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Power of the profession conference series kicks off in Manchester

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APM’s first event in the Power of the Profession conference series took place in Manchester in early November. The conference, sponsored by Hyde Park Solutions Ltd. brought together delegates from around the country and across numerous sectors to hear from a diverse range of speakers. Former CBI director-general John Cridland CBE, now chairman of Transport for the North, and Maeve Cohen, director of Rethinking Economics, delivered inspiring keynote sessions. Delegates also participated in a series of sessions in Smarter Thinking, Smarter Working and Smarter Leadership streams.

The day kicked off with an opening address by newly appointed APM chief executive Debbie Dore, who shared news on the first tranche of project professionals to become chartered.  At the end of October 2018, 271 ChPPs were registered.

The conference theme, A Catalyst for Good highlighted the opportunities that the profession brings for significant socio-economic impact. One such is the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, first envisioned by former Chancellor George Osborne “as a collection of northern cities… sufficiently close to each other that combined they can take on the world” back in June 2014. Today, the concept holds massive promise, John Cridland CBE told the APM Conference Manchester.

He said Government continued to back the Northern Powerhouse concept, which had the potential to create 850,000 additional jobs and more than £100bn of value in the economy above business-as-usual activities. Connectivity in terms of new transport links – the centrepiece being a “Crossrail for the North” linking Liverpool to Hull – plus the exploitation of sectors such as advanced manufacturing, low carbon energy, logistics, health innovation and digital technologies would drive this mega-project forward.

In the Smarter Leadership stream, Sarah Coleman, director, Business Evolution, and Tom Frost, head of Shell Project Academy, outlined the findings of new APM research on Leadership Competencies, that Sarah co-authored with Mike Bourne of Cranfield University. Tom represented Shell as one of the key contributors to the research – along with BAE Systems, IQVIA, Jacobs and Siemens. Sarah and Tom explained their findings of eight “survival skills” project leaders need and ran an interactive session challenging the audience to decide on their top three competencies. The group agreed judgement and decision-making, creating the right project culture and environment, and building credibility and confidence were on top. The discussion continued with suggestions that leadership was not just a question of “command and control” but was distributed right across the project team. Team members could act as a “critical friend” to the project leader. “The biggest thing a leader can say is, ‘I don’t know the answer – tell me’,” one delegate suggested.

Over in the Smarter Working stream, Lynn Dwyer was looking at the impact of virtual reality on projects. Lynn, who is head of commercial at Liverpool University’s Virtual Engineering Centre, talked about the importance of technologies such as AI and robotics. And she asked what impact digitalisation could have on projects. The Virtual Engineering Centre has been working with both SMEs in the supply chain and large enterprises and OEMs. To exploit the potential of virtual reality in sectors from aerospace to energy and automotive and even healthcare, through the use of immersive virtual environments that blend the virtual and real worlds. Lynn stressed the importance of using digitalisation for the right reasons rather than for technology’s sake; but that it can bring huge benefits if the implementation process is carefully managed. 

In the Smarter Thinking stream, where social impact of projects was at the fore, senior project manager Benjamin Heap and national engagement lead Hannah Eustace from NHS England outlined a major scheme: the new Local Health & Care Record Programme, a successor to the ill-fated project. The project aims to digitally store and share patient records and information locally in order to improve patient care. Ben and Hannah explained that local health authorities and social care organisations were working together for the first time to collaborate and create an information-sharing environment to help improve services.

Ben and Hannah explained how sharing of best practice was an important aspect of the project, with processes put in place for one organisation to use another’s lessons learned to improve. Ultimately, the project should increase transparency and avoid duplication of effort in the health and social care communities in England via the adoption of “large clusters” of local organisations that share information effectively.

Finally, the APM Conference Manchester was treated to an energetic afternoon keynote speech by Maeve Cohen, director of Rethinking Economics, a student-led campaign to reform economics education and practice. Cohen argued that economics is dominated by one school of thought that values competition over collaboration and neglects factors such as the environment, the value of domestic labour (what we might call ‘feminist economics’) and cultural and religious institutions. She said she wanted to develop a “pluralist, critical and real-world economics” that prioritised social as well as physical infrastructure and championed diversity. A change in economics education aims to bring about shifts in how business leaders, managers and project professionals work.

The APM Conference Manchester was the first of three  Power of the Profession conference series.  The series was designed to celebrate how the profession is transitioning from facilitator to influencer.  All have a diverse range of speakers who help delegates to discover practical takeaways to implement in their own management of projects, programmes and portfolios. There's still time to book your place for the APM conference Edinburgh, 21 March 2019, and APM Conference London, 2 May 2019.

Copies of the speaker presentations are now available to view.


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