about Descartes’ principle of Cartesian doubt and Aristotle’s ‘First Principle of Thinking’ that say one must question everything in order to better understand the crux of any issue. Mr. Ray cited Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, as an impeccable practitioner of this. He advised project managers to follow a similar approach to chase unexplored possibilities, which is an invaluable tactic during these times.