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Q & A with James Martin-Young, principal consultant at MI-GSO | PCUBED

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James will be presenting at APM’s South Wales and West of England Branch Conference, sponsored by Frazer-Nash Consultancy, which will focus on the Project Team of the Future. 

James’s session ‘The Agile Mindset – Communication, Collaboration and Coaching in a Virtual World’ will explore how to embrace the agile mindset and principles in a virtual world.

Here James speaks to APM about his current role and adopting an agile mindset.

Tell us about your current role and the work you do

I am currently a principal consultant with MI-GSO | PCUBED and have been with the firm for over six years. Working as a project management consultant means my work is varied and interesting. Over the past year, I have worked with multiple clients across industry sectors to structure agile delivery models, implement adaptive strategy and deliver engineering projects using agile techniques. I also lead our Agile Community of Practice in the UK and have recently focused on building the agile capability within our UK and Global business. It’s been a great journey so far and working on important programmes really drives me forward, but it’s the people that really keep me engaged!

What do you enjoy about supporting your clients on transformation programmes?

Put simply, it’s seeing the client’s teams grow and transform, helping them to use their knowledge of their products or specialisms to really shift the dial and improve results. As I mentioned this starts with the people themselves, working with them to structure new teams and helping them to grow their capabilities. Delivering outcomes is critical but is almost a bi-product of enabling teams to fulfil their potential. I particularly enjoy the start of the journey, making small changes with teams who can often be resistant and watching the results of the changes create momentum and buy-in. With the right guidance and support, teams flourish and are able to deliver great outcomes for their businesses. At the other end of the spectrum it’s always sad to leave a client but it is the nature of my job and ensuring they are in a markedly better position when I do leave is an absolute must for me.

Do you think the pandemic has forced transformations within organisations or simply accelerated changes that needed to happen anyway?

This is a great question and I believe it’s a little of both. There are businesses that I’ve worked with that would never have moved to remote working just due to the nature of their work, but through the necessity to adapt and overcome they are now thriving. On the other hand, some clients were already thinking about digital transformation, remote working and business agility. The pandemic significantly accelerated these programmes and investment decisions so that businesses are able to maintain their competitive advantage. Ultimately, I think it depends on the industry and an organisation’s culture as to how quickly they are willing to respond to change. As you can see, I work with clients across that spectrum and one thing I can say is that whilst a catalyst for change, the pandemic has presented profound challenges for all that I’ve worked with and whilst it’s sometimes been hard work most have embraced the need to adapt and to continue to deliver the outcomes their customers expect.

Is an agile mindset important for project managers using a non-agile methodology and, if so, why?

I come from a traditional Project Management and PMO background, so I am by no means an Agile evangelist, but one of my core principles is that agility is not a methodology. More than anything it’s a mindset and can be utilised in any context when the balance is right. I work with clients on large waterfall programmes but will always work with them to understand the core principles of agility and give them sight of the tools and techniques which can enable them to improve their delivery. I think we can all agree that adaptability, good stakeholder management, building relationships, expertise are all characteristics of a good project manager and these align directly with agility. Having the mindset to adapt to change and adopting some of the techniques to facilitate improved delivery is in my opinion a great asset to any project. From using Kanban to better establish visibility of work and improve flow to just empowering your team to make decisions or recommend solutions, we can all benefit from an agile mindset. 

How can managers, team leaders and colleagues support team members when it comes to adopting an agile mindset?

In my view it’s critical for any transformation or move to business agility that senior management as well as management at all levels are bought in. That is the first step to enabling the teams to change their ways of working and only the management structures within a business can make that decision. That being said, there are many ways in which leaders at all levels can support the adoption of an agile mindset. Firstly, training is important, investing in people’s capability so that they can support others in their journey. Secondly, seeing failure as a learning exercise and encouraging experimentation rather than punishing it. And whilst there are many others, the crucial one for me and one I believe all managers and colleagues should be doing anyway is empowering each other to use the skills they have developed over their career to make decisions and do what they believe is right. It’s often a simple shift in mindset but also given traditional organisational hierarchies and business process can be very difficult to make. My advice is always to start small and introduce elements of the agile mindset so that teams can grow in confidence when they start to see the benefits it brings.

James Martin-Young’s session at the South Wales and West of England Branch Conference will take place on Wednesday 13 October at 9.40am.  To see the full programme and to book your place visit here.  Members (free) Non-members (£15).

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