Barry Curry is an eminent project manager who has worked with some of the leading Blue Chip companies globally for over 20 years. As a chartered engineer and project manager, he has designed, and implemented software projects for companies of all sizes and complexity. Managing numerous projects, he has gained an extraordinary reputation internationally for successfully delivering projects, and rescuing and reviving troubled software projects. Barry is a proven project manager in variety of industries including Life Sciences, Manufacturing and Software Development.
Running a successful consultancy, Barry remains active with many international clients as a Program Manager, and Project Management Mentor.
PMTips: This time, we are interviewing Barry Curry, a Project management Specialist and notable software project manager who has worked with some of the top Blue Chip companies in various roles including a project manager for over 20 years.
Barry, thank you for making the time to do this interview.
Barry Curry: Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the PMTips magazine.
PMTips: Owning more than 15 years of experience in software project management expertise under your belt, can you tell us about your project management development? How do you see this profession, and what are the personal benefits you gained from being a project manager?
Barry Curry: In the early years I was placed in at the deep end in terms of managing projects. I experienced many challenges, but I made a huge effort to learn from issues experienced and to ensure that the same issues were not repeated. Soon I learned that many situations on projects could be predicted, gaining experience and bringing each experience to the next project.
From my perspective, project management is a vocation, not just another job. Project managers are hugely important in an organization and can be a key differentiator in the success of an organization. If a large organization can deliver projects and programs effectively, they can really thrive.
On a personal level, one huge benefit is having the opportunity to work with so many difference people across a number of companies on a regular basis. People get projects done, not systems or processes. The ability to read, understand and manage people is key to becoming a successful project manager. The face to face interaction with people is a key benefit for me.
PMTips: Graduated from the Dublin Institute of Technologies, you have started your career as an engineer. How did you find your way to becoming a software project manager? What challenges have you faced at the beginning of you career?
Barry Curry: It was almost by accident. The company that I worked for at the time needed someone with technical experience to manage a project with a very difficult customer. They chose me because I had shown promise in other work by taking leadership on some previous challenges. I had no project management experience at the time and although fearful I was eager to learn.
The biggest challenges for me were trying to create an accurate plan and deal with expanding scope. I was also fearful of giving bad news. I would often try to prevent giving bad news and in doing so temporarily unknowingly cover up issues until they would manifest themselves in a delay or a major issue.
PMTips: Barry, you have an extensive experience in variety of industries such as oil and gas, food and beverage, Life Sciences etc. Regarding software project management, can you tell us which of these industries is the most challenging one? And why?
Barry Curry: Life Sciences for me is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. Managing projects in a highly regulated industry is very challenging but it is also very rewarding as I have been involved in some major projects that have contributed to bringing life changing medicines and drugs to patients. The industry is challenging because there is huge amount of documentation, testing and validation required for software systems and equipment, but it is all for a very good reason. We need to ensure that products being consumed by patients are the best they can be. There can be no compromise on quality.
PMTips: In the last 8 years, you have been working as a MES Consultant and Project Manager at Système. Can you explain what MES stands for and how it is used? What is your role in the whole MES project management process?
Barry Curry: MES stands for Manufacturing Execution Systems, these systems essentially direct and control the manufacturing process and provide a detailed record of ingredients used, every step taken, every task performed, all user interaction all data parameters involved in the manufacture of a product.
They ensure that only the users follow approved procedures ensure that they can only do the right thing during manufacturing.
In my role, I help customers to define their business requirements, document the design, configure, build and test the systems and then qualify their use in the manufacturing environment. I also help them manage the business change associated with the implementation of these systems into their business.
PMTips: Every project faces challenges that when not properly monitored, managed, and controlled can lead to project failure. One of your focus as principal consultant at Système is to rescue and revive troubled software projects. In your experience, what is the best way for project managers to prepare a fail-safe recovery plan for rescuing failing projects?
Barry Curry: Prevention is the best cure, and so in learning from previous experiences, you can build a certain amount of resilience into project plans. Some project issues however are impossible to predict. When rescuing a trouble project, you must understand the root cause or causes of what went wrong in the first place. You need to overlook the symptoms and focus on the causes.
In summary the process is Investigation, Root Cause Analysis, Lessons Learned, Re-plan, Kick start for success. Once you kick start a rescued project, you must continually monitor for the same problems that caused the project to fail at the first attempt.
PMTips: Having over 20 years of project management experience, you have definitely tried and practiced many management strategies that are based on Agile, Lean and Kaizen principles. According to you, which of these principles has shown positive results in the software project management?
Barry Curry: Over the years I have learned to utilise a careful blend of all of these principles, conjunction with the traditional waterfall method of project management. The type of approach you should use needs to be adjusted for each project. Depending on when you take over a project or what you are delivering, the approach can differ. You must also be prepared to change your approach to project management to tackle a particular issue or to manage a specific situation.
PMTips: In one of your latest articles published on LinkedIn, you are talking about “Dark Matter” as one of the biggest risks that software project managers face. As defined on a software project, it is “the entity that we know exists but cannot see”. Briefly, can you explain the warning signs of the “dark matter” and how can the project managers deal with it?
Barry Curry: Wow that’s a tricky one. Dark matter is the scope that you don’t know about yet. The work that is taking up effort and time and has not been documented anywhere. So the team will plan with the best of intentions but won’t give every detail of every task to be done, they will only give the detail of the main tasks. As a result, time, effort and money will be expended on tasks that were not planned or not considered at the beginning. This typically happens when inadequate time has been spent on the planning process at the beginning and the plan has not been reviewed or rebase-lined.
To avoid or reduce “Dark Matter”, you need to have multiple planning sessions before you commit to the final plan. If you find more than one instance of previously unknown tasks during a long project, stand the team down, re-plan and try to squeeze more detail out of the technical experts.
PMTips: What advice would you share to young professionals who are starting their careers as project managers? What are the main skills that they should focus on the most?
Barry Curry: You must have some expertise in the area in which you are managing projects, domain knowledge is essential. Be 100% open and transparent in all dealings. Resist the temptation to only deliver the good news. Be prepared for bad news, it happens. Plans will change, they are not permanent. Talk to your team regularly both as a group and on a 1:1 basis. Stay focussed on the end goal, problems will happen, deal with them and move on. You can’t predict every single problem, but you can develop a mechanism for dealing with every problem.
PMTips: Barry, this was the last question. It was a great pleasure doing this interview. You really broaden our horizons in better understanding software project management. Thank you for participating. Is there anything else that you would like to add for PMtips readers?
Barry Curry: Perform a thorough “Lessons Learned” or “After Action Review” after each major stage of a project. Implement the lessons. If this is done honestly, it will be very effective. If your current approach isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change the approach.