Interview with Jon Clay [Video + Transcript]

It’s International Project Management Day tomorrow! And that means PMI UK is hosting its flagship Synergy conference in London – so if you are off there tomorrow have a great day.

Last week I interviewed Jon Clay, President of the PMI UK Chapter, about his thoughts for Synergy. He shares some amazing tips for change management towards the end of the video.

Skip forward to about minute 12 to hear Jon share some fantastic advice on projects with a large change management element.

The transcript below starts from about 3 minutes to cut out the waffle and intros at the beginning.

Elizabeth:  I can see you. Is that a Christmas decoration?

Jonathan:  It is a Christmas decoration.

Elizabeth:  Was it left over?

Jonathan:  No, I’m having some work done at the home and I’m sat in the spare room as the back of the house is being demolished so … it’s a rather dusty place to be at the moment.

Elizabeth:  Well thank you very much for being here it’s fantastic to have you so I would like to introduce everybody: hello, Jonathan Clay and you are the president of PMI UK and a fantastic project manager in your own right, and you’ve got quite a big job with PMI.

Thank you for joining us this evening at quite short notice.

Jonathan:  Of course

Elizabeth:  So how long have you been Chapter president for now?

Jonathan:  I’ve been chapter president since January, this year. So, first year. You do your presidents on 2 year terms, and before that I was on the board for 3 years, working off the branch network we have across the UK.

Elizabeth:  You’ve got quite a lot of experience with the committee then. What I … I was looking through the descriptions on your website today, the titles for the committee posts are quite grand, aren’t they? I know president is president, but there were entry level positions on the board, so do you feel grand?

Jonathan:  Grand? Oh, not really. I’m pretty grounded. I think as you do it on a voluntary basis, having a grand title helps make it a bit interesting. It’s always good fun.

Elizabeth:  Yes. Is there other things that you wish project managers knew about PMI?

Jonathan:  I think it’s a bit of a hidden gem really that not enough people are actually aware of. I think the fantastic thing about PMI and what we offer here in the UK chapter and also at PMI globally is actually the network.

Being part of it, you actually develop a network globally of people that you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Whenever you need some help or need some support for something or just fancy a chat about project management if you really want, you can quite easily just reach out to people and they’ll respond and they’ll help and people genuinely want to help. It’s just been something which for me, actually developing a career has been absolutely priceless and fantastic.

What you get from the UK chapter here is that local bit, as well as it being virtual. If you want to meet up with people, you can quite easily. To me that’s actually the most fantastic thing. It’s quite surprising when I got involved. It wasn’t something I was expecting.

Elizabeth:  That probably, even though we haven’t planned these questions, leads quite nicely into me asking you about the PMI Europe initiative. You’re talking about their being able to meet up and network with people, you’ve put a lot of the framework in place for people to be able to do that across the continent now. Tell us a bit more about that.

Jonathan:  There are a lot of things … In this day and age, technology platforms are one of the best ways to actually reach out to people. As far as I’m concerned, if you can do something here to benefit people in the UK, which is technology based, then why not do it for all of the people in Europe who are involved in PMI?

What we do at the chapters is work very closely with other PMI chapters across the globe, particularly in Europe, because lots of people travel between cities all the time. People move around all the time, so why not be joined up and have similar things that we need to do and similar ways that we need to improve.

What we’re doing is in some areas leading the way and in other ways helping support other chapters starting new initiatives, which can benefit all of us across Europe.

For example, one we did earlier this year is all chapter events across all of Europe are open to members of any chapter. So if you are a member of PMI UK and you happen to be working away in Berlin for the weekend, you can go to the Berlin chapter events free of charge. You have full access to really, really great range. And many of the other European countries actually also do a lot of events in English so we are quite blessed with that here in the UK that we get an easy ride.

There’s lots of different things we’re working on, for example, mentors platform, is the next big one which we are working on there, so hopefully we’ll be able to start pushing that out more next year and that will be one way we can bring together mentors and mentees across all of Europe so that should be interesting.

Elizabeth:  All of Europe? Okay, that’s great.

Jonathan:  It’ll be good fun I think and a great opportunity for people. Particularly because lots of people speak English all over the place and we do travel around a lot, so it will work quite well, I think.

Elizabeth:  I spoke at an event in Paris and I speak French, but not enough to be able to do a project management presentation in French for an hour, so I did my presentation in English and then there was another one after me in French. There are so many … everybody there spoke English and they are all fluent. Could appreciate it, and there were people I spoke to afterwards who were expats like me who were living there and that’s sort of the community as well, isn’t it? Part of being able to connect to people, native people living over there, but also the expat community, so I think having this European passport could be really good. I don’t travel as much internationally as I used to, what about you?

Jonathan:  Mainly for PMI. It takes me all over the place. My day job here in the UK, I haven’t travelled that much actually, if at all, apart from London, Manchester or across the UK. But globally, it’s been through PMI.

That’s one thing you don’t realise when you start volunteering is it is a truly global organisation and you do have to travel globally so … it’s actually about a fair bit.

Elizabeth:  Okay, well that’s good. From a project management perspective, what would you say PMI’s big goals are? Or where do you think the direction of travel is going? We’ve just had PMBOK 6 being released, are there any trends or things you’re noticing from that potentially? Or project management more widely that’s effecting us as a profession?

Jonathan:  I think it’s a general thing I’m interested in seeing more of, with kind of I guess the agile movement helping to force it. Also, just the world in general of what we kind of expect nowadays really is that you can’t be boring. I think the days of having a PMBOK that’s 10 metres wide or however big it is now, let’s actually prop up the sides and being really big and thick. That’s not the day, the world we live in now. We need things to be more bite sized, more easy to understand. We need practises and methodologies that are flexible and adaptable to take the news as we want and I think the whole profession’s kind of moving more in that way to make things more manageable, make qualifications more easy for people to take when they need.

I think as a professional, what you actually have to bring now to the day job and to your business is to actually make sure you can deliver project management without sounding like you are regurgitating a book that you’ve read. You need to put it into business speak, you need to break that up into ways that deliver business benefits sooner rather than waiting too long.

Elizabeth:  There’s just been a comment, “Sorry, I can’t hear. The volumes not working”. I can hear you fine and I’m guessing you can hear me?

Jonathan:  Yeah, hear you fine. Varied for a little bit though.

Elizabeth:  We don’t have fantastic internet in this house. We don’t have fantastic anything in this house, we’ve got big renovations going here too. That’s been a bit of a project. Sorry, I digress, so do you think there is enough agile in the new version of PMBOK?

Jonathan:  I think it’s moving that way. I think for the PMBOK, it’s getting out … it’s got be quite a big, significant transformation for PMBOK to do it properly. The way we actually release it is a great example. You can’t release it in one big hit, so I think that’s something we need to think about in PMI as to how we actually do that in a better way as we go forwards.

Elizabeth:  I have to confess to not having read version 6 from cover to cover, but I’m divvying them out and to me it doesn’t feel rather too different.

Jonathan:  No, I think there’s a bit like a nod to it in places without being full on. I think that’s a bit we need to keep thinking about more in PMI is to how it actually works.

Elizabeth:  Yeah, you’re right. I think it’s moving in the right direction. There was an interesting discussion, probably, I saw it on Facebook, so it might be in this group, it might be an article Andrew posted, which was about the differences between the stakeholder management and stakeholder engagement, and I thought, but PMBOK looks at engagement, so I went back and checked that chapter 12, the stakeholder management chapter (oh, it’s been so long since I’ve read that, I hope I got it right now), and that distinction is actually in there, that stakeholder management is the process overall and stakeholder engagement, is the work that we do with the people.

I think there is still more to go, more evolution to happen, into making sure that this guidance, and not just from PMI, but the guidance generally about what you learn from a project management course meets reality of what it’s like to do the job of a project manager these days. And I don’t know how much of that is my experience of working as a project manager and finding that the guidance is often not quite enough, or detailed enough, or supportive enough or things of that nature and I guess that’s where your mentor would be able to come in and help.

Or whether there are project managers out there who are working in a much more structured, process driven environment and not thinking about delivering benefits because it’s not required of them.

You must see a lot of project managers in a lot of different roles. Do you think the role is evolving as well? Or do you think we’re still in a very process drive position where we don’t have the influence of being able to talk to board level people or PMI directors? Does that make sense?

Jonathan:  Yeah, it does. It’s an interesting thing that I’ve thought about quite a lot before because it’s not, I’m not that old, but my experience is not like that at all. It’s the total opposite end, I’ve been exposed to reporting directors and board members my whole career. That’s all I’ve been at, that area.

My background is more business change, so working project management in business change and transformation, so quite, well in environments that I’m not very clear to see what you’re doing tomorrow, let along many years time. You have to be much more flexible in what you’re doing, especially when you work in people change, engagement, and that whole area of that, is so important. A lot of how you do that very well is you see the best people are just natural at it. They’ve just kind of know what to do, know how to do it. So people like that, reading a book, whatever the book is, no matter how great it’s written, that won’t direct what they do. It might be useful reference, but really it’s interpreting what you’re actually given.

When I actually meet with lot of different project managers across industries in PMI, what you kind of see is there are differences depending on the industry people working and maybe the organisations they work in. There’s lots of set rules for all. Generally, if it’s an industry which is one that’s delivering more of a product or a build, which follows a set life cycle, and a set order or chain of events that’s happening, you can be more prescriptive on what you’re doing or if you’re actually selling a service that is the same service you sell out quite regularly to your customers, or just tweaking it occasionally, you can follow more set steps.

If it’s something like in transformations where you’re working, then that’s very, very different. I think that’s where we need to understand that there’s lots of different variations in the project management world and it’s not one size fits all, and a guide is exactly that: it’s a guide.

Elizabeth:  I think that’s very true. I do the same. I work with a lot of change management, transformation is I would say probably a little bit too strong, but it is process re-engineering, process improvement, that kind of thing.

The people change, of communications, stakeholder engagement, is pretty much all right, all day. When I hear project managers say “do I have to do, which input do I have to use in this process?” You’ve totally missed the point, at least in my world, about how you do your job. Because you’re thinking about “I have to do this management at this point in this process”, then there is something holistic there about the whole process that you’ve kind of missed.

But perhaps there are other industries – I’ve never worked in engineering, I’ve never worked in construction – I’m sure there are other industries as well that are much more process led where the more structured, a process like you, what’s happened this week, was not what we planned last week and we will have some changes that we know are coming next week that may or may not happen.

It’s just a very flexible environment and that makes it very difficult to plan. Especially when stakeholders say, “Can I see your Gantt chart for the next 18 months?” Well, no not really. Tell me what you are planning on doing and then I’ll build a Gantt chart that won’t be accurate in 6 months time.

What tips have you got, since you’ve obviously got a lot of experience working in this kind of transformation change area? How have you managed that difficulty of stakeholder expectations?

Jonathan:  I think the simple trick is, is not your templates, it’s not your tools. You want them, but they are what you want in the background. You don’t tell other people necessarily about them, unless they really, explicitly ask you for them, which very few people will.

What you need to do is take that information and put the time into actually putting that together into a different way to actually display that out to your stakeholders. Really focus on engaging them. And I mean really engaging them, not just telling them something. Taking that time to listen to what they say and taking that time to listen to what they don’t say. That normally actually speaks a lot more. And don’t just speak to people you think you need to speak to. Speak to people you don’t think you need to speak to, and the people you definitely really don’t think you need to speak to.

You need to make sure you are covering everything. And if you actually understand how to look after the people in your organisation and to listen to them, you’ll find your projects actually go a lot smoother and you don’t need to be recording and writing down as much as you actually think so, because you’ve pre-empted a lot of things. Or people are there to work on things the right way and you can help to move them forward through it.

I think it’s also amazing in your projects if something does go wrong, which generally happens in projects at some point, if you’re actually talking to people in the right way throughout, they’ll be much more able to help you and much more willing to speak up before something goes wrong to make it a lot more fun experience as you go through the project.

Elizabeth:  That’s so true.

Jonathan:  And I think the one other thing, which I think is really important. Pictures really do speak a thousand words. If you can draw something for people, that normally helps a huge amount. So just think of who you actually are talking with and generally, some execs do like working with words and numbers, but a lot will like pictures more than that.

Elizabeth:  That’s very true. Well, I feel like I’ve taken up enough of your evening, really. Is there anything else that you particularly wanted to talk about? Or share with our gang?

Jonathan:  Only one thing, if not everyone is aware, next week on Thursday we have our Signature Conference, which is our biggest conference, our flagship event that we run every year. There’s around 500 people who attend it, a central board in Westminster and it’s looking at project management, looking at the fun of it. Doing more of a celebration around what it actually is and we’ve had all sorts at it over the years. And I think Elizabeth, even you spoke at it, I think it was last year or the year before. That proves it’s a great event. If you’ve not got your ticket, then tickets are available now at and I’ll be there and I’d love to see you all there, so please come along.

Elizabeth:  Yes, it’s really, I’m not going next week, but it is a really good event where everybody has the same track, so you don’t have people going off into little rooms. Everyone has the same experience throughout the day and it’s a much more, welcoming is perhaps not the right word, that kind of … where you’re all sharing the same experience all day makes a difference if there’s something you can talk about to other people if you don’t know them when you turn up.

So next week is International Project Management day isn’t it? 2nd of November. You’ll be at Synergy. Is there anything else you’ll be doing to celebrate International Project Management day?

Jonathan:  No, not for me actually probably. It is International Project Management day and it’s deliberately on International Project Management day because that was set up originally by IIL to celebrate project management, which I think is a great thing to do. And what we do is we bring to that same day something more immersive for a chance to actually celebrate.

And I’m probably lying if I say there isn’t anything else to do, so I’m sure I’ll go for a beer after Synergy to celebrate as well.

Elizabeth:  I think you’ll have earned it by then. Putting on a 500 strong conference in a major London venue.

Jonathan:  It’s extra projects to do at the end of the day, or as I’ve learned this year, being the sponsor, which is a different thing that I’ve been learning a lot more about.

Elizabeth:  Brilliant. Alright, well thank you very much for giving up some of your time to come and talk to us today. It’s been really interesting and I really appreciate you sharing with us about change management, telling us what’s going on with the PMI chapter and what’s happening with Europe passport initiative and all that stuff.

Just as a recap for everybody else, there won’t be a Facebook Live on Friday because I’m not around, but I’ll come into the group next week and I’ll confirm the time and date and we should be on for a week on Friday at 3:30 so I look forward to seeing you then.

Thanks very much. Good night Jonathan and good night everybody!

Jonathan:  Cheers! Night! Thanks everyone!

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