It is a crisp Thursday morning in November and the Project Management Institute UK Chapter is buzzing putting the final touches and distributing goodie bags in the auditorium at the Light Friends House in Euston. Project Managers from across the country are coming down to a day packed with expert speakers sharing their knowedlge and inspiring the community.

This year’s topic was Surving and Thriving in the VUCA world. VUCA is volatile, uncertin, complex, and ambigious. It also was the year PMI celebrates its 50 years of existance, and PMI used the synergy to share with everyone the 50 year journey and the strategy for the future.

PMI UK Synergy Poster (, 2018)

I will proceed to share some of the topics that were discussed in the order they were presented during the synergy, and then I will conclude with my 3 take aways:

  • Adaptabive Leadership by Jonathan Gilbert
  • Circular Economy by Isabelle Linden (one of my favourite sessions)
  • How to Create a Shift that Doesnt’t Shift Back by Sophie Sabbage
  • Project Managers Can’t Swim by Mark Robinson (another favourite session)
  • Working with the Future by Andrew Curry
  • Developing Personal Versatility in the Face of Global Adversity by Dr Stephen Benton
  • The Synergy of fushion. Life Skills for all by Dr Anne Bamford OBE
  • Leading Projects in an Era of Disruption by Randy Black

Adaptive Leadership by Jonathan Gilbert:

Leading in Context (Gilbert, 2019)

You need to be the fire and wish for the wind!

Gilbert, 2019

This is how Jonathan started addressing how we, project/programme/portfolio managers, should be in the VUCA world. Business have changed how they operate. Traditionally, a business would operate with 90% of efforts invested in running operations and 10% spent on change management. Today, these figures are no longer true with businesses now investing 70% of their efforts on change management (project work) and 30% on running the business (operational work). The dynamics teams have today are so different from the traditional dynamic, that project managers and leaders who do not recognise this are unlikely to succeed. Today’s dynamic focuses on being adaptive more than technical; emphasises on stakeholders and networks than authority and following orders; and empowers experimanetal environemnt to operate smart rather than advance planning and optimising execution.

Jonathan moved on to explain how successful project managers should understand that there are four operating contexts: Simple, Complicated, Complex and Chaotic. He ran a quick survery in the room asking how many of the project managers in the room operated in each of the four contexts and none of the attendees operated in a simple context (there was over 100 attendants). Understanding how to operate in an ever evolving complex and chaotic context, project managers must develop their ability to ‘PSC’ – Perceive, Sense make and choreograph (referenced in my screen shot above Leading in Context, 2019). Jonathan applied his PSC model on the pilot Sully Sullenberger who succussfully landed an airbus in NYC freezing Hudenson where all 155 passengers survived. You can find out more about the story known as ‘Miracle on the Hudson’. Jonathan’s session was (in my opinion) a great session to start the day and set the tone of the importance of leadership skills in a VUCA environment.

Cicular Economy by Isabelle Linden

The second session was on circular economy and the importance of sustainable project management.

Circular Economy (Linden, 2019)

Measuring the success of your project on time and cost is no longer sufficient.

Linden, 2019

The traditional method to measure projects on the triangular scope, time and budget is no longer sufficient in today’s world. This is evident around the globe in all the news that is being highlighted on climate change and the need to do something sustianable about our work. Some reports claim if we do not do something in the next 12 years, the planet (and the human race) will not survive; while others claim that this could be the case if nothing was done in the next 12 months. This is all doom and gloom. If we sucumb to it and do nothing about it, we will have no purpose in life. ‘I am an optimist’ says Linden, ‘as I have kids, I want to make sure they have a good life, and this is what makes me get out of bed every day’.

12 trillion dollar has been generated from the circular economy. This on its own is clear evidence that what some organisaions are doing is paying off and making them profitable. Financial studies are showing that companies are more likely to grow and prosper when they operate in this circular economy (sadly I did not capture the financial studiess Isabelle was referring to). Some companies are leading the way in this economy and reflecting this in their strategies on reverse logistics. Reverse logistics will enable organisations to tap into the service access economy rather than the traditional buy to own economy. This is driven by the change in socio-economical situation. Today’s generation is unlikely to afford to own the same way their grandparents did. The lifestyle of study-get a job-save-own a house-retire and then enjoy life no longer applies for today’s generation. People used to say ‘when I grow up, I want to be a xxxx’; where as today they say when I grow up I want to xxx xxx xxx. They are looking at impacting their world and environemnt early on. This is the key player in this access-service economy. IKEA for example is planning in the next decade to move into a furniture lease model rather than furnture owning model. They will ensure that they have the full logistics to take pieces of furniture that are mno longer wanted / needed it to recycle and upcycle them. So us consumers will no longer be owning furniture. This all feeds into the sharing economy model that requires us to educate all our stakeholders including financial experts, marketeers and so on to ensure we have a succussful sustainable economy. And that is why we should no longer measure our projects on time x cost; but we should include in the business cases and project charters the impact of the project and its sustainability as key measures. There are plenty of other points that Isabelle touched on such as working with start ups, enabling design and inovation. It was a powerful keynote that I strongly believe every professional and leader will have one or two take aways from it.

How to Create Shifts that Don’t Shift Back by Sophie Sabbage

Most Transformation Isn’t (Sabbage, 2019)

Sophie is a psychologist and author who was given a life changing diagnosis (cancer) with a lifespan of 2 months – over 5 years ago. She came to the stage with a key message on transfomation.

We have used and abused the word transformation that it lost its true meaning!

Sabbage, 2019

There is no transfomration without vulnerability. And it wont be achievable without commitment. But before we discuss commitment, we need to understand whether what we are doing is truely transformational or not. There are three questions that we should answer early on?

  • What is transformation?
  • Do we really need it?
  • How do we sustain it?

Because if we are still talking about how this transformation is not being sustained then it is not transmorational yet. Sohpie went on to share the spectrum / action logics of leaders moving from oportunitist to alchemic. All in all this was a good session. One that could be further explored and perhaps having some tools to use to assist the leadership group in analysing their profiles and enhancing their decision making techniques.

Project Managers Can’t Swim by Mark Robinson

Mark Robinson on Stage (Synergy, 2019)

I will start this section by saying that this was another favourite session from the full programme. Mark not only has a brilliant way of bringing his message across to the audience, but what he does with his team in terms of data has a clear vision and mission, it was just inspirational. It also is possible that as a Quality Professional what he does resonates with me as well in my day to day work.

There is no more Digital Strategy, just Strategy in a digital world.

Robinson, 2019

There are so many things that his 30min presentation covered that keeps me buzzing until today:

  • Strategy – not digitial strategy anymore
  • The frog that dies or leaps
  • Pramatic Disruptors
  • The incubator
  • Airbus as a data provider (not just a transportation manufacturor)

So here is a brief run of his points. For a business to survive and thrive in this VUCA world, it can no longer have a digital strategy isolated or branched out of it is business strategy. They have to be looked at as one. The strategy has to be valid for today’s digital world or they will no longer have valid stragic objectives. That is why Airbus now looks at the data it has, selling it to its customers to help them better manage their products – a Customer Experience winner!

Mark talked about the book The Age of Unreason by Cahrles Handy and the theory on whether the frog dies or leaps. If you place a frog in a boiling water, it will jump out of it immediately, but if you put a frog in a cold water and heat it gently to a boiling point, the frog will boil alive as its system will adjust gradually to the temprature. So how do we project managers prepare ourselves to adapt to this every changing VUCA world.

The incubator at Airbus looks at data they have access to from 50% of the world’s fleet. They connect this with data from their suppliers, operations, environmental and industrial sources. They try to make sense from this data by creating shared value for every stakeholder they have. To accomplish this task, a carefully and intelligently engineered data warehouse has to be built to ensure that each data point sits in its relevant place in order to start make sense out of this overall layers of information. A framework they call Skywise. Skywise is what will enable Airbus to sell data back to its customers and stakeholders with added value.

This can only be achieved by people who are pragmatic disrupters; those who distrubt to survive. Mark was very passionate about having these as core competencies for today’s project leaders if they wish to survive in this VUCA world. Now, my fellow reader, do you know what a jackalope is? I didnt’ either, nor did Mark until he applied for a job advert that requested applicants to be one. Mark, if you ever stumble across this post, this is a personal thank you for your brilliant piece at the synergy. I now want to be a jackalope.

Working with the Future by Andrew Curry

System Change Pillars (Curry, 2019)

Andrew took to the stage with shedding light on why people work with futures and insights. He listed few reasons including the need to inform and improve strategy, to identify risks and blind spots, to look for innovation spaces and to improve respoinsiveness to agility.

All our knowedlge is on the past and all our decisions are on the future.

Kenneth Boulding

With that in mind, Andrew went on to explain how the 5 traditional pillars of looking into strategy will no longer stand on their own. The 5 traditional pillars are demographics, economics, technology, values and resources. Organisations should now consider energy and abundance, where energy is key contributor to the resources pillar- especially with the topic of climate change, and abundance being another key contributor to the pillar of values with how our values keep on evolving (image referenced above system change pillars).

Developing Personal Versatility in the Face of Global Adversity by Dr Stephen Benton

Case Study on the Evolution of Music Industry (Benton, 2019)

Dr Benton is the first UK professor on Business Psychology. He took us through a journey on how decisions are made and how versatility is another competency today’s leaders should be equipped with. Versatility comes with combining the the skills to gather, process and communicate information. Cause and effect is no longer a linear process. In today’s VUCA world, the process is much more complex like solving a puzzle. The image highlighted above (case study on the evolution of music industry) is an example of how VUCA world operates. the area highlighted in red is the VUCA world in the context of casettes. Casettes sales have been facing a drop across the years but wittnessed a surge in 1985 before continous dip across the year. Making a decision to stick or drop casette production in 1985 is a way to demonstrate the VUCA world we live in; except today it happens more rapidly.

Dr Benton explained that according to a study done by Engel and Weigel in 2012, only 10 out of the the top 100 companies were established in 1960. A quarter of the top companies are new since ranking in 2007. This shows how companies who are not built to survive in VUCA will in fact not survive. There are five pressure points to consider:

  • Perception and personal reality
  • Team ship
  • Conflict resolution
  • Decision making
  • Versatile competence

The key area he focused on is the perception and personal reality. We as project leaders must be aware and open to the fact that while problem solving, the perception of a problem changes. This has an impact on the dynamic of the team as a coherent function. That is why this problem solving skill supports the versatility skill and is essential in todays world.

The Synergy of Fushion by Dr Anne Bamford OBE

Bad Fish (Bamford, 2019)

This was another interactive session with the audience in a large auditorium. Dr Bamford clearly knows how to engage such a large audience in a fun way. She started her keynote with a picture of Britney Spears in 2000. She asked everyone to cast their momeory 19 years ago with the turn of the millenium and think of one think that has change in the world since; to which people raised to their smartphones. Then show moved on and asked everyon to write down on a piece of paper one thing they believe will no longer be the same in 19 years from now aka in year 2038; to which some wrote autonomas cars, working habits, climate issues, etc…. What a powerful way to deliver a message. Anne shared that a co-working market repoort forecast in 2015 showed that 40% of the workforce in the UK will be freelancers and solopreneurs. In reality (in 2019), 54% of the workforce are freelancers. So with all of these changes, what are the fushion skills? Dr Bamford listed 12 of them which form skills, behaviours and attitudes

  • Oral communication / presentation skills
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Initiatives
  • Problem solving
  • Organisational skills
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Written communication
  • Independant working and autonomy
  • Critical thinking
  • Resilience
  • Creativity
  • Analysis and evaluation skills

Again, in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambigious world, the skill of oral communication and putting your point across to a diverse audience with varied values is the top fushion skill. All of her list of 12 fushion skills are very important to suppoort any technical skill project leaders possess. She concluded her keynote by saying that all of those fushion skills can be picked up and should be assessed for the leaders of any project / organisation, urging all project managers not to take on project work before assessing whether the leaders of that organisation lives by such skills or not. She put on the pic of the fish shared above (bad fish) stating: to know if a fish is bad, you smell it from its mouth not from its tail.

Leading Projects in an Era of Disruption by Randy Black

PMTQ (Black, 2019)

The final keynote of the day was presented by the PMI Chariman Randy Black. To me personal it was powerful and informative for 2 reasons:

  1. It has shed the light on the power of project work across the world (a community of which I am part of)
  2. It highlighted the vision and driver for the future (a community I wish to continue to be part of)

The session started by highlighted that PMI existed for 50 years and shared the top 50 projects that has taken place in those 50 years. By 2027, there will be a need to employee 88 million indoviduals in project management oriented roles. This by itself consitutes of the Project Economy. With a huge amount of waste resulting from this economy (in the US $0.11 is watsed from each $1), the need to align the project’s sponsor, strategy and scope is of vital imrotance for success. This introduces the PMTQ: Project Management Technology Quotient. Organisations should start assessing their PMTQ just like they hire based on IQ and/or Emotional Inteligance. Project Professionals who are always curious, drive an all inclusive leaderhsip style and develop a future proof talent pool have a higher PMTQ. That is why from today, we should help organisation be change-ready by putting technology front and centre, build digital fluency across the enterprise, reimagine career journeys and think talent triangle.

An article in the Pulse of the Profession (2019) explored the ROI of the PMTQ by comparing the innovators and the laggards. The study showed that organisations operating with higher PMTQ are 76% more likely to meet their goals and business intent and 66% more likely to achieve their porjects on budget as opposed to 61% and 47% respectively of organisations with lower PMTQ.

The synergy was informative, inspring and energising and my top three takeaways are:

  1. My day to day work will always account for my stakeholders’ receptivness to change, helping them understand how each project will have an impact on their day to day life
  2. My day to day work will start focusing more on sustainability – in the services industry; an industry far from manufacturing and physical production of goods; there is a lot of potential to contribute and be part of this circular economy [simply because even the services industry uses material that is driven by sustainability]
  3. I want to always be a jackalope

The synergy concluded by a music band encouraging people to create their own lyrics on why they celebrate PMI. The attendees after that were welcomed to a maginifcant celebration hosted at Madamme Tussaud’s with a live band, open food and drink in this spectacular venue.

I hope you found this post useful and informative, especially if yo udid not attend the Synergy. If you attended the day like me, what are your take-aways? Please do comment below, share them and let’s discuss.

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