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Agents for change

Irish businesses are increasingly recognising the skills good project managers can bring to their company

Today, any sector that has projects it needs delivered is embracing project management.

Today, any sector that has projects it needs delivered is embracing project management.

 

Project managers are change agents. In times of great change, such as now, it’s good to know that Irish project managers are at the top of their game.

“Project management is something we do well in Ireland,” says John Lannon, a lecturer with the Centre for Project Management (CPM) at the University of Limerick. Lannon is also programme director of the CPM’s online MSc in Project and Programme Management.

“Understanding of the scope of what project management can do is growing here as a result and that’s right across every sector, not just in its traditional origins of construction, engineering and manufacturing. Today, any sector that has projects it needs delivered is embracing project management.”

As well as having the technical skills required, Irish project managers are proving particularly adept at the soft skills, he says.

“If we go back in time, the job used to be about trying to ensure, for example, that a construction project was delivered on time, on budget and met the expectations of the client. It was about resource allocation and stakeholder engagement,” says Lannon.

Now the project manager must also ensure the project is strategically aligned with the business aims. “Today’s project manager needs to understand the impact of a project right across the organisation. It’s not just about managing the resources at their disposal, it’s about managing communications and engagement upwards to senior management and sideways throughout the organisation too, to ensure the business impact of a project is fully realised.”

For experienced project manager Jackie Fagan, a large part of the work’s appeal is the variety it offers. “As a discipline it has its origins in the military, was adopted by construction and now you find it across all sectors,” she says.

The PMI’s Educational Foundation leverages PM skills for social good too, something Fagan is actively involved in. She is currently working to see project management introduced to transition year students. Project work is now an important part of education but academia by its nature focuses on subjects and topics, and so “the skill missing is in teaching children how to approach a project, how it’s about breaking things down into manageable chunks, and seeing how best to get from here to there,” she says.

Businesses here increasingly recognise the value of these skills. “Companies are all looking for the synergies they can gain by breaking down silos and centralising functions like procurement. In IT too we are moving from a situation where branches of an organisation would all have had their own networks. Now everything is in the cloud and the information is shared,” says Fagan. All such changes require project management, as will Brexit, she points out.

“Change management is happening everywhere and in order to implement it you need a project management team, because change doesn’t just happen on its own,” says Fagan, who, in her spare time lends her PM skills to individuals, helping people who want to change job, or careers, to take that leap.

Growing recognition

A sure sign of the growing recognition of the importance of project management here is the fact that project managers are edging ever closer to the C-suites. Jackie Glynn, a computer scientist by training, heads up the Portfolio Management Office, a relatively new innovation introduced by the telecoms company Three. It is staffed by a team of project managers and its role is to run the company’s strategic projects, says Glynn, who reports directly to the CEO.

“We work with cross-functional teams on a project basis. It’s about breaking down the silos so that we can all talk to each other,” she says.

There are terrific job opportunities for project managers in Ireland right across the STEM sectors of science, technology, engineering and manufacturing. “There are loads of great jobs, particularly for those who have both tech skills and communications skills, which is why we are bringing project management into schools,” says Glynn.

She describes good project management as “the art of the possible”. “It’s great work, no two days are the same and I love the breadth of it,” she says. “And there are great opportunities in it too, particularly for women, but it’s not an opportunity that is being talked about enough.”