What’s the one skill
every project manager
Emotional intelligence—the ability to
project yourself into
stakeholders and see
their points of view.
What’s the best pro-
fessional advice you
Fail forward. If you’re
going to fail, document
it and learn from it.
What’s a book that
has special meaning
Feral: Rewilding the
Land, the Sea, and
Human Life by George
Monbiot. It talks about
climate change, and
it looks at conservation projects that went
wrong and why.
What’s your favorite
We have a Doctors
Without Borders rock
band in Brussels, and
I’m the drummer. It
relaxes me after a long,
What processes has the PMO put in place?
We set some basic policies. For instance: If there’s
no sponsor with a business case, there’s no project.
Now, our project managers produce a project plan.
We know what projects are going on and when. We
have budget codes that can easily track project costs.
We make sure stakeholders actively participate so
that when there is a scope change, it’s a decision
that’s being made, not just uncontrolled creep.
The project managers also send me summary
reports every quarter. I don’t need a weekly
update, but I do want to know at a high level
whether the project is going well and what the
Did you encounter resistance to these changes?
There was some resistance in the beginning.
People didn’t want to fill in project charters, and
they didn’t want to report on a quarterly basis.
Some people told me, “Who are you to use terms
like ‘business case’? We’re not a business. We’re a
nongovernmental organization, a charity.” Before
the PMO, when people wanted a new process or
tool, they’d just launch a project without looking at
the bigger picture.
How did you overcome that?
I preached project management a lot. I had to
How have you been developing your project
fight the misconception that project management
meant increased bureaucracy. I also had to fight
the misconception that having lots of projects is
healthy. Directors would compete to have the fat-
test portfolio—which was a recipe for disaster. It
took me a while to convince people to look for
strategic alignment and consider the portfolio
level. More and more, people could see clearly that
by applying project management techniques, they
increased their chances of success. Now, when I
say “business case,” they understand that all that
means is investing certain resources to achieve an
outcome that aligns with our strategy.
We want to develop project managers in-house
rather than relying on external experts. So I’ve
instituted a series of training sessions on project management, risk management and change
management. Also, along with some consultants,
I coach our project managers on things like creating budgets, contracting and purchasing, internal
communications, and information and communications technology.
How has the PMO brought about greater stra-
We now know how projects interact with each
other. As a result, we can better balance the
portfolio across departments. We have a medical department, a logistics department, human
resources, finance—if everyone’s running big
projects all the time, it’s too much change for the
house to handle. Now, when some departments
run large projects—this year, for example, IT is
migrating software to the cloud—other departments dial down.
How do you determine the PMO’s success?
No one was measuring project success before,
so it’s difficult to benchmark it. But now most
projects come in on time, on budget and in
scope—and if they don’t, we look at why they
don’t and what lessons we can learn. And, interestingly, we’re now seeing PMOs cropping up in our
departments, like IT, logistics and finance. During
the first year, I was going to the project managers.
Now, every time a new project comes along, they
come to me. That feels like success. PM
Now, when I say ‘business case,’ [people]
understand that all that means is investing
certain resources to achieve an outcome
that aligns with our strategy.