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In memoriam: project management pioneer Geoff Reiss

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Geoff Reiss, trailblazer, thought-leader and giant of the project profession has sadly passed away, aged 75.

Geoff was a long-standing member and Honorary Fellow of Association for Project Management (APM), as well as a highly regarded author, speaker, software designer and mentor. He was among the first to embrace programme management in the early 1990s, established the APM Programme Management Specific Interest Group (APM ProgM SIG) and wrote two definitive books on the subject. In recognition, the ProgM SIG created him its Honorary President.

His knowledge, experience, gentle humour and innovative thinking had an impact on many people in many ways. For Honorary Fellow Adrian Dooley, meeting Geoff in 1979 changed the course of his career and established a lasting friendship.

Geoff's background was construction, but he also learned how to programme his Apple II microcomputer from a self-help book. He wrote a program for rescheduling a project plan and had been invited to demonstrate it to a group that included Adrian, then a young construction project planner.

“The last chapter of the book, The Long Way Home, showed how to create a program to calculate the distance between two points. He realised this was critical path analysis,” Adrian recalled.

“Until then, if you needed to re-schedule a project plan, you had to send a form off to be fed into a mainframe computer and two weeks later the revised schedule would be delivered. Geoff’s program did it in one day. I asked if I could get involved.”

Apple heard about it and the program became one of the first third-party products sold by the computer giant. It was re-branded Pertmaster, with Geoff establishing the company. Adrian ran training courses for the software and still has that old Apple II in his loft.

The pair went on to launch the magazine Project Manager Today with editor Ken Lane in 1989. Geoff was already an established wordsmith and his contributions to the new magazine included Great Projects of the Past and a humorous gossip column about the world of project management.

Mr Programme Management

Known to his friends as Mohe – a nickname from his student days after influential German architect Mies van der Rohe – he also wrote best-selling project management books, including the Gower Handbook of Programme Management, the Demystified trilogy for project, programme and portfolio management and One Project Too Many.

“He was Mr Programme Management,” said friend Donnie MacNicol, former chair of APM’s People SIG.

“In all senses Geoff was a gentleman and a scholar, a witty, humble and kind man. We were delivering a workshop in London that required him to travel from Leeds. He turned up face bruised, limping and one arm in a sling. He had been out cycling the day before and come off trying to go down some stairs. He didn’t think of cancelling – after all nothing was broken!

“A wonderful man who I was honoured to call a friend.”

Geoff also turned his hand to humorous fiction, which in turn led to collaboration with Hon FAPM John Bartlett. The result was a 90-minute musical.

It was at an Honorary Fellows’ lunch that Geoff mentioned that among his work was a short radio play, The Vegan Vampire.

“I said it would make a good musical,” recalled John. “Geoff said ‘let’s do it’ so we did! He wrote the libretto, I composed the music. We finished it in the autumn of 2019.”

“Geoff was a giant of in the world of project management and a great wordsmith,” added John. “There are two words that sum up his contribution – ‘thought leadership’. He encouraged people to have ideas, to think outside the box.”

His varied talents also extended to rally driving and he was in demand as a motivational speaker.

APM president Sue Kershaw added: “Geoff was a real character who loved his profession deeply and realised what a huge impact it has on our lives and our communities. He will be missed for his joie de vivre, passion and deep commitment to our profession.”

  • Many of Geoff’s friends, colleagues and acquaintances have contacted APM to share their fond memories. If you would like to share your own memories and tributes, you can contribute using the comments section below.

 

4 comments

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  1. Matthew Johnson
    Matthew Johnson 22 July 2020, 05:49 PM

    Very saddened to hear this news.

  2. Tom Taylor
    Tom Taylor 26 July 2020, 10:31 AM

    Geoff Reiss - a quirky, versatile, renaissance Yorkshireman and innovator who loved and respected his chosen profession and whose profession loved and respected him. I have read, met and heard Geoff many times and never tired of his perception, eruditeness and wisdom across so many topics and media. All combined with good humour. Thanks Geoff.

  3. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 27 July 2020, 09:47 AM

    I remember Geoff with great fondness. He was a voice of reason and an unofficial mentor to me during my time as committee member, Secretary and (after I followed you) as Chair of ProgM SIG. The Gower Handbook of Programme Management (2006) is right up there in the Canon of Project Management literature. I recall working with you, Geoff, and the rest of the Handbook contributor’s team to produce ‘Is Programme Management delivering on its promise: ten years on?’ https://bit.ly/ProgmSIGwebinar (as a testimonial to Paul Rayner 10 years after writing on the guide started’) Another high point for me was Geoff’s simple open letter ‘Banging on about benefits’ (2013) https://www.apm.org.uk/news/banging-on-about-benefits/ ProgM SIG had led on championing the discipline but now, as Geoff suggested, it was the turn of the newly formed Benefits SIG. His letter drew upon the public date for investment in infrastructure programmes, such as HS2, that was raging at that time. Relevant then – particularly relevant now! Geoff, we recognise your major contribution you will be greatly missed.

  4. Chris Kanyane
    Chris Kanyane 29 September 2020, 08:44 AM

    Geoff Reiss was specially invited to South Africa. He was a great Guide to South Africa on the concept of Programme Management.