Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo has an experience of over 25 years as a consultant and trainer in the fields of applied asset, portfolio, program and project management. As a Project Controls Manager at VECO, he served on a series of oil projects for Alyeska Pipeline, ARCO Alaska and Unocal, as well as projects for the US Air Force Distance Early Warning Sites. Afterwards, he focused his career on providing business consulting and training for companies that operate in the fields of general construction, oil and gas, mining, international development and telecommunications. He is an expert in cost estimating, planning and scheduling, contracts and skills typically associated with Project Controls.
PMTips: You served as Project Controls Manager on a series of oil projects for Alyeska Pipeline, ARCO Alaska and Unocal, as well as projects for the US Air Force Distance Early Warning Sites. Can you tell us what the responsibilities of a Project Controls Manager are and what their role in the project controls team is? How different is their work from that of a project manager?
Paul D. Giammalvo: As a project control managers, we have a fiduciary obligation to represent the best interests of all or at least as many of the key stakeholders as possible. We do this first by trying to be as realistic as possible in establishing time frames (project scheduled durations) and costs (budgets) that can be achieved. Then once the project is underway, we have a fiduciary duty to accurately and reliably track and report progress on the project whether the news is “good” or “bad” and to offer expert advice or guidance on how to prevent cost over-runs or delays before they happen and then if they do happen, to try to provide ideas and suggestions to recover from them.
PMTips: Considering the large scale of the projects that you have had the chance to work on, there must be unique and very particular challenges you have dealt with. How does a Project Controls Manager deal with any challenges that arise during a project’s lifecycle?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Actually, project management and project controls are nothing more than applied common sense. The primary problems are usually political in nature – owners expecting contractors or internal project managers to deliver projects in unrealistic time frames and/or with insufficient resources (money, people, machines, etc.).
Project management really is not all that difficult, at least in theory. IF you know what is expected to be done or accomplished and IF you have a realistic time frame and IF you have access to and control over the resources necessary to do the job, then the chances of success are very high. And we see this in our personal and professional lives all the time- vacations and holidays, obtaining academic degrees, getting married – all examples of personal projects that we generally are “successful” at doing.
The problems occur when we start to “scale up” the projects making them larger and more complex, seems to be when “common sense” goes out the window and politics is the primary factor.
PMTips: Some of your expertise is in the field of General Construction, Oil and Gas, and Mining. How demanding is to work on projects in those sectors? What differentiates the work on those from projects in other sectors, like Telecommunications and IT sectors?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Having been responsible to construct and maintain telecommunications sites during the Vietnam war, (1968-69) the only place I have ever been shot at was on those telecommunications projects, never on an oil, gas or mining project, even though we have done work in conflict areas in Aceh and West Papua Indonesia.
As construction tends to be loud, dirty and done outside, often on remote sites and under all kinds of weather conditions, while most IT and Telecoms work is done inside in office environments, the physical working conditions are the major negative factor. On the other hand, construction people tend to be straight-forward and often brutally honest, so you tend to get less “political back-stabbing” and sabotage on most construction sites than you find in an office environment. (Keep in mind this is a generalization and not an absolute statement of fact in all cases.)
PMTips: How does one become a competent portfolio, program and project management practitioner? What skills should they focus on developing in order to achieve the required levels of competence?
Paul D. Giammalvo: The same way that one becomes a competent Doctor, Lawyer, Airline Pilot, Carpenter, Plumber, Butcher, Baker or Candlestick maker – by continuously learning and challenging yourself to larger, more complex projects.
REQUIRED SKILL SETS
These are the actual skill sets that a “project manager” or “project controller” needs to develop.
Speaking pragmatically, the skill sets are no different than any operations manager or other mid- to senior level manager would be expected to develop.
There are two dimensions to developing competency as shown in this graphic. The first dimension is the TYPE or KINDS of KNOWLEDGE and the 2nd dimension is HOW that knowledge can or should be applied.
Having come up through the trades from apprentice to journeyman to master carpenter and builder as well as being a PADI SCUBA diving instructor and private pilot, when I design my courses, I do not focus on passing exams but on building competency, thus we have adopted the Iowa State model as the framework around which to develop all my courses.
This model looks at 4 different TYPES of knowledge (left) and HOW that knowledge is applied using Dr. Benjamin Blooms attributes for different levels of COMPETENCY.
PMTips: From 2009 until 2014 you were involved in providing training to over 50 Nigerian professionals and helped them earn one or more of the AACE Certifications. What was the intention behind the initiative and what led you to be a part of it? In the end, what were your impressions after you completed these mentoring courses?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Yes, we not only provide training in Nigeria but since 1996 to today, also in the Middle East, European Union, North Africa, South and Eastern Asia Pacific and China. The vast majority are mid-career path professionals (25-45 years old) and well over 60% of our clients are Muslims. The intention is generally the same – for the individual, they are trying to improve their job opportunities by getting certified, hoping for a new job or promotion, while the companies who sponsor them, are hoping that by developing competent local practitioners, they can reduce the number of relatively expensive Expatriate staffing. For the governments, developing local competencies is good politics and supports capacity building, helps to meet some of the UN’s Millennial Development Goals.
Image Source: celt.iastate.edu
My impression is that people are pretty much the same around the world, regardless of skin color, religion, ethnicity or country of origin. There are good people and bad people, smart people and mentally challenged people, but the attributes that I look for and value most are:
- an eagerness to learn and
- a strong commitment to succeed
IF you have those two attributes, then I can work wonders with you, bringing you beyond where you imagine you can be.
PMTips: What is your view on the PM certifications? How important is it for professionals that aspire to become project managers to acquire any of the PM certifications?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Frankly speaking, as both a life-long practitioner and world class academic, I am both a skeptic and cynical about most of the certifications, particularly those developed by PMI and APM.
I am so cynical that since 2010, I have been publishing research that benchmarks some 80+ (soon to be close to 100) global project management credentials against both Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour” rule as well as against the level of effort it takes to obtain a Professional Engineer (PE) license in the USA. I have done this to dispel the blatantly false and misleading claims made by these organizations about their credentials, with PMI being one of the worst offenders, followed by APM.
Below are the results and here is the link to the last update, noting that I am preparing another update for January of 2020. As you can see, there are way too many credentials that are nothing more than SCAMS and many of the credentials marketed as being “professional” level (i.e. PMI’s PMP) are nothing more than the same as getting your learners permit as part of the process to obtain your first drivers license.
PMTips: You design and deliver all of your courses based on certain specifications and standards, some of which include the 7 of the Project Based Learning (PBL) Attributes and all 4 Levels of Kirkpatrick. Can you tell us about the reason you choose to work with those standards and the value behind their implementation in the work of project managers?
Paul D. Giammalvo: In addition to using the Iowa State’s “Center of Excellence in Teaching” as the basis around which to design my courses, to develop the soft or people skills, I also reference the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) to ensure that the graduates of my courses have developed skill sets that employers value. While these skill sets are for fresh graduates, I have found that they apply just as well if not more so to adult learners and mid-career path professionals.
Given that I teach APPLIED project and program management, the use of Project Based Learning only makes sense. As an undergraduate, I took courses at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) which was an early adopter of project based learning which is where I got my first exposure to the concept, and then as a trade school teacher (carpentry) as well as a SCUBA diving instructor, I came to really appreciate the importance of “learn by doing” which is why all my courses involve project based learning as a core element.
Lastly, again based on my experiences teaching carpentry at the trade school level as well as teaching SCUBA diving and earning my pilots license, I became a fan of “results-based assessments” as a logical conclusion to “learning by doing”. (If you produce something from your projects, then doesn’t it make sense that you should get credit or recognition for the results?) For this reason, I have adopted the 4 levels of Kirkpatrick as ways for my students to evaluate my courses.
To my knowledge, I am the ONLY INDEPENDENT (not affiliated with any University) project management training provider in the world to be using BOTH Project Based Learning as the delivery method AND Kirkpatrick as the Assessment method.
PMTips: How can PM professionals acquire the competencies required for solving the problems that arise in real-life projects? How can they distinguish between what they have read in a textbook with how things are in the real world?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Like learning to drive a car or fly a plane or remove and inflamed appendix, you can read all the books of sample questions or watch all the YouTube videos or read all the books ever written, but until you actually sit behind the wheel of the car or hold the yoke of the plane or scalpel in your hand and actually start driving or flying or cutting, you really CANNOT build competency.
Using the analogy of getting your first drivers license as typical of all competency assessments, you first need to study a book of rules of the road, signage and traffic laws then you take a multiple choice exam and if you pass that, then you are issued a LEARNERS PERMIT which authorizes you to drive the family sedan around town under the watchful eyes of an instructor or licensed adult. That is what most of the most popular of the project management certifications exams, including the PMP validate.
Then once you have your learners permit and have driven around for a couple of weeks or months to build your APPLIED SKILLS, only then will your driving instructor say you are ready to schedule an appointment with the DMV officer, who puts you through a series of standardized tests that if you pass, you are deemed COMPETENT and the DMV officer issues you your drivers license. The part that is MISSING with the PMP and many other project management certifications is the PRACTICUM part where you are required to demonstrate that you are in fact competent in driving a car or flying a plane or SCUBA diving or removing an inflamed appendix.
PMTips: You have experience of over 2 decades as a course developer, trainer and facilitator in the fields of project management and project controls. What kind of advice would you give young professionals that would like to become project managers or even project controls managers?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Treat project management or project controls the same as you would any other TRADE or PROFESSION and focus on building your COMPETENCY by seeking out varied and progressively more challenging EXPERIENCE. Start out at the very bottom as an Apprentice or Intern and then work your way up by volunteering for ever more challenging projects while at the same time attending classes to learn the terminology, tools, techniques and processes (see the left hand side of the Iowa State graphic above) and then practice APPLYING what you have learned while at work. Building your competency as a project manager or project controller is no different than obtaining your first drivers license, your pilots license, learning to SCUBA dive or learning to remove and inflamed appendix. Knowledge + Skills + Attitude + Commitment + Experience = Competency. Simple as that.
PMTips: You are an expert in cost estimating, contracts, planning and scheduling, skills normally associated with Project Controls. All that considered, what is the best practical advice you can give to project controls managers, particularly in regards to the challenges they face in projects?
Paul D. Giammalvo: First of all, stop wasting your time and money taking “cram for the exam” courses to earn exam-based certifications that are nothing more than the equivalent of getting your learners permit. Focus on investing the time and effort it takes to seek out COMPETENCY based credentials such as those offered by IPMA for Project Managers or the Guild of Project Controls, for project control practitioners.
Secondly, seek out trainers who have adopted Project Based Learning (or “Learn By Doing”) and who can provide examples of the RESULTS the graduates of their programs can produce. Do NOT pick training providers who show you only their “Smiley Face” reviews as those measure only how good they are as ENTERTAINERS. What people need to be able to see are examples of what the graduates of their courses CAN and HAVE done. (Kirkpatrick Level 4) If your training provider cannot show you what his/her graduates can do/have done, then pick another training provider.