IPMA Best Practices: an Interview with Brigitte Schaden – “PM Is a Living Practical Science”
This material was originally published in the Chinese Magazine “PM Review”
A long friendship with PM begins by chance
I noticed that you majored in science in college. Why did you build your career in project management?
Brigitte Schaden: It was “by chance”. I had an IT career and at that time (in the 1980s), I was IT Manager of an international company. The requirements were getting more and more complex and I was searching for tools and methods which could support me. Therefore, I found project management. This was the starting point of a long friendship.
As an “accidental” project management professional, do you think it’s necessary to professionalize the role of project managers? What’s your view on PM certification? Is it necessary and vital?
BS: I think it´s necessary to professionalize any role, however you define professionalization. It is always necessary to think about responsibilities, expectations, functions, skills, and competencies to fulfil a specific role.
Project management certifications are crucial for the whole profession as there are no formal requirements for calling yourself a project manager. But being a project manager is a high leadership function with a far-reaching responsibility for the success of the company. So, it is necessary to have really qualified people. Certification assessments are supporting this selection on a very professional basis.
As a female, what do you believe are the strengths and weaknesses of women in the field of project management?
BS: The strengths are definitely that women are used to organizing, which is in their genes. They are trained to be counterbalancing. They are listening to people and are good at stakeholder management. And most of them are focused on the content and not on their own profiling. I think one weakness is that most women are not good at dealing with power struggle. And they spent less time with general business networking.
It´s never good to generalize but I have often observed that men are much more self-confident than women. Men are very often convinced about their own skills while women are much more critical of themselves.
In negotiations, women make little demands and they do not rigidly cling to their actual goal, monetary gain, but pursue the secondary goal of freedom from conflict and creating a pleasant atmosphere for discussion and to strengthen business relationships for the future.
Competencies are more required than a process
As the Chair of the Board of Directors of GAPPS, in your opinion, how should we measure the success of a project in VUCA era? Any new standards?
BS: The client determines the success of a project! I think it´s more and more difficult to have one method/process which fits all purposes. Life has already changed. It is necessary to be more flexible, faster in decisions, to have shorter planning and working cycles (agile) and more stakeholder involvement. Competencies are more required than a process! Project management competencies are getting more and more important.
You mentioned the importance of competencies just now. According to your observation, what are the top common qualities of a successful project manager? What are the secrets of high-performing teams?
BS: Project managers are expected to handle the VUCA situations with confidence and to develop resilience as individuals. Project managers create new things, create opportunities and find their roots. Communication, appreciation, confidence and last but not least humour remain the humus on which new paths are created.
You find all top common qualities in the social competencies of IPMA ICB4.0 (People). These are really the skills needed. Anything else (technical competencies) is much easier to learn.
Regarding high-performing teams, the most important is that they believe in what they are doing. They need good general conditions, good infrastructure, and open-minded atmosphere, skilled people and a project manager supporting them.
You’ve said that the most important factor in leading projects to success is “Social Competence”. Would you please further explain it?
BS: Normally the difficulties and stoppers in projects are not technical issues. The challenge is that people are involved. Project managers with high social competencies can deal with it. They can communicate and negotiate, they are open-minded, they can solve or anticipate conflicts and they are reflective and self-organized.
And this is the real success factor of projects.
What kind of leadership style works best in an international project context?
BS: I call it situational leadership style. It depends on the different personalities of the team members and on the specific situation. So, sometimes it has to be authoritarian, laissez-faire, democratic or cooperative. The project manager should know them all and be competent to decide which one to use in different situations.
COVID-19 leads to a virtual world of projects
How are your life and work affected by COVID-19? In what direction do you think COVID-19 will influence the development of project management?
Brigitte Schaden: My life was totally affected: no theatres, no concerts, no cinemas, no cabarets, no museums, no fitness studio, no soccer, no travels, no coffee houses, no restaurants, no bars, etc. I have spent 7 weeks at home!
My work was also affected, all conferences and face-to-face meetings were cancelled, but it was not so difficult to change into a virtual world. We managed to move all IPMA certification levels to online assessments, which helps us to keep up the business. As I already had a home office, it was easy to work from home with broadband Internet access.
From your perspective, what are the principles to ensure the high performance of virtual project teams? BS: High performance is the ability to work at the highest level of effectiveness for an extended period of time. This means delivering quality products on time, within budget, while satisfying stakeholders. That´s difficult enough with face-to-face teams. Working in virtual teams is more challenging because people have to coordinate and communicate across time zones, distance, languages and cultures.
The bad news is there is no cookbook. The virtual team issues must be addressed to adapt to the needs of a specific situation. But you are always on the right side if you are honouring individual cultures while creating a common team culture when working across organizational boundaries.
PM is a very living, practical science
You have given speeches on six continents across the globe, so have you noticed any differences in the development of project management among different countries? What is your impression on PM in China?
BS: I think the differences in the development of project management are closely linked to the differences in the development of economy and globalization. And of course, there are cultural differences. This is also valid for China; projects in the cities are different from projects in the countryside. Most people involved in projects in China are really productive and committed. Chinese people are hard-working people. If somebody confirms a task, you can really rely on it.
From your perspective, what challenges is project management facing now? And what are your tips on how to deal with those challenges?
BS: Project management per se always changed and developed further. It started as a network planning technique and developed to a strategic management approach. Life and requirements changed and so changed project management. It is a very living, practical science. The challenges now are how to deal with this more and more unpredictable world. My tips are: invest in your personality, train your skills in communication, negotiation, flexibility, creativity, resilience, target orientation and last but not least humour.