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An Interview With Incoming IPMA Global President – Mladen Vukomanovic

An Interview With Incoming IPMA Global President – Mladen Vukomanovic

To celebrate International Project Management Day, the Institute of Project Management spoke with Mladen Vukomanović, the incoming president of the International Project Management Association (IPMA), on all things PM. He discusses the discipline’s future, the value of the IPMA certification process, and how you can win an Oscar using your project management skills! 

Q: Tell us about yourself and how you got started in project management.

Well, I've got two decades already in my professional career, and I started off in construction as a civil engineer. But then I joined IPMA Young Crew, a community for young and emerging professionals who want to start their careers in project management. IPMA was the place to be because, at that time, it was the only place where I could find peers to interact with, exchange information, or even get to know what it is to manage projects.  

Now, I work as a university professor and am largely involved in consulting for construction companies, managing projects, and leading complex projects. Additionally, I work for the pharmaceutical, oil, and gas industries. In parallel with this work, I got involved with IPMA in Croatia and thus started working for IPMA Global and Young Crew management boards, so I was always part of this great group of people who developed young and emerging PM communities around the world. All of this was happening before I got to my mid-thirties. I was managing projects and working at the university at the same time, but still, I never left IPMA. What sparked all my leadership skills was the local Association, as IPMA is a professional body of national associations, and I was part of the executive board and then became the president of IPMA Croatia. In IPMA Global, I was part of the Individual Competence Baseline (ICB) core team, where I authored standards, worked with the product and research award teams, and eventually took over the remit of Education Training, which turned into Professional Development. This is currently what I lead as a VP within the IPMA.  

During these last two decades, I have encountered different cultures, different nationalities, and different approaches to the task of delivering something for some money and within some time frame, which we call projects. And it's really amazing to see how the cultures and approaches differed, though the project management techniques, tools, and methods remained the same. This is basically what kept me going, to understand how projects are delivered in different geographical areas and how young project managers find their way into PM to get their careers started.  

Q: Where do you see project management going in the future? What direction do you think it's leaning toward? 

Well, when you talk to C-Suite people from global corporations, they will tell you that more than half of their budget is spent on project work. And now, what we can see is that on the board level, you have representatives called Project Officers or Chief Project Officers (CPOs). Sometimes, they’re called PMOs, as in Project Management Officers. Regardless, it is evident that projects are becoming the majority of what companies do. Therefore, some companies may even have two project managers on the same project, one dealing with commercial aspects (the agreement, price, risks, logistics, and procurement) and the other dealing with technical aspects (processes, innovation, and outputs). There are basically two types of people, so this is how projects are becoming more important to organisations. There’s a large gradient of development in project management because all projects are here to develop, create, and deliver some value. I remember around 20 years ago, I read that almost 22% of the global economy relied on projects. Nowadays, when you read articles from the same sources, they’re saying that it’s almost 40%. Additionally, there are statistics which estimate that by 2027, around 88 million people will be needed in projects - in both project assignments and project roles. Therefore, I see project management as a crucial part of future developments in various industries.  

If we want to talk about which areas are crucial for project management development, the IPMA recently had a roundtable on the future of PMO. In this forum, we reached a consensus on what areas would be important in the future for project management. There were, of course, the power skills, digital technology, and IT, but also the core soft skills, such as leadership, social, and emotional intelligence. We also focused on ethics, something which is really hard to define as a global standard because it vastly differs from one part of the world to the next, or even within the same country along cultural lines. But we all agreed that AI and digital solutions are making it harder and harder for us, as humans, to manage projects. So, on the one hand, you have people who say AI will replace skills and people, but I tend to agree with the other side of the argument. 100 years ago, there were forecasts that by the 2000s, people would work for only four hours per week because all of the industries would have developed so much. But this high gradient of development in industry also needs human work and people to make decisions, to lead, and to make ethical calls. In the end, this is what project management is all about. Therefore, I think more and more that with this high gradient of development, more money is being put into projects than into operational, repetitive production activities. So basically, the future will require more and more project managers. 

Q: Tell us about IPMA in terms of their past, present, and future.

IPMA was started in 1965, and we are proud that we were the first project management body. Although, the PMI was started only four years afterwards, so it was all happening basically within the same period of time. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States had all these methods and processes, which were starting to be developed and becoming commercially and publicly available to people. Then, communities of people met and were founded, and this is how IPMA was formed. The first name given to us was ‘Inter-Net’ in 1965, but because of the obvious confusion with the World Wide Web, we were later renamed IPMA. The first conference or congress was held in Vienna in 1967, so in a few years, we will be celebrating sixty years since that first conference. These days, IPMA is proud to have congresses, events, special interest groups, communities of practices, and Young Crew (which is really unique within this NGO). Some of our members have royal charters and/or shop charters, such as APM in the UK. Some other countries, such as Croatia, have instigated regulations whereby our certification is a necessary license to allow one to manage projects. So our products are now becoming rooted in law. All this is making IPMA proud that we stand for responsible delivery to society and that this responsibility is entrusted with us and can be verified by our certifications. IPMA is very special in my view because most people who work in IPMA are volunteers. The leadership usually come from the project world, or we lean on project management. But in the end, we are here to develop something for the Project Professional,and leave a legacy for responsible delivery. Overall, project management is about getting the job done. But we want to make it sustainable, environmentally friendly, and responsible to humankind.  

I think IPMA has a really unique approach because we certify competencies, which means sitting down with people and understanding how well they are doing in projects. We look at their results with people, processes, stakeholders, and clients, and we make a call on whether this person is competent or not. The vast majority of other standards and certification systems rely only on examining how well the candidate covered some body of knowledge, so this is the difference. Of course, if you are a professional body certifying knowledge and only just targeting cost efficiency, you wouldn't be sitting down with people to assess their competence like we do. This is why certificates from IPMA are so prestigious and so well-recognised in complex and demanding industries. 

Q: What advice would you give to somebody who is pivoting from a technical role into project management? 

Well, I don't know if you know this, but you can actually win an Oscar for project management! This is because when you look at movies and the entertainment industries, the executive producers are eligible to be nominated for the Oscars - and executive producing is just managing projects!  

We in the IPMA recently interviewed David Dobkin, an A-list Hollywood producer who is known for working with Will Ferrell, amongst others, on great comedies. I asked him, “Can you draw a line between the director job and your job as executive producer?” This is typically where the arts stop and business comes into play. We spoke about how he changed careers and how he got qualified. Often, in IPMA, you see people coming from the military, construction, or engineering, and then they transition to working in culture and entertainment. This is because the basic fundamental knowledge here is project management. Research shows that in more than 80% of cases, if you systematically apply project management processes, tools, and methods, you will land on time and within budget, and you will achieve the objective. It really works. However, only a few companies and people maintain that discipline. People usually get requalified easily, and then when they change careers and go into a different industry with project management knowledge, the only thing left to do is understand the specificities of that industry. Usually, it's about regulation, technical standards, and stakeholders.  

Project managers who change careers and go into different industries are usually very successful because project management is a high-level helicopter view of an assignment rather than a technical skill. So, for example, I think if you were to start in architecture, you might have a wider knowledge of social sciences, but you could easily pivot and start managing projects in different industries, such as art or film. I saw construction engineers managing pharmaceutical, oil, and gas projects easily. This is the beauty of project management. I don't believe that it is a profession in its own right just yet. I think that you need to have your basic vocation developed first. You need to graduate from your vocational studies to become an architect, an engineer, a teacher, or a film director, but then you can upgrade and develop further skills, knowledge, and competencies in managing projects.