Antony della Porta is an established professional in the delivery of strategic business change and an advisor for programme and project recovery with critical systems thinking approach. With an experience of over 30 years in the project management profession, he enables organizations realize their strategic business, environmental and sustainability goals, through the excellence of Portfolio, Programme and Project Management. He has been an Executive Advisor and Director at GPM Global and founded “The Sustainable PM” initiative, which is a platform that is set to help PMs become "sustainable”. He is also an accredited instructor and practitioner for a number of courses in the fields of management and project management.
PMTips: For many years you have been sharing your expertise and knowledge with the PM community through various means. What drove you to start the Sustainable PM initiative and actively help others expand their knowledge and improve their skills?
Antony della Porta: Soon after I became a course instructor, I developed my particular style of classroom delivery. Actually, nothing really new, just going back to traditional means and methods – chalk and talk. I knew slides were a bore, literally, and I believed a different approach was needed. I was proved right. As I developed a natural way of running my courses and drawing and talking as I went, I realized that each week the delegates would only have a one-shot at the information and content. So I decided to record the material in the same fashion and put it on line.
The mission is to reach a broader audience as well as those who had already attended my courses and wanted a refresh. However, it was really the broader audience, who were not able or likely to attend courses, that I really wanted to help. Some just need a refresh, others starting out for the first time and so my initial set of videos are there to do that. Get current PMs back on track and helps others start that track.
The videos are recorded in such a way as to explain the Why and the What and most importantly the HOW.
The key to the SPM is to provide ideas and information to help them keep abreast of current approaches and techniques and even start to look at future ones. So initially it’s getting us all up to speed and realign a few misnomers if you like. The next phase will be to generate discussion and points for thinking and look into the future.
PMTips: As an accredited instructor for a number of courses, can you tell us what kind of value any additional training or the acquiring of accreditations brings to PM professionals? How can it affect the progress of their career?
Antony della Porta: The courses and subsequent accreditation add value in a number of ways, such as validation/vindication of skill, knowledge and experience for those already in the business of change initiatives. For those just starting out, the courses will give them a foundational guidance as to how these initiatives ought to be run and to show prospective employers that they have taken steps to gain that framework. This last point also applies to the “seasoned” PM.
The courses also provide a means to gaining a broader knowledge and understanding as to how different initiatives need to be run and the different tools and techniques to support those different needs.
It is quite easy these days to get locked into a particular approach(es) and not realize that there are other ways to work as well. On my courses I explain a lot more about the “How” the various parts work and therefore help PMs pick and choose with more understanding.
PMTips: You have worked as a management and project delivery consultant for a number of companies. Is there one universal rule that should always be applied when a successful project delivery is in question? Or, does every project have a story of its own and the advice you give and approaches you suggest differ from one project to another?
Antony della Porta: As a consulting PM I need to hit the ground running, so first thing I look to do, even before I commence a new contract, is to find out about the company, its mission, the way it works and style/culture. Even for a PM who maybe a permanent member, its important to get to know what the company strategy is because all initiatives should be supporting that strategy and the more a PM understands that the great the opportunity to ensure that proper Governance is in place and the business are engaged and involved. After all, these changes are business changes, funded by them and the resultant benefits and ROI are for the business, so get up close and personal with the key stakeholders.
Does every project have its own story - Yes, it is a fact that every initiative is different/unique, so each will have its own nuances, however, they all need to follow a similar pattern, but not delivered the same way – this is probably the most important point to make. Every initiative needs various approaches, and variations of those, throughout its time frame. What may be right for beginning, to run a Proof of Concepts for example, will not be right for later through pilots and then roll-outs. Each will need a different style. No one style/approach/method fits all!
PMTips: As a consultant, you have been involved in the rescue and recovery of projects for many years and you have worked for a large number of companies. From your experience, is it possible not to miss the signs that trouble is developing? Is there a way to deal with issues that go unnoticed until the impact is too significant to ignore? In the end, what can PM professionals do to dampen the impact of developing issues?
Antony della Porta: This is a good question: mainly because it raises the point about Risk and Issue management! An area that is sadly poorly done, partly due to lack of real knowledge and misunderstanding. Sometimes just due to fear of Risk.
Any forecasting of a potential impact to the successful delivery on the initiatives objects is being proactive – this is Risk management. If someone identifies something that has a potential to materialize in the future, during the life of the initiative then an issue will be avoided and issues cause more problems, as they come out of the blue, than a risk where we can plan some action.
So issues will go unnoticed and one can only “respond” to an issue, as noted it comes from nowhere. The fact that the impact “becomes” too significant is suggesting that one has arisen and no action has been taken. This is dangerous. PM need to be aware of their authority/boundaries and where there are not sure, go discuss this with the owner(s) of the initiative (Project Exec, Sponsor, whatever title) and find out what they, the PM, can or cannot deal with. This is the first step in issue management!
I was engaged for a Data Centre Build programme a few years back and one of my first questions to the programme director was: “how much leeway for decisions do I have before I need to come to you?”. (“manage by exception” general rule), Brian’s reply was (great one for me) “Keep making them until you hit a brick wall, feel out of your depth!”. That only happened a couple of times!
PMTips: Your active involvement and dedication to the GPM global movement marks you as one of its most involved advocates. Can you tell us about its effects, its evolution and how well it is accepted in the PM community? How ready or eager are PM professionals to implement sustainability in their work?
Antony della Porta: Firstly, thank you for the compliment though not sure it’s really well deserved. It’s true that I have been active with GPM and Joel for a number of years now. I met up with Joel back in 2012 and immediately saw the energy and passion he had for “driving sustainable change” through the change initiative mechanisms. I attained the GPM-b accreditation in 2013 and started work on my GPM-m, which I attained in 2014, in order to underpin my background, knowledge and commitment to GPM and Sustainability globally.
GPM has gone from strength to strength and with great agility, and, with a view to keeping itself “sustainable”, has recently released a new version of the Handbook and the P5 Standard guide. The fact that the Handbook has had record downloads on Amazon is a testament to its validity and relevance.
GPM has a very strong relationship with the UN, a partnership that has been going since 2013 when Joel became a “signatory” to the UN Global Compact and since then to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Both vital for underpinning and confirming GPM’s commitment to Global Compact.
The PM community is rapidly taking on the realization of the need to absorb sustainability practices into their change initiatives and the numbers taking the foundation certification is growing at an exponential rate. GPM’s three levels of certification have been realigned which the Foundation represents a fundamental understanding is a question based exam. The -s and -m levels are competency-based reflecting the knowledge of the PMs with reference to their addressing sustainability through their change initiatives.
Much of this also reflects the commitment of the organizations these PMs work for, to delivering their policies on Sustainability, by encouraging their PMs to attain this accreditation. Not forgetting the PMs themselves who recognise the relevance and importance of understanding how to address and also incorporate the polies through change initiatives.
PMTips: In terms of delivering change in projects, how helpful can the implementation of the sustainable approach be? What are the benefits for a PM professional from bringing sustainability in their work?
Antony della Porta: All too often we forge ahead with initiatives without understanding and acknowledging their impact. There is a great video on YouTube, that we used to have in the course material, made by the “The Story of Stuff Project” and presented by Annie Leonard” called “Bottled Water”.
That initially starts off about bottled water. The latter part raises the environment impact! Another is “Plastic Ocean”. These point out just one aspect of how we impact our lives by delivering changes that are counter humanity, because of the impact these changes have on the environment, people and our economic framework.
It is vital that we are acutely aware of these areas before we even start. Changes are brought about through projects and so obviously this is where we need to address the idea of any changes and their impact on the sustainability of the organization, its people, reputation and ultimately, and more importantly, on the global arena.
PMs (referring to Project, Programme AND Portfolio managers) are key to taking this approach and engagement on board. Though, ironically, one would assume this is the role of the Business Analyst. As roles, these two are often fulfilled by the same person! So those filling these roles will be in a position to provide greater understanding of the impact from a “sustainability” perspective and raise an organization’s reputation positively.
PMTips: In today’s world, safeguarding our natural resources is imperative. Organizations have to implement an ever-increasing volume of programs and projects to keep up with compliance requirements. Teams managing large-scale and complex transformation projects work under immense pressure, with high expectations in terms of delivery. How can they stay afloat and evade failure?
Antony della Porta: For sure, this is a really tricky area. More and more compliance, which, unfortunately, even though to a certain extent needed/necessary (arguably) is being fostered up organizations and increasingly impacting on their daily operations and business. It is really difficult to balance resources delivering changes for compliance/regulatory needs and needed business change generally.
It is often a case of difficult choices – but there is a real need to prioritize and even challenge some of the compliance changes and even push back. We are becoming too tied with compliance and regulations for their own sake and it is getting out of control. Just look at product expiry/best before dates! Many are meaningless, wasting food (like eggs) and over burdening for no benefit, in fact often detrimental.
PMTips: Can you tell us what differentiates “sustainable” PM professionals from those that still have not considered sustainability as an option?
Antony della Porta: Those PMs (and by PM mean Portfolio to Project managers) that are active in addressing “sustainability” throughout their changes are providing the business a great opportunity of ensuring the organization as a whole is committed and involved with sustainability at a strategic level. This is crucial if organizations globally are to exert their influence on the governments of the world and act on changing the current negative impacts that are currently at play here.
We need to halt these negative impacts and the first place to do this is through new changes that are taking place daily and globally, by organizations. However, we can still begin to address sustainability by applying the approach and understanding in current initiatives to ensure that these comply with future goals such as the UN 17 Sustainability Goals and the UN Global Compact.
PMTips: With all this said, what kind of advice would you give PM professionals that have not yet taken their first step toward implementing any sustainable approaches and actually need that first push in that direction?
Antony della Porta: As PMs we are instrumental in the changes we run and hence need to be able to address “sustainability”.
First step would be to understand what, if any, are the Sustainability policies and goals of the organizations we work for, to appreciate the impact of the changes and relationship of those changes to these policies. Are there areas that we could review and so find ways to address those areas that could potentially have a negative impact.
Next would be to understand how to assess the impacts and therefore find ways to advise to have changes made to the project deliverables and objectives.
To do this the best place to start is by visiting greenprojectmanagement.org website where we have a wealth of information on sustainability, course and assessment details on becoming an accredited Sustainable PM and the P5 standard, which informs PMs on how, with tools, sustainable their current and future change initiatives are/will be.
The definitive GPM Reference Guide informs the PMs about the broader aspects of Sustainability in general and why these aspects and areas, also documented in the P5 Standard, can and need to be addressed and ultimately incorporated into change initiatives. The Reference Guide is a vital handbook for the Sustainability Profession and is also the foundation material for the GPM-b accreditation.