“If you work together as a team you can achieve almost anything” – Project Manager of the Year Benjamin Hübler answers 15 questions on project management

“If you work together as a team you can achieve almost anything” – Project Manager of the Year Benjamin Hübler answers 15 questions on project management 28.11.2016 - Benjamin Hübler’s project management career began in Berlin at ‘familie redlich – Agentur für Marken und Kommunikation GmbH’ in 2010. The agency’s client base included various government ministries which engaged it to implement diverse communication campaigns and events. Between September 2011 and March 2015 Benjamin managed brand communication projects for clients in banking and telecommunications at arsmedium eins GmbH. At the same time he attended a part-time degree course at FOM Hochschule für Oekonomie & Management, graduating in 2014 with an MBA. Benjamin has been a Business Engineer at Consorsbank (BNP Paribas S.A.’s German branch) since April 2015. One of the projects he managed and implemented with his team during his time at Consorsbank was ‘Gold Online’, an online gold trading platform. In December 2015 he gained Certified Senior Project Manager (IAPM) certification from the IAPM International Association of Project Managers.

You’re Project Manager of the Year 2016. What advice can you give to other project managers? Have you got any tips for effective project management?

A team with a strong collective identity can achieve almost anything. It’s the project manager’s job to establish that collective identity.
Honest and transparent communication is crucial. The project manager has to discuss problems, critical paths and risks openly with his team and get all the team members involved in the solution process.
Project managers can’t do everything themselves, and they don’t have to. That’s something you have to accept - and you should never hesitate to ask for help or advice.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting out a career in project management?

You have to be authentic, so don’t try to force yourself into the role of ‘project manager’. Just try to be yourself. It inspires people’s confidence and gives you more credibility in your dealings with the project team and the customer.

Did you always want to be a project manager? What made you choose this profession?

Yes and no. I was always very interested in the work of communication agencies. So I decided I wanted to have a generalist job in that industry so I could gain insights into all kinds of different areas. That’s how I started out in project management.

What do you particularly like about being a project manager?

It’s interesting (every day is different). I also like the pace of the work and being part of a team.

What was the biggest problem you have encountered in any of your projects and how did you manage to sort it out?

There are a few things that always ‘throw a spanner in the works’ of any project:

When members of a project team that works well together are assigned elsewhere, for example. Whenever that happens in one of my projects I always go on the offensive to try and keep my people on the team. But if the other person’s argument is more persuasive, I have to rethink the team.

If the scope of the project changes during the implementation phase, because that often means you have to rebudget and replan everything. That happens occasionally. If you can’t persuade the project owner to leave the scope of the project alone, the only thing you can do is accept it and get on with the job.

I remember one particular problem with an event that I helped to organise around seven years ago. On the day before the event was due to take place, we were notified that the location had gone bankrupt and we wouldn’t be able to use it. It meant a bit of a panic, plus hours of research into alternative locations and lots of phone calls – but in the end we found another venue for the customer, who was completely satisfied with it and had no idea about the big panic.

Why did you choose to obtain your certification from the IAPM?

The certification was organised by my employer. I’m really glad they registered me for certification at the IAPM.
Everything was perfect - content, trainers and support!

What do you see as the main functions of a project manager?
  • To provide information (to customers, team members, service providers etc.)
  • To manage (resources, budget, time)
  • To track and monitor (project progress/ milestones, defects etc.)
  • To motivate
  • To connect people
  • To identify and manage crises
  • To be a role model and an ‘airbag’ for the team

Which project management methods and tools are particularly important to you?

In traditional projects I like to use a work breakdown structure. In agile projects I believe that Scrum and Kanban methods are very useful, and they also motivate the project team.
Sometimes less is more when it comes to project tools.... I like working with JIRA, Skype for Business and mind mapping tools because they allow you to make waterfall projects agile. They’re flexible and they can be used by the entire project team. You can really work with them, they don’t just serve to illustrate things.

You’ve already worked in various projects. Was there one project that you particularly remember and why?

Yes, the Gold-Online project at Consorsbank. It was a mammoth project with a tight time schedule and budget that involved specialist expertise, legal issues, third party management etc. The team did an amazing job.

What personal traits should a project manager have in order to manage teams effectively?

He has to be able to motivate people.
He shouldn’t shy away from addressing conflicts within the team so that the entire team can help resolve them.
He needs a ‘good antenna’ so he can assess the project team mood, for example, but also project progress and the risk situation.
He has to be capable of communicating effectively, stating requirements clearly and correctly, and checking that they’ve been met at the appropriate time.
He should always have a Plan B.
He should allow his team to ‘simply get on with the job’ sometimes and not check up on them all the time.

What kind of a relationship do you have with your team? Are you close or do you keep your distance? What do you think makes a good relationship?

I think you have to find the middle road between close and distant. But it’s always important to have personal empathy in a project team, too. So I’d say they definitely see me as a ‘colleague‘.

Do you think a person is born a project manager or that everyone theoretically has what it takes to be a good project manager?

I think that a certain type of person makes a good project manager. What I mean is that some people seem to be naturally blessed with an ability to cope with stress or motivate people.

How do you switch off after a stressful day? What advice would you give to colleagues who are at risk of becoming burned out and how can they prevent themselves being overworked? How do you retain your work-life balance, despite all the challenges you face as project manager?

Being with my family in the evening really helps me to switch off. Otherwise, I’d advise anyone who  is feeling burned out or overworked to talk to somebody about it (a manager, the family or a good friend) and to be honest with themselves, accept their weaknesses and slow down before it’s too late.

Is there a project management book you’ve read that you’d like to recommend to other project managers?

There are lots of good project management text books on project management methods, tools or basic theory (e.g. ‘Project Management: Guideline for the management of projects, project portfolios, programs and project-oriented companies’ by Gerold Patzak). You should definitely read 2-3 basic project management books, take a look at agile project management and the details of Scrum and Kanban. ‘Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time’ by Jeff Sutherland and JJ Sutherland is a pretty good book. It’s not a bad idea to take a look at the theory of requirements engineering or informal management either. I’d also recommend any project manager to gen up on the subject matter and content of the project. Many project managers aren’t experts - and you don’t have to be - but they should at least know and understand what their team members from different disciplines are talking about and what their work is all about.

What trends do you think we’ll see in future project management?

I assume that project management in organisations will involve the closer networking of specialist departments in future. So a greater number of the organisation’s employees will need project management skills, e.g. they will have to use various tools such as JIRA because their work content will involve an increasing number of small-scale projects that don’t have a specific project manager. This ties in with the trend of increasingly agile projects, which will dry up the waterfall in the waterfall model.

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