'A team player with an eye for potential weaknesses'
Dr Roland Ottmann talks about the perfect project manager and planting trees

'A team player with an eye for potential weaknesses'<br /> Dr Roland Ottmann talks about the perfect project manager and planting trees 17.08.2016 - Roland, what motivates you in your role at the IAPM International Association of Project Managers?

What probably motivates me most is the opportunity to interact with some very interesting people, all with completely different backgrounds, career histories and project experiences. The IAPM is also a very dynamic association and I enjoy working for it immensely.

What do you like about the Network University?

When I give my project management courses, I often teach highly qualified engineers and businessmen who have simply been let loose on projects.  Most of them have no formal project management training. I think the Network University has great potential because it gives young people who want to learn about and understand project management the opportunity to engage in dialogue and share experiences. These young individuals are keen to develop a well-rounded professional skill set. The things they learn through the Network University will stand them in very good stead in their first jobs. I’m also sure that they’ll be better project managers than people who have no exposure to project management during their studies or training. 

In what other ways does the IAPM engage with future project managers - does it offer courses at universities?

Yes, the IAPM collaborates with universities. For example, there’s a Quality and Project Management Department at Cottbus University. And there’s also a Project Management Chair at the Saarbrücken Business Academy. They both provide courses in collaboration with the IAPM. But you have remember that we’re still at a very early stage of the process. 

Would you like to collaborate with universities throughout Germany?

Project management is definitely the most difficult field of work that any management employee will encounter because it’s all about uncertain future outcomes. It would be great if we could introduce a nationwide training programme; at least for the occupations that are most likely to need project management skills. We want to teach people how to make project work easier, more targeted and more effective with simple analysis tools, simple approaches to defining objectives and effective planning.

What does it take to be a successful project manager - does he have to be a multitalented individual with project management know-how and communication skills who can market himself effectively?

Project managers have to be able to identify and eliminate weaknesses. In a large-scale IT project, I don’t have to know how the IT infrastructure, software development process and building installations work. But I do at least have to be able to recognise that I need a planner, a structural engineer, a construction engineer, an IT specialist and a software developer. And I have to put a team together - that’s the challenge. 

So the project manager is a team player?

A project manager who thinks he’s “God’s gift to project management” is fatal in any project. 

Only a very few organisations release project managers from their other duties so they can focus on their projects. What’s your advice to somebody who isn’t getting the support they need to implement the project properly?

Love it, change it or leave it. If the project manager realises that the senior management isn’t giving him the necessary support in setting up the project organisation, he should seriously consider bailing out of the project. Otherwise he’ll burn himself out. I’ve seen project managers with burn-out syndrome who don’t know whether they are coming or going, and some of them even feel suicidal. That’s not a good place for a project manager to be. My advice would be get out of the system. It’s drastic advice, but probably the best and healthiest option. After all, we only live once.

On the subject of life: the IAPM and Plant for the Planet launched a partnership at the beginning of the year. What does planting trees have to do with project management?

Sustainability is a concept that is becoming increasingly important in project management. People want sustainable business models, sustainable projects and sustainable performance. Yet, at the same time, we’re in the process of destroying our life platform. When it’s gone, we won’t need any more sustainability. We thought it was a great idea to counteract the depletion of our forests and our tree population and communicate a positive message: and it’s an idea that fits in well with project management. Plant for the Planet gives thirteen and fourteen year old kids the opportunity to plant trees. As a project manager, I can put off everything until the very last minute, or I can take action. At Plant for the Planet there are a lot of people taking action. It’s great. They pick up shovels and plant something that’s going to grow. You can say the same for projects. Plant something and let it grow. 

How exactly are you cooperating?

Senior managers at Plant for the Planet have attended the first of our courses. In November we’ll be identifying potential management topics together. One of the things we’ve offered to do is train project managers. We’re currently providing basic courses of several days in length for two groups, each with a maximum of fifteen participants.  We explain the project management tools to participants, show them how they can be used in specific projects and evaluate the results. When they have completed the courses they get IAPM certification.  We also have plans for 2017, when  we intend to cover the subjects of leadership, motivation, team building and conflict management with the same people. 

What is the scope of this partnership?

We both think that an international focus is very important, so we’ve offered to let Plant for the Planet’s international team members attend the courses. The course language will be English. People from any continent who can speak English can get involved in this training concept. I think it’s safe to assume that we’ll be training thirty people in project implementation and management in the not too distant future. We have to view these people as multipliers. Thirty young people who know what they’re doing and perform a role model function. They’re driving the system and they can pass on a great deal of input to many people.

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