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Networking event for newcomers to project management

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The University of the West of England was host to an inspirational talks from members of the APM South Wales & West of England branch, including members of the Helping Hands team that won the 2015 APM Project Management Challenge. Following these presentations, breakout sessions were facilitated with the aspiring project managers in attendance. The theme of the event was entitled “Networking Event for Newcomers to Project Management” and was aimed at individuals seeking to embark on a career in project management.  

In his welcoming address Paul Johnson, the SWWE Newcomers Representative, set the scene for the evening by explaining the nature and structure of the event along with the proposed agenda. He went on to point out that the branch is one of the most active in the APM covering a large geographical area in the South West with more than 2880 individual and 55 corporate members. The branch organises around 20 member events throughout the year suitable for all levels of experience. It continues to have extensive engagement with academia and corporate members alike providing many individuals with the opportunity to network with employers across many different sectors of industry. 

Following Paul’s introduction, the principal guest speakers for the evening were Rebekah Rice and Sophie Edwards. Rebekah and Sophie both work for Bristol Water, and they were also part of the Helping Hands team that won the 2015 APM Project Management Challenge. They gave a motivational and inspiring presentation; the benefits of participating in the PM challenge, and of being involved in Project Management as a whole, shone through. 

The Helping Hands team worked with the One 25 Shelter who provide for women living on the streets of Bristol. Their challenge was to improve security and overall living conditions at the One 25 Shelter. Their presentation focused upon the importance of good team-working and selecting the most appropriate tools and techniques to ensure that the projects objectives are delivered. Alongside the more traditional PM tools and techniques such as scheduling and risk management, Rebekah and Sophie also identified that thinking outside of the box and utilising your existing contacts as being of equal importance. Having spent time on the streets with their stakeholders to build their understanding of the requirement and to optimise the Helping Hands outputs, Rebekah and Sophie summarised their experiences of the PM Challenge as: helping a good cause, developing new skills, making new friends, and building confidence!

After the presentations, the whole group went to a break-out room, and were divided into six groups to discuss the following topics:

  • Group 1: What makes a successful project manager - qualifications or experience?
  • Group 2: What three core 'personal' competences or attributes must I demonstrate to have a chance of success as a professional project manager?
  • Group 3: What does project success look like?
  • Group 4: I want to be a successful project manager and I'm ambitious; what are the three core 'management' competences I should focus on?
  • Group 5: What are the challenges for managing a project which is highly complex and technically challenging?
  • Group 6: Are project managers born or bred?

Following 20 minutes of exploring the questions posed, a spokesperson for each group presented the key points of their discussion to the entire group, prompting further discussion around the groups’ findings. The keys themes to emerge were (please see attached Feeback results for further details):

  • Group 1: The group saw ‘experience’ as the slightly more beneficial leading element on the basis that if you have experience you should have already addressed many of the characteristics and competences that a training environment would offer.
  • Group 2: The group identified leadership, Clear communication of project goals and objectives and organisational skills as the three ‘personal’ competencies required to become a successful Project Manager.
  • Group 3: Aspects of project success were identified and grouped into four categories: internal (project), internal (business), internal (personal) and external.
  • Group 4: The three ‘management’ competencies that were identified by the group as being synonymous with a successful project manager were leadership, decision making and thinking outside of the box.
  • Group 5: The conclusion drawn by the group was that many of the challenges they identified (risks, failure to understand scope, lack of resource) were generic to Project Management whether in a simple or complex environment.
  • Group 6: The group concluded that everyone is born with a degree of natural ability. A good project manager recognises what he/she is good at, and develops (through training or experiences) further skills to ensure that the project can be delivered. As each project is unique and presents its own set of challenges, a good project manager will always look to develop new skills and approaches as they progress through their career.

The evening concluded with refreshments providing an additional networking opportunity to all attendees to hopefully inspire a new generation of project managers in the making.


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