Association for Project Management (APM), has awarded Honorary Fellowship to professor Andrew Davies, RM Phillips Freeman Chair and professor of innovation management in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex Business School. As a researcher, educator, consultant and advisor he is fascinated by understanding and making innovation happen in complex projects, with a focus on large-scale infrastructure in the built environment.
What inspires you about your job?
Coming from an innovation background, for the last 15 years I have been lucky to collaborate with academic colleagues and project practitioners running London’s mega projects including Heathrow Terminal 5, the London Olympics, Cross Rail and HS2. At Heathrow Terminal 5, we looked at the systems integration, in terms of how you design and integrate complex projects, and at Cross Rail, we developed an open innovations strategy for the project (the Cross-Rail innovation programme), bringing academic ideas about open innovation to the project. Working closely with project practitioners, researching, developing and publishing new ideas to inform and shape leading project management practices is what inspires me.
What skills do you need to be a successful leader in projects and from your observation of projects over time how has this changed?
Good leaders have a very clear vision on what they need from the project, to be able to manage both inside and outside of the project effectively, and to see how the whole thing fits together.
We are living in a world driven by innovation, climate change and unexpected events like Brexit and Covid-19 that require adaptation and change to complete projects as quickly as possible. Good leaders also have that ability to inspire confidence and take on board new ideas and challenges and to adapt where necessary.
From your experience, what project would you hold as an example of how to do a project well and why?
Heathrow Terminal 5 was a visionary project in a period when most UK megaprojects failed miserably. Those involved really learnt from their own prior experience with the Heathrow Express tunnel collapse, other UK megaprojects and international airports around the world. They recognised that unless they didn’t do things differently T5 would also fail, so they created an entirely new collaborative approach led by a systems integrator – the client working in integrated project teams with key suppliers. These ideas have influenced other UK megaprojects – such as the London 2012 Olympics and Crossrail – and informed the key ideas, processes and capabilities which became part of the Project 13 blueprint for managing infrastructure projects developed by leading practitioners, academics and the ICE (Institute of Engineers).
What does the future of project management look like – what are the innovations you expect to see?
The future requires a need for adaptive project management. Leaders need to be able to adapt to change and recognise that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. An adaptive approach is useful in addressing four axes of variation: novelty, complexity, uncertainty and urgency. In more adaptive project management, greater room for flexibility and responsiveness means that the unexpected can be accommodated while ensuring the necessary outputs and outcomes are achieved. While each complex project requires a tailored approach to address unique challenges, performance can be improved by using repeatable and reliable routines that have worked well in the past and adopting modular, off-site and advanced methods of production using digital technology. Focusing on the results requires a tailored rather than standard approach. The most successful projects in future will place innovation at the centre of project delivery and make use of AI to support strategic decision making.
Do you think we are starting to see an adequate pipe line of young people into the profession?
It is good to see a rise in the number of courses in project management for young people to access, and that they are becoming more in demand, attracting both men and an increasing number of women. It is now recognised that to deliver a project successfully it requires a diverse range of skills sets, a mix of genders, different backgrounds and experience in order to solve problems.
The profession has become more interesting and attractive to a younger generation due to the many exciting and varied career pathways the project profession can provide. Highly visible projects will also help spread the growth of the profession, with organisations like APM also playing a big role in making it more visible to a younger audience.
The report you did for APM was based on an expert report for an inquiry of a project failure – the infamous Edinburgh trams project. You called for a more adaptive approach to project management. Do you think that is starting to change with increased professionalism?
The increasing professionalism in the profession is vital to provide people with the core tools, training and new ways of thinking project managers will require to innovate and solve the fast-changing problems facing the world in the 21st century. APM has been particularly impressive in developing a programme of education, training and qualification, while at the same time supporting new research, being open to new ideas and incorporating them in new initiatives such as the Future of Project Management (FoPM) in collaboration with Arup and UCL.
What is your next challenge?
I am focusing on my new role as RM Phillips Freeman Chair at Sussex and as Professor of Innovation Management in SPRU where I am leading research and teaching on the management of innovation and projects in the built environment. I am particularly interested in how the social, ecological and environmental challenges we face over the next few decades will impact on our infrastructure and cities and what new insights in innovation and management will be required to deliver future projects.
I am particularly interested in climate change and Net Zero. The fundamental Net Zero challenge requires mega projects in the future will have to deal with this head on. This is bigger than anything we are facing right now, Covid-19 is hugely important but climate change is the bigger picture that lies behind everything.