Thought Leadership in Project Management: with Kris Sprague, PfMP, PgMP, PMP

– By Dr. Emad Rahim, PMP, A-CSM, CSP

Kris Sprague is the Head and Director of Project Planning and Scheduling at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. He is a talented leader that helps organizations achieve their strategy through the successful delivery of portfolios, programs, and projects. Kris has extensive experience building and leading project management organizations and project management offices (PMOs) that add value and deliver business results.

Since 2019, Kris has represented the United States as a judge to select the best PMO in the world for the PMO Global Awards. In 2021, Kris was selected as a Regional Finalist representing the United States for the 2021 PMO Leader of the Year. He was a guest on the 100th episode of the Project Management Institute (PMI) Projectified® Podcast where he discussed the future of project management in the next decade.  In 2020, Kris was a keynote speaker at the 2020 PMO Global Awards conference – the largest online conference in the world on project management. 

He has four certifications (PfMP®, PgMP®, PMP®, and PMI-RMP®) from the PMI and is a former President of the PMI Upstate New York chapter. In addition, Kris holds the following professional certifications: Prosci Certified Change Practitioner; Certified Process Professional; Certified Forecast Scheduler for time, workload, and cost modeling; Lean and Six Sigma Black Belt; and Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).

Kris has an advanced master’s degree in project management, a master in business administration (MBA), a graduate degree in information management and expert systems, and a bachelor’s degree in computer and information sciences.

Q1: How did you get started in Project Management?

After receiving my B.A. degree in Computer and Information Sciences, I embarked on a software engineering career. It was the mid-1980s and personal computers were becoming commonplace.  The software development projects that I was involved with were “chaotic” and always had a myriad of problems.  This sparked my interest in project management.

How does one become a professional project manager?  One of the first thoughts that came to mind was to continue my education.  So, I developed software on a full-time basis during the day and attended graduate school at night. Within a few years, I obtained two degrees (i.e., a graduate certificate in Information Management and Expert Systems and a M.B.A.). 

My project management career was “officially” launched when I accepted a position with a company that provided project management services to Federal government agencies.  I managed projects for a few clients. 

Q2: What is your specialization as a Project Manager?

Throughout my career I have managed projects of different types, sizes, and complexity across a variety of industries including: Biotechnology, Pharmaceuticals, Semiconductors, Banking, Financial Services, Health Care, Insurance, Manufacturing, Telecommunications, Aerospace & Defense, Software, and Professional Services.  So, I really don’t have a specialization.

Q3: For those that are not familiar with the PMO, can you please elaborate on what a PMO is and its role in an organization and project management?

A PMO can refer to a portfolio, program, or project management office. A PMO represents a management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques. It may be established for a department, a division, a business unit, or the enterprise. 

Organizations establish PMOs for a variety of reasons but the major benefit is improved project management in terms of schedule, cost, quality, risk, etc.  PMOs have many potential roles in aligning work with strategic goals: engaging and collaborating with stakeholders, developing talent, and realizing value from investments in projects.

PMOs create value by:

  • Delivering projects under budget
  • Increasing customer satisfaction
  • Improving productivity
  • Improving the alignment of projects with the company’s objective
  • Decreasing the number of failed projects

Q4: Are there certain types of industries where a PMO seems to do better over others?

I have served as a judge for the PMO Global Alliance to select the best PMO in the world for the past three years.  Based on this experience, I can definitely state that a world-class PMO can come from any industry as well as any location in the world.

Q5: Are there certain skill sets that are more vital than others in managing and leading a PMO?

I consider the skill sets identified in the list below as being critical in managing and leading a PMO:

  1. Communication
  2. Stakeholder Management and Relationship Building
  3. Understanding Organizational Culture
  4. Negotiating
  5. Persuading
  6. Influencing
  7. Conflict Management
  8. Critical Thinking
  9. Emotional Intelligence
  10.  Coaching/Mentoring
  11.  Team Building
  12.  Decision Making
  13.  Problem Solving
  14.  Estimating
  15.  Budgeting
  16.  Planning
  17.  Scheduling
  18.  Forecasting
  19.  Knowledgeable about various project management methodologies
  20.  Familiarity with Portfolio, Program, and Project Management tools

Q6: When a traditional project management organizational structure, would the project manager move up as a PMO Director? Do a person first needed to be a project manager before transitioning over to the role as a PMO Director? 

A Project Manager is the person assigned to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives. A PMO Director ensures the successfully delivery of portfolios, programs, and projects within an organization.  Even though some of the skills are similar between a Project Manager and a PMO Director, the roles are quite different. In my experience, it would be extremely rare for a PMO Director to not have held positions as a Project Manager and/or Program Manager.

Q7: What do you think are some of the emerging trends in the project management profession and the related effects on organizations?

Some of the emerging trends in the project management profession are as follows:

• Remote working becomes permanent
• Demand for Project Managers and project management-oriented roles increases
• Project Managers will need a broader skill set in the near future
• Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Automation will impact how projects are managed
• Hybrid methodologies will emerge
• The disciplines of Project Management and Change Management will be integrated
• Advanced Project Management tools and solutions will be developed

Organizations are going to need to change and adapt in order to take advantage of these emerging trends.

Q8: What certifications in project management are industries most interested in and why? How should people prepare for these certifications?

Project Management Professional (PMP)® – is the gold standard of project management certification. It is recognized and demanded by organizations worldwide. However, it is not the only certification offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). They have many other certifications including:

Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® – Signifies advanced competency in the coordinated management of one or more portfolios to achieve strategic objectives.

Program Management Professional (PgMP)® – Designed for those who manage multiple, complex projects to achieve strategic and organizational results.

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® – Demonstrates your understanding of the fundamental knowledge, terminology, and processes of effective project management.

PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)® – Highlights your expertise in business analysis. It spotlights your ability to work effectively with stakeholders to define their business requirements, shape the output of projects, and drive successful business outcomes.

PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)® – Recognizes demonstrated knowledge and expertise in the specialized area of assessing and identifying project risks along with plans to mitigate threats and capitalize on opportunities.

PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)® – Recognizes demonstrated knowledge and advanced experience in the specialized area of developing and maintaining project schedules.

PMI Project Management Ready™ – Introduces high school and post-secondary students to the concepts and skill sets of project management.

PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® -Recognizes your skill, experience and versatility applying agile principles and practices as part of an agile team.

Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM) Certification – Understand the fundamentals of agile and lean approaches like Scrum, Kanban, SAFe® and more, along with how to implement the Disciplined Agile tool kit to choose your way of working (WoW) based on the situation you face.

Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master (DASSM) Certification – Accelerate your ability to take on more complex initiatives and lead your agile team using Disciplined Agile. Choose, scale and tailor your way of working (WoW) to achieve agile success in any situation.

Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant (DAVSC) Certification – Master Disciplined Agile and use value stream management in a way that allows you to lead entire organizations in implementing it enterprise-wide for their unique needs. Become a driver of transformation, accelerating value delivery and guiding organizations to true business agility.

Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC) Certification – Take your Disciplined Agile knowledge and experience to the next level – show teams (in your organization or elsewhere) how to apply and optimize Disciplined Agile within and between teams. Help them choose their way of working (WoW) and realize true business agility.

All PMI certifications require you to meet domain experience levels, educational levels, or both before you apply.

There are several approaches that one can take to prepare for a certification.  They are:

  • Individualized study (i.e., books and/or online training materials)
  • Prep courses offered through a PMI chapter, Registered Education Provider, or third-party

PMI is not the only organization that offers project management certifications.  Some others are identified below:

Global Association for Quality Management

International Association of Project Managers

The Scrum Alliance

American Academy of Project Management

Business Value-Oriented Principles

Q9: With types of projects are becoming more global, what are the most significant lessons learned in working with multicultural teams?

A global project is one that utilizes resources and team members who are based in multiple countries around the world.  A representative list of the types of projects that are global appears below:

  • Agriculture: Biofuel, Crops, Greenhouses, Cold Storage, Export
  • Construction: Housing, Schools, Warehouses, Factories, New Town Development
  • Cybersecurity
  • Environmental Sustainability & Biodiversity
  • Governance & Human Rights
  • Healthcare Access and Improvement, Medical Facilities
  • Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Response
  • Information & Communication Technology
  • Infrastructure: Roads, Potable Water, Irrigation, Sewage Treatment, Electricity, Ports, Pipelines
  • Pharmaceuticals/Biotechnology: Research and Development, Drug Development
  • Renewable Energy: Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Waste-to-Energy, Hydroelectric
  • Transportation: Aviation, Watercraft, Railways

Lessons Learned: In order to manage a global project successfully, organizations need to understand the global business environment and different relevant cultures. Further, the sponsoring organization and the project manager must develop an understanding of the relevant legal and political issues.

The factors that have a significant influence on global projects are identified below.

Communication – Language and associated cultural differences—an obvious obstacle to communication, but its importance is apparent with the increasing use of the World Wide Web.

Cultural Values – Religion has an impact on a project in terms of work ethics, values, holidays, who will work with whom, etc.

  • Beliefs, outcome of culture, can influence work practices.
  • Local, regional, and national management practices can vary from country to country and could be different from western norms, such as time off from work, hierarchical authority, gender issues, etc.

Legal and Political Issues – Country-specific laws, environmental regulations, political issues, and acceptable standards can impact a global project.

Global Procurement Management – Procurement management in global projects will have no geographical boundaries. Therefore, it is a challenge to possess the knowledge of the best places to go for materials and labor, which can impact global project success.

Leadership and Establishing Trust – Treating a global project as a standard project can lead to problems. Leadership and people skills are more important for global projects. They help in establishing trust. Micromanaging is a temptation in global projects because of lack of understanding of the capabilities of the project team members, including contractors, and the absence of trust.

Stakeholder and Customer Satisfaction – Stakeholder and customer satisfaction — cultural, financial, communication complications can occur in terms of determining what the customer considers a successful project. Stakeholders need to be part of the global project process and should be made to feel that they are in a “win-win” situation with respect to the project outcomes.

Time Zone Differences – Can create communication (meetings) problems, specifically in synchronous mode. However, time zone differences can also allow work to proceed 24 hours a day.

Q10: As a senior-level project manager and PMO Director, can you please share your leadership style and how it directly contributed to the organization’s success?

I like to think of myself as a Situational Leader. This leadership style was developed by management experts Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969.  Situational leadership is a theory that the best leaders utilize a range of different styles depending on the environment.  As the leader, you coach and guide your employees towards functioning independently.

Situational leadership has contributed to the success of the organization because it brings about change and innovation, as well as developing the skills of team members.

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