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APM Scottish Conference - Chief Executive speech

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Sara Drake
APM Scottish Conference
8 September 2016

Good afternoon everyone. We meet at a time of change and uncertainty when we remember that Scottish jobs have gone or are in peril in oil and gas and where the financial services sector is bracing itself for a rough ride through the turbulence of Brexit.

The Scottish government announced an intention to soften the economic impact of the Brexit vote by using £100m left over from last year’s budget to accelerate capital spending on infrastructure and health projects.  So Tuesday’s announcement of plans for the coming year, particularly around education, welfare, investment guarantees and loans to small and medium sized enterprises, are welcome. 

We note also that the Hub programme, which brings together public bodies throughout Scotland with a private sector development partner, is now delivering around £1bn worth of community infrastructure projects according to figures released by the Scottish Futures Trust which is managing the programme.  Nearly 78% of those contracts have been awarded to small and medium sized enterprises and the value of construction is supporting more than 14,000 jobs.

All this provides a very welcome reminder to the UK Government that infrastructure investment remains a good way to induce economic growth.

However, while the combination of that sharp fall in the pound and the monetary stimulus from the Bank of England means that Scotland is likely to avoid a sustained recession, nevertheless high levels of uncertainty and volatility remain while that exit from the European Union is negotiated.

Here in Scotland I think we can say – and I’m using Churchill’s phrase here – that Brexit is “a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma.”  The medium to long-term constitutional future here is a matter of conjecture, so we need to be prepared to flex to all possible outcomes.  

Brexit means two things for project management.

One, the huge challenge to actually deliver our exit from the European Union.

And secondly, the need for the UK Government to nurture stability by sticking to its guns on investment in the economy.

Project management, we remind ourselves, exists to deliver change. The Brexit result triggers one of the greatest catalysts for change in UK’s history. The focus so far, and much has been much written about this, has been on the shortage of lawyers and negotiators to negotiate those new trade deals, but without top quality project management Brexit will slip and slide. 

Sir Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, gave a speech in July which was pretty blunt on the subject.  He concluded that 

•    the civil service is overcommitted; 
•    there is no rational process of prioritising projects in government; 

•    that Brexit is a huge burden on top of existing commitments, especially in the context of historic and planned cuts to government departments 
•    and that the Government needs to get a grip and not make it up as it goes along.

So we can predict high demand for project managers to find a way through that maze of rules and regulations in order to extract the UK from the EU. For us, in this profession, Brexit in itself may come to be a major milestone in the maturity of the project delivery profession.

Secondly, project managers, those depending on major investment in development of infrastructure, have been watching the volatility in the markets and with sterling with some real trepidation.  

We know there’s been a lot of anecdotal evidence about companies and funds thinking long and hard about whether the UK is in fact the right place to be investing at the moment. The UK Government under Theresa May has tried in recent weeks to offer reassurance that it recognises that infrastructure investment is a key way to resist recession. 

So this year more than ever we await the Autumn Statement with keen interest to see just how far the Government chooses to be activist in keeping the economy on track. 

The scale and the pace of change in the last 18 months, and particularly here in Scotland, has been such that it would be absolutely foolhardy for anyone to try and predict the future with a degree of certainty. I think it was Louis Pasteur who said that “chance favours the prepared mind” and on the basis of that, APM has, under the stewardship of its Deputy Chairman, Alistair Godbold, been refreshing our strategy. 

Many of you will be familiar with our Strategy 2020 and, although we aren’t quite there yet, it’s not that far away and it seemed timely now to be refreshing it. The intention is that the APM Board will sign this off at its meeting in November.

Alistair has led some really useful work to help us better understand the context in which the profession will be operating in coming years. So we expect to see increasing globalisation, including the use of virtual teams, increasing political and economic uncertainty and greater complexity, both nationally and globally. We anticipate changing attitudes to diversity, sustainability, social mobility, pay and health; increased transparency becoming the norm and much more focus on the need to satisfy public interest, all of which is very welcome. 

And in particular we need to understand the future impact of automation and artificial intelligence. For some professions this now tops their risk register. I was talking recently with the institute for tax advisers and they are increasingly concerned because they have noted that their customers receive better quality advice from computers than they do from tax advisers. The reason for that apparently is that people don’t lie to computers when they are typing in their questions.

Our aim must be to help create an environment in which project professionals can be well ahead and confidently ahead of the challenges which face them - so that we have a maturing profession populated by a confident, well-resourced, skilled and experienced cadre of people - because, as we so frequently remind ourselves, and I heard it here just a few moments ago, it is people not processes who deliver projects. 

So the project community needs the right people with the right communication and influencing skills to take others with them - and those people will have the right ethical and technical standards to underpin the practice of skill and judgement. They’ll have those soft skills, which interestingly we’ve been hearing about all day and which we are increasingly aware will be what distinguishes our profession.

The keywords for us are confidence, excellence, delivery and those are the hallmarks of a profession which is growing in stature and trust and capability.  

Confidence and trust that project professionals can be relied upon and that they work in accordance with a clear ethical code.  

Excellence in professional knowledge and judgement.  People with the right skills and the right kit to perform to the optimal level.  

Project professionals are about making beneficial change happen, about enabling benefits, outcomes and outputs that have real world value and that’s why delivery matters.

In practice, for individual professionals and for their organisations, the ‘whole project community’, this is about assured practice – about APM leading and enabling the community to exchange experience and practice, whether that’s through the APM networks, the volunteer networks, with the voice of our members very clearly heard, or through our wider relationships with a big variety of stakeholders.

And it’s about assured capabilities which involves qualifying people and organisations based on competencies, a robust body of knowledge, documented practice and guides and developing those for the full range of project controls, sponsors and how to be a good client, transformational projects and complex projects. 

And it’s for those who work with or have any impact on project professionals and their organisations, ‘the project environment.’  This is about recognition and trust, demonstrating the need and the value of good project delivery, and it’s about development, by which we mean promoting and the use of standards, qualifications, designations, guidelines and practice for those involved in delivering change.  

Our approach to implementing all of this is about listening, learning and leading – and you keep hearing that, you keep reading that with APM and we come back to it each time. 

It’s about being the voice of all of those engaged in the professional community. 

It’s about demonstrating the impact and the value of our profession on society and the economy. 

It’s about being able to influence the C-suite and policy makers and it means engaging with professionals, with stakeholders, academics, experts and organisations. 

It means nurturing and building those interdisciplinary collaborations and, importantly, it means making the profession of project management compelling to all so that we benefit from the widest possible and most diverse pool of talent.

At this point I’d like to say something about Chartered.  

Many of you have come up to me during the day and asked me if I could give you an update on this and this is the moment.  We remain absolutely committed to obtaining Chartered status on behalf of the profession and we are absolutely clear that that Chartered status will raise standards through a robustly assessed register of project professionals who are committed to their own professional development and a code of conduct.  

It will also enhance the status and the recognition of project management as a means of delivering change which improves our economy and improves our society. And it will also spur on our collective collaboration and research with other professions to develop the practice and theory of delivering successful change across multiple sectors and industries.

We’re now waiting for notification of when our application will be listed for the business of the Privy Council to gain Royal assent.  Once that approval has been obtained we shall be required to undertake various procedural, legal and accounting steps in order to bring into being a new Chartered organisation.

Many of you will know better than I that we’ve been working towards this point for some considerable time.  We’re well placed to deliver the benefits of Chartered status, but we have to go through these remaining hurdles and we will continue to communicate and to let you know where we are at each stage.  There will always be an update on our website which will let you know exactly where we are.  

In the meantime we continue to advance and develop ideas, products and services to provide support to the profession at large. So APM is developing a compelling suite of standards and knowledge solutions which provides the profession with very clear pathways which will enable progression through a career. These will meet the needs of partners, organisations and individuals, of all members wherever you are in your professional career.  

We launched the Competence Framework in its second edition and a broader range of offerings which will allow APM to meet the needs of a larger audience of project management professionals.  

We’re refreshing the RPP standard so that it aligns with that revised Competence Framework so that it is fit for purpose.  

As of last week, there is a new jobs board. Do have a look at, which I hope everyone in this room will use and find extremely useful when recruiting in future.

We are today, actually today, launching our new online Role Profiler Tool which has been developed with Provek and based on 17 of the selected competencies in the APM Competence Framework, the second edition. This online self-assessment tool provides participants with an analysis against their chosen project role.  
Each participant receives a personalised, one-page report which looks at their overall level of competence and their existing qualifications and makes a recommendation for the next step in terms of APM qualifications to support their ambitions.

Today we’ve also published the first ‘How-to’ agile guide, Directing Agile Change – and one of the co-authors of that, Brian Wernham, was presenting at one of the sessions earlier and I believe is still here if you want to talk to him about that – and the focus of that is on the governance of agile projects and other change initiatives in business.

In its capacity as a learned society, APM is having a growing impact on the research front, particularly in bridging that important space between academia and practitioners. 

We’re currently funding a small number of small-scale research projects which are delivered by academics, by volunteers, and by some of our wider stakeholder groups. These include a study of the impact of accountability in the delivery of change and how the public sector aligns organisational capability to public value.  

We shall soon be launching a series of repurposed academic research articles.  These are designed for very busy practitioners who nevertheless want to keep absolutely up-to-date with new thinking and we’ll be piloting these with the International Journal of Project Management.  

We’re looking at collaboration on research opportunities with some of our sister, European associations, particularly in Germany where they’ve done some recent studies, including a survey of the issues facing women in project management and a particularly interesting study around the impact of stress and burnout for project managers. And we’re discussing with Professor Peter Morris a significant study exploring how project, programme and portfolio management can help address the impact of climate change.

So in conclusion, we remain extremely active.  We’ll continue to make the case for the best in skills and the best in standards for the project management profession.  

We had a really stimulating line-up of speakers to listen to here today and I’d like to add my thanks to the Scotland branch committee for all the hard work which has gone into organising this. 

I hope very much, as Hamish urged at the start of the day, that you’ve been able to take an opportunity to step back from the day job and to do some thinking. He gave some great insights on connecting with our customers and improving those relationships.

We heard from Andrew Sharman who explained how our brain thinks which was useful, thought-provoking. And what a real privilege to hear from this year’s project challenge winners: a really great presentation from them and we can all be confident that project management has some really exciting, new talent coming through there.

It’s been a great privilege for me to meet so many of you here throughout the day and I know my colleagues, Debbie Dore and Julian Smith, feel the same way.  Do please continue to engage with us. We’ll be here throughout the reception and very pleased to take any questions and fill you in then with any more detail about the things I’ve covered this afternoon. And with that I’ll hand back to Roger.


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