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Project Challenge Manchester 12 October 2023

Project Challenge Manchester 2023 photos

Spreadsheet hell, why not using data is winging it and how to play games – seriously 

The sun was shining on Manchester’s Etihad Stadium as the key players in UK and European portfolio, programme and project management came together to discuss the latest developments in the industry, catch up with old friends and colleagues and enjoy a range of inspirational talks and demonstrations. 

CEO of Graphene@Manchester James Baker kicked off with a fascinating talk about the challenges of managing projects in a fast-growing industry that’s producing new businesses, supply chains and models. “If we just did what we always did then we wouldn’t be where we are now,” he said, as he outlined the ways in which the ambitious “Manchester Model” shifts research and innovation models. 

Later, Kivue’s Rupert Taylor, in a speech entitled, “Is This The End Of PMO As We Know It?” offered a heartfelt plea to project management professionals to stop shooting own goals. “We go on courses, get the latest certification and then we over-evangelise,” he said, “We really have to start challenging ourselves and ask whether every process we use is really making a difference. If we stop using it tomorrow, will it make a difference?” 

Gloria J Miller, managing consultant and founder of Maxmetrics, outlined some fascinating ways in which PMOs can use serious games to make projects happen. Games are safe places to try new things without fear of failure, they are a great way to engage people and they can be cross-disciplinary. These games include innovation games (to encourage new product ideas and address customer needs), agile games (to encourage collaboration) and simulation games (to try new things). “But how do you win over the sceptics?” one delegate asked. “It’s about ownership,” Gloria said, suggesting appealing to entrepreneurial spirit: “Even executives want to know they’re innovating.”  

“Managing projects without data isn’t project management, it’s just winging it,” Lester Lovelock from CPS could be found saying, as he outlined how integrated tooling can present crucial information for effective decision-making.

On the topic of data, founder of Program Framework, Gero Renker, talked about the all-too-familiar feeling of “spreadsheet hell” and how you know you need a PPM tool. There are things to bear in mind, he said. Establishing clear ownership is crucial and growing your own maturity from the start can make the whole process much easier. However, “many tools are capable of supporting an immature PPM environment. Put projects into tools from day one and don’t leave it too late,” he said, “it’s about enabling strategy for your organisation.” 

Michelle Banner, operations director at ACostE talked about the importance of addressing the skills shortage and how we factor that into our training plans. How do we ensure that when one industry starts to downturn, it can make use of skills from the other industries? “We need to be more consistent in our approach,” she said, “partner with training providers and professional bodies. It’s all about developing and leveraging skills.” She talked about a skills development trinity, connecting the employer, the professional body and the individual. “Take a bold and brave decision about how you move people around your business.”

Bradford City of Culture 2025’s project manager Kath Shackleton talked through the challenges of building a new team, systems processes and supply chain to deliver the infrastructure required to create a lasting legacy for the city.  

Our panel discussion, Making Greater Manchester Great Again, looked at the significant number of projects the city and its regions are delivering over the next five years. Do we have the skills and resources necessary? The panel – featuring Liz Bohler, Senior Manager at MI-GSO|PCUBED, Barney Harle, Head of Major Projects at Manchester City Council, David Bleakman, Digital Security and Cyber Lead at Barclays Eagle Labs and Roxana Lawton, Director of Innovation Programmes at the IN4 Group – talked about the investment needed into the region to ensure prosperity. Manchester – which has pledged to be zero carbon by 2038 – will stop growing by 2030 if it doesn’t have enough housing, investment and infrastructure in place. 

All the panellists agreed that there’s a huge skills shortage in the region, as well as the challenge of engaging with the idea of changing roles and future skills and the simple availability of affordable housing. “Greater Manchester has a collegiate approach,” Roxana said, “and it is about all pulling in the right direction on this.” 

It seems, if anywhere can do it, Manchester can. 

See you for the next Project Challenge, which takes place in spring 2024