Tuesday, July 24, 2018

PMP Protein: Project Management Practitioners’ Conference 2018 - A Feast of Knowledge

By Ayan Mitra, PMP

Between 12th and 14th July 2018, the PMI Bangalore chapter conducted a three-day conference on Project Management at the NIMHANS Convention Centre, in Bengaluru. The theme this year was Architecting Project Management for Value Creation”. I was fortunate to be part of this event and attended all three days of sessions. Through this short article, I am trying to share my point of view and learnings that I gained from various speakers at this conference. The conference was divided into three tracks and conducted in three different auditoriums. I was registered for the “PM Enrich Master Class” which was aligned with both my interest and industry. There were a number of discussions, and knowledge sharing sessions happened throughout 3 days. In this article, I am capturing only a few of them which I found beguiling.

Day – One
Followed by welcome address and other introductions we had back to back sessions on our first day. Some of the key highlights from this day were:

Leadership in the Times of Change 
This was a great and very interactive session from Ms. Bindu Bhatia. In this session, the facilitator highlighted the fact that “Changes are Inevitable” and as leaders, we have to come out of that comfort zone and accept this truth. The speaker described the four stages of transition while accepting changes which are as denial, resistance, exploration, and commitment. In a completely different context though, I could relate this theory to the Tuckman’s model of team building (forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning). She further described the tools that can be used to help and support people through these individual transitions. 

Subsequently, the speaker explained how our inner voice can be responsible for our actions, environment, and success. This is a great theory that we’ve heard many times, but often won’t realize. The world that we have outside is not the same as it’s inside. In a nutshell, we can re-program our brain with constant positive thinking. In the environment where changes are inescapable, constant positive thoughts such as “Change energizes me”, “Change helps me to grow” etc. can make a big difference in our lives. 

The speaker presented us with the Triune-Brain Theory and techniques on how to re-define the threat levels and change our reaction to the triggers forever. Also, her explanation on 90-10 rule that describes 10% of life is made up of what happens to us, and the remaining 90% is decided by the way we react to that 10%, was a great eye-opener. Finally, she concluded the session with the process/structure of leading change initiative. She described how each and every element between vision, skills, incentives, resources and action plan are important for a successful change implementation. If any of these elements are missing in the change implementation that leads to confusion anxiety, decelerated change, frustration, and false starts. 

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
This was a great lecture from one of the leading experts Dr. Srinivas Padmanabhuni in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). During his lecture, he described the stages and maturity levels of artificial intelligence. He described how artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) based systems are good at performing a single repetitive task, where an artificial general intelligence (AGI) based systems can use reasoning while making decisions. In today’s world, we have achieved or trying to achieve the AGI level. He further described a far superior level called the artificial super intelligence (ASI) based systems which will be even smarter than human beings. This level is still far away to achieve. 

The speaker described various areas of AI which are machine learning, natural language processing, speech processing, computer vision, games, knowledge representation, reason and logic, and constraint and optimization. He further described how these different knowledge areas create the gamut of the AI world.  He further described the concept of AI in the light of data science and how various techniques such as supervised/unsupervised machine learning, reinforcement learning, anomaly detection etc. help to solve a problem in a specific context. 

He concluded the session by underlining how the world is trending more towards AI and how our job as a project manager should change. In today’s world, the task that more often we find a project manager doing can be optimally done by intelligent systems. As project managers, our focus needs to be more on value creation. He also described the life cycle of an AI project which is in many cases no different than a typical software project. But there are different techniques such as data acquisition, hypothesis, optimizations etc. are used in AI project life cycles. 

Value of Project Management 
This session was conducted by Mr. Raj Kalady the present Managing Director of PMI India. He intertwined his thoughts with a real situation from his own life when he was stranded in Hurghada, Egypt, during a scuba diving session. Mr. Raj had fallen into a difficult situation when he lost his wallet, mobile phone, credit cards, passport, luggage etc. due to a fire outbreak in the boat he was riding. After a hardship of 4 days, he was able to return back to India from the foreign land. 

The situation and his illustration of the details provoked the thoughts that even in real life we often not ready for situations, let alone project management. The intriguing thought is as project managers, often times we have to come out of that comfort zone and ready to accept challenges.  

Day – Two 
The day 2 of the conference was even more ingenious. There were a number of leaders, dignitaries, and practitioners across the globe who shared their learnings and knowledge throughout the eventful day. A few key highlights are as follows.

The Comeback of MAGGI 
Redefining Project Management & Value Creation – This session was led by Mr. Suresh Narayanan, Chairman & MD NestlĂ© India Limited. He presented the case study of the product MAGGI’s in India. This product as we all know once enjoyed about 80% market share and was a household name. But sometime during 2015, it ran into allegations of containing harmful chemicals (mainly lead). This created panic, and anxiety among Indian consumers, and a product which we consumed since our childhood lost its reputation in a few days. 

He narrated the entire episode and enlightened the audience with the steps he took to make the product to come back in the market. He narrated how he managed both internal and the external entities and stakeholders in this difficult situation. He emphasized as managers we must create, maintain and rejuvenate. It is important to talk about the value we are creating and not the process. Ultimately our life is about execution and not perfection. He touched upon the fact that how a problem well-defined is a problem half-solved. But not all situations are well defined. Hence, it is necessary for us to fail fast, fail cheap, and fail first. 

Panel Discussion – Digital Transformation
This was yet another interactive and enthralling panel discussion session on the topic of digital transformation. The panel members discussed and debated on how digital transformation is something which is already happening, and not a future state. The panel members also debated on Agile techniques and usage of AI, that will pave the path for the future leadership. They agreed project management is no longer a matter of managing cost, schedule, and time. It is also not about managing people. With the advent of AI and other modern project management tools, these activities can be accomplished fairly. Project management to them is more about the value creation for the customer. 

Day – Three
The final day of the conference was yet another day full of events. A few key highlights are as follows.

Excellence in Project Execution 
This session was conducted by Mr. Srikanth Nadhamuni. He presented case studies in the context of Indian public sector related to the work he has done for establishing e-governance in the state of Karnataka, in the AADHAR project, and for an NGO. He discussed how despite having a core technical background and without any formal project management credentials, he managed these projects to their success. He highlighted how to lead project with a purpose, close monitoring/tracking, and associating incentives to goals can make the difference.

Catalyst The ultimate strategies for success at work and life 
This was another captivating topic presented by Mr. Chandramouli Venkatesan. He touched upon various facets on how to become successful in life professionally. He quoted topics from his book Catalyst and highlighted various aspects of career goals. He emphasized that the chances of a good career is to stop worrying about it and focus on deeds. He portrayed the deep concept of how often we incorrectly measure our experience in time, e.g. 10 years, 15 years etc. Experience is not about how many years we spent in the job. It is about our ability to use the learnings in the future. He highlighted experience is about the algorithm to respond to a situation and not a measure of time.

He also underscored the fact that people often succeed in the first half of their career. The journey in the second half depends on the foundation built upon the first half. He also emphasized the value of delayed gratification and how that can help in building careers. Finally, he concluded the discussion with the value of honesty and how people often incorrectly measure it. Honesty is about doing things right even when others are doing it wrong, and it is not an economic transaction. It should thrive us to become a better human being.

I’ve greatly benefited from the 3-day conference. There have several takeaways for me from both a project management and as an individual development perspective. Moreover, we often won’t get a chance to connect with leaders from other industries and hear their thoughts. I believe such forums helps practitioners like us to broaden our thinking, network with other industry practitioners, and get directions on leaderships qualities. 

Written by Ayan Mitra:
Ayan Mitra has about 14 years of work experience in Information Technology sector. He has been practicing project management for about 6 years. He lives with his family in Bangalore. During spare time, Ayan plays his keyboard and listens to instrumental music.

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