In Step with Projects

In Pace with Progress

Matti Ahvenharju: All Success Finally Depends on People


Journalist: Yu Yanjuan  |  Source: PMR  |  Updated:2018.09.21
Journalist’s introduction: 

As project managers, self-awareness is essential, so do you have an accurate assessment about your behavioral competence? PeiliTM Behavioural Profile is a useful tool that can fit your needs in this aspect. As the Owner of Integro LTD (Peili), Matti Ahvenharju shares his experience, reflection and observation on project management with us. 

In 1997 he bought Peili company at the age of 50, which was something new to the engineer who had believed in systems and organizations. This offered him a new opportunity to explore himself, his behaviour, and how others see him. As he has put it, “Changes and surprises in personal and working life have given me the opportunity to grow not only as a project manager but also more importantly to grow as a human being.”

As PMI Pulse of the Profession indicates, four in five respondents report that soft skills such as communications, leadership and negotiation, are more important today. Matti Ahvenharju agrees with this. He believes that soft skills equal people skills. In the initial years of his 40-year career, he attached great importance to systems, methods, etc. However, gradually he came to realize that it is people that matters most in project management.

Here follows a short introduction to Matti Ahvenharju:

Matti Ahvenharju, born in 1947, is now Chairman of the Board and Senior Consultant of Project Institute Finland LTD and Owner of Integro LTD (Peili). He got his Master's degree of Science in Engineering from Helsinki University of Technology. Matti Ahvenharju has almost 40 years of experience in international project management business. Matti Ahvenharju’s main focus as executive position in project business was the marketing of PM Services and PM development. In this work he facilitates project managers and project teams to succeed in projects. 

He has been training project managers in Finland and worldwide for many years. He has been a head consultant in project management development and training for companies such as Foster Wheeler, Elisa Communications and Kone Major Projects. The training has included, among others, investment projects and telecommunications delivery projects.

Mr. Ahvenharju also served IPMA (International Project Management Association) as Vice President from 1996-2000. He was Chairman of the Board of the Project Management Association of Finland from 1986 to 1992 and has been and a long-term member ever since. Project Institute Finland Ltd introduced IPMA C-level examination into Finland 1996 and he was the initiator and project manager in implementation the Examination in Finland. 

Mr. Ahvenharju has also been training in Helsinki University of Technology (Construction Department) the Project Management in international turnkey projects since 1988. He was nominated as Visiting Professor in Project Management in NPU, Xi’an China in April 2005.


Part 1: PeiliTM Behavioural Profile

Q1. Peili behavioural profile is a helpful tool in project management. Would you please offer us a detailed introduction to Peili behavioural profile? 

Matti Ahvenharju: Every person has developed his/her own behaviour model: a personal way of observing, thinking, feeling and acting. Our personal visible behavioural style is relatively permanent. Different behavioural styles were discovered empirically by research and evaluation. The styles are widely accepted among scholars. Generally, the styles can be described in three dimensions, which are assertiveness, compassion and diversity (Merrill & Reid 1999). Andrew Ahlgren of the University of Minnesota conducted an independent analysis on the use of language in semantic differentiation. He discovered similar patterns of describing behavioural styles already found by earlier researchers. He termed these factors “boldness”, “formality” and “flexibility”. 

PeiliTM Behavioural Profile is a valid and reliable tool describing people’s behavioral competence based on psychological trait theories and temperament. It views behavior from three dimensions: differences in behaving (styles), ability to encounter different people (flexibility), and ability to develop trust. The focus of the tool is on external behavior; however, it does not try to judge or evaluate. Instead of judging, the tool helps people to better understand themselves as well as others and in this sense, develop oneself and facilitate interaction with others. In the past three decades, the tool has been used and further developed - also in business environment - and different studies show its high reliability and functionality.      

The process of using PeiliTM Behavioral Profile tool is that the user makes self-assessment first, and then chooses five others to make the assessment for the user anonymously. All the assessment information will be integrated into one report as the result of the user’s Behavioral Profile. The others’ assessments will form the picture of “how others see me” for the user. This is an important feature of the tool. By comparing the self-assessment and colleagues’ assessment, the user gets more “objective” description/view on his/her behavioural competences. PeiliTM Behavioural Profile is an Internet-based program (all the assessments are made via Internet), which makes the tool more feasible and easy to use. 

The result of PeiliTM Behavioral Profile consists of three parts: behavioural style, trust profile, and flexibility profile, where behavioral style is a relatively stable concept that describes our expressed behavior – how others see us act (Social Style). Trust profile indicates the capability of building trust based on actions and behavior. Flexibility profile shows a person’s ability to change his/her behavior in changing circumstances – the ability to step into others’ world for a moment.

With understanding and accepting human behavioral diversity, the tool can be used to develop personal growth and increase self-knowledge, team building, interaction and communication skills, negotiation skills, conflict solving skills, and innovation capability. There are a wide range of fields, where PeiliTM Behavioural Profile can be used. Project management, general management, recruiting process and R&D are examples of potential fields. 

Q2: You plan to develop Peili trainer network in China. How will the network be operated?

Matti Ahvenharju: We intend to develop our network in China step by step. 

In Finland we have now trained more than 180 persons to be certified Peili-trainers. These trainers are independent actors, either freelance or training companies, and they pay for our certification training. Some of them are more active than others. Altogether, our trainer network in Finland trains 3,500 persons annually based on Peili behavioral profile.

At this moment we are in the process of developing our business plan for Peili in China. This means that we will adjust our business model into the Chinese culture and business environment. We hope to find a partner or many partners to develop a network of certified Peili trainers in China.

Part 2: PM in China

Q3: You have two consulting companies. For both of them, you intend to open Chinese market. Why? What leads you to the decision?

Matti Ahvenharju: I have had close personal contacts in China since the beginning of 1990’s. I have visited China often and hosted many of my Chinese friends in Finland. I am fascinated by your culture and amazing history; people have been so hospitable and every time there is something new to learn about your country. 

Over the years I have wondered if my companies could expand to the Chinese market, and now it seems like a good time. There is a growing interest in HR development, team building and productive management of human resources, with which the Peili can help. 

In terms of project management, it seems that the maturity of Project Management in China has developed in such a way that several of our products could be useful. Project Institute Finland Ltd has developed Finnish industrial companies almost 30 years. During those years we have developed unique training methods based on world famous Finnish education methods. We have also already trained occasionally Chinese project professionals and the results have been extremely encouraging. Our experience in educating Project Managers for international assignments has been successful. And today when China is carrying out more and more international projects abroad, our company can help. 

Q4: As a frequent visitor to China, what impresses you most in terms of project management development in China? What are your suggestions on China’s PM progress?

Matti Ahvenharju: I have been fascinated with the speed that new methods and tools are put into use in China. You adapt fast to new ideas and changes. However, I believe paying more attention to the way organisations are run would be beneficial. Lower hierarchies, leaner structures and empowered teams would bring the different skills and know-how among all the employees into better use. 

Part 3: PM Insight

Q5: As a senior PM consultant, you have facilitated quite a lot of projects. In your opinion, what are the top qualities of an excellent PM consultant? 

Matti Ahvenharju: This is an excellent question. When I was 40, I believed in systems and organizations, and made many presentations about that. Now, when I am older, I have learned that all success finally depends on the people - who they are, how they are motivated and how well they co-operate and co-create. Then it becomes essential that individuals have a good self-understanding and that they listen, trust and respect others. This revelation originally brought me in contact with the HR training business and Peili: successful management of projects requires successful management of people. 

Q6: In the era featured by digitalization, AI, big data and blockchain, in which direction will project management go? Based on your observation, what are the future trends of project management?

Matti Ahvenharju: Project management has been, is, and will stay in the future – the roles, tasks and tools and even methodologies will change and evolve, but project managers are one of the last professions to disappear because of the vast needed skill set needed to do the work professionally. Already soon Artificial Intelligence will help project managers to do their job even better by doing some of the very time-consuming analysis, trend tracking etc. very fast and accurately. The tools of the future will change the profession for the good – then project managers will have more time for the main task – leading the projects in cooperation with the project teams, ensuring that the set goals are achieved and even exceeded.

In future we see the rise of hybrid projects that combines both predictive and agile methods. Artificial Intelligence has numerous opportunities in better decision-making in early phase of a project, project planning and tracking the project’s progress.

Q7: In your opinion, what are the secrets of effective change management?

Matti Ahvenharju: In Project Institute Finland Ltd I was supervising last year a master’s thesis about an assessment model for the flexibility and adaptability of companies. The thesis was written by a talented Chinese student Chen Chen, who was living in Finland at the time. His work pinpointed truly well those aspects that are required for a fast implementation of organisational changes. The main aspects are as follows:

- The enabling organizational structure

- Sponsorship & Support
- Project, Program, and Portfolio Mgmt.
- Rewarding system, stakeholder involvement
- Vision & Strategy
- Change need and urgency, communication 
- Behavioral competence (for employees only)
- Good processes to manage CM process like planning and implementation, stakeholders
- Resistance management
- Sustainability - ensuring the stability of changes

Q8. Having led many projects, what’s your conclusion about necessary leadership competences in VUCA era?

Matti Ahvenharju: Careful definition of vision, long-term development of foresight ability, pursuit of clarity and flexibility in action are four basic issues that I believe can help organizations overcome the challenges of VUCA.

VUCA stands for four central concepts: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity; these words describe well the world as we see it now. Currently, I would say that for volatility we need better, clear and guiding visions so we do not lose our way when distracted. For uncertainty we need foresight to analyse, evaluate and finally manage them better. Flexible organisation and decision-making models should be well-planned based on the foresight information. For complexity, we need clarity in everything we do. Systems analysis can help with this and there are several tools to help in understanding how the systems work. In organisations, we have to practise sense-making of complex systems. For ambiguity, we need to have flexible ways of organisation rather than hierarchical and sectorised. 

Project leadership will be one of the real game changers. The companies who are able to ensure that their projects have the skilled, certified project managers who understand the profession, proper processes and tools supporting co-operation, and the very much needed “conditions for success”, i.e. needed support, strategy alignment and decision making power will thrive because they are able to build the good empowering culture around projects which will enable better co-operation, common goals and ultimately lead to better project results.

Q9: The number of international multi-cultural projects is increasing. What aspects should project managers or leaders pay special attention to in dealing with such projects?

Matti Ahvenharju: Nowadays, when projects become more complex and affected by globalization, diversity in project teams becomes more and more influencing, with project team members coming from different specialty fields, different cultural backgrounds, etc. The effect of diversity on project success can be either beneficial or challenging. 

One positive effect of diversity is better results of projects through increased team creativity and problem-solving skills (due to different perspectives provided by project team members). Diversity increases effectiveness of the project team, by utilizing each team members’ strengths and complementing each other. 

Diversity can also become a challenge to project teams. For instance, for a diverse project team, it takes time to build effective cooperation; this process should be supported as well as planned and allowed time for. If not well understood and led, diversity can increase the turnover of people in projects and decrease work-satisfaction, which eventually will have negative effect on project success.  

Q10: In one of your paper, you advocated the concept “Management of Opportunities (M.O.P)”. What is M.O.P? Why is it so important to manage opportunities caused by change?

Matti Ahvenharju: Management of Opportunities by Projects is a means for strategic planning and management. Traditional ways of strategic planning must be changed. strategies can not be always chosen because some of them come spontaneously. The management shouldn’t reject new ideas and opportunities just because there is no room for them in the budget, which is usually prepared on a yearly basis. 

Management of Opportunities by Projects is one answer to these new challenges, and it can be described as a concept where

- monitoring the changes

- detecting opportunities
- developing new business ideas
- selecting the best ideas
- planning, and
- implementing selected ideas

are combined in a manner which allows for great flexibility and reaction speed as well as an iterative approach to replace the classic methods in corporate planning. Instead of allocating resources in advance for strictly defined purposes, a share of resources – both money and people- should be left flexible for responding to changes. These resources should be at management’s disposal on short notice, because only being fast can win!

I introduced this theory in Nordnet Congress in Helsinki 1992, the Nordic co-operation forum of the PM Associations of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland.

After that, the development of project management discipline has developed and produced, harmonized globally the theories of project, management and program management. We can say that the development has been going from "to make the project right” to the direction “to make right projects”.  In addition, agile project management has also become part of modern project management during last ten years.

At Project Institute Finland Ltd, we have combined these various latest theories into a new service package: AgiLean. In AgiLean the company's management gets these new theories in a practical way and thus improves its possibilities to renew and survive in VUCA era.

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