Meet Shamendran Pillay, a seasoned project professional with over twenty years experience working on cutting-edge projects with budgets going into their billions.
Mr Pillay, who is formally trained as an engineer, has worked on projects ranging from delivering innovation in large scale airports, pioneering work in multimedia, to research and development in military systems.
When project management goes right
According to Mr Pillay, the difference between good and bad project management is monumental.
He recalls an experience where some quality project management turned the fortunes of a project around.
“I joined a company that was specializing in high-end communication equipment for militaries, and they were six months to a year late on the program. The customer was extremely upset with the progress,” Mr Pillay remembered.
“I had just entered the defense industry, having until that point worked in the cutting-edge commercial space, which did not have large military budgets. In the commercial space, there was constant pressure to optimize all processes to remain competitive and eliminate waste to maximize profitability.”
“The Project Management discipline was seen as a key driver of organization success, and I was fortunate to have worked in organizations that constantly pushed their boundaries.”
“I used my commercial industry experience to put in a whole bunch of process optimization initiatives, some project management, some engineering, some technical, some communication, without actually adding any tools or spending any budget. The most sophisticated tool was a macro driven Excel spreadsheet, others were changes to standard operating procedures, which were supported by the management.”
“We exceeded all of our financial targets. We were, on average, six months ahead of schedule, and the quality of the outputs was so good that the prototype met the pre-production specifications.”
“The customer was so happy that he went from wanting to fire us to throwing a party for us.”
In 2020, after some twenty years in the industry, Mr Pillay sought out certification from the Center for Project Innovation to keep his professional competencies up-to-date.
“I didn’t want to get to the point where the experience and skills I had were outdated for the level that I had to operate at,” Mr Pillay said.
“The only way to deal with that is to actually increase your capability and your thresholds in order to grow, which is why I liked the training through CPI.”
Mr Pillay, who had previously been certified by other certification bodies, found CPI’s training so effective he decided to refer his staff to it.
“I was looking for ways to fix the project management processes and training of the staff that I was managing,” he said.
“I saw that I had lots of people that had other formal certifications, but they weren’t performing. Even though they’ve got the three letters after their name, it wasn’t helping.”
“What I liked specifically about CPI is that it focused a lot on the practical skills.”
“It was similar to the engineering and medical fraternities' way of certifying people. Sure, you do the academics, and you do the knowledge base, the independent exam, but then you also have to pass a peer review with the assessments to actually verify that you can do what you say you can do.”
The biggest challenges in project management
After many years in the business, Mr Pillay has found that project management skills are often lacking and that this can undermine organizations.
“What I found very early in my career was that great technical people do not necessarily make very good managers,” he said.
“I could see that there were several areas where basic project management skills and communication were lacking.”
Mr Pillay recalled an instance where he and a bunch of colleagues, “worked an entire weekend to get a prototype developed and ready for something we were told was super urgent.”
“So we canceled family plans, worked through the weekend, got this thing ready, it was working and it was delivered before work began on Monday. And it was the most infuriating thing because after all that, it didn’t leave our manager’s desk for a week.”
“One can't help but feel like a devalued asset, being instructed to exert maximum effort in a misguided direction, only to realize that the objective itself was ill-conceived.”
According to Mr Pillay, crucial to project success is the ability to get the best out of the people you are working with.
“The most important aspect was never the technical, contractual, or environmental factors. It was always the people that made a difference to a project,” Mr Pillay remarked.
“Obviously all the other aspects are very important, but the biggest factor that enables you to effect change in an organization is the ability to understand and manage people.”
“And that, for me, comes down to communication. It comes down to understanding how people behave, operate, think and what drives them.”
“I think if I had known this much earlier in my career, it would have saved a lot of pain and conflict.”