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Interview with Richard Heaslip: Successful Project Governance

Today, I interview Richard Heaslip. He is the author of Managing Complex Projects & Programs: How to Improve Leadership in Complex Initiatives Using Third-Generation Approach. He has great insight into leadership and governance in complex project environments.
Richard, thank you for being here. Your career began as a scientist. When were you first identified as a project manager
This is a great question! Since around 15 years, I have considered myself a professional project and program manager. I think I officially transitioned from my technical career when I realized that I enjoyed being project or program manager and that I was good at it. And that I was making an impact. I started to see project management as a profession rather than a job. I began to think of myself as a programmer scientist, rather than a biological scientist.
Penn’s teaching is an extension of this transformation. It is based on the belief there is a science to what program and project managers do. We must develop that science and provide opportunities for professionals to learn and study it more deeply.
Although I don’t think leadership would be a science, I know that we all agree that it is essential for successful projects. What is the most important role a leader can play in a project’s success?
It all depends on the nature and scope of the project. Some projects require a strategist while others require a tactician. Some projects require a technical sage, while others require an operational savant.
It is important that a program or project leader be an integrator. Someone who can see the whole picture and understand how it all fits together. Someone who can assimilates the views and provides a coherent perspective.
Project leaders who are responsible for operational efficiency must be able to communicate operational requirements, uncertainties, and complexities effectively. Program leaders who are responsible to deliver program benefits must be highly skilled in communicating how program outcomes have satisfied (or failed) to deliver the intended value.
Communication is key to project success. What other factors contribute to the success of programs and projects?
I find that projects’ success is often attributed to the early steps taken in project lifecycles. These steps are crucial to understanding their intended value, the uncertainties they will face, as well as what a team must do.
Modern organizations define success as more than just completing projects on schedule, within budget, and according to specifications. Value terms are increasingly used to define success. Projects and programs will be more successful if their sponsors and teams clearly define the value they are expected and how it will be measured. It is crucial that everyone has a clear, consistent definition of what success looks like for a project.
Project and program teams are more successful when they carefully examine the uncertainties they face and the assumptions they made when developing their plans and strategies. Successful project and program teams must constantly reevaluate whether they have overlooked any uncertainties or whether their assumptions still hold true as they pursue their goals.
Once a project’s assumptions have been established, the project teams must be prepared to manage them.
Teams must ensure that their knowledge, skills, and authority are well-matched to the project’s needs in order to be prepared. Project and program managers must have the ability to manage the uncertainty inherent in projects.