In Step with Projects

In Pace with Progress

Nick Houlton: Praxis Research Centre (China) Helps Bring Chinese Best Practices into Global Framework


Journalist: Yu Yanjuan (English name: Spring)  |  Source: PMR  |  Updated:2018.12.24

Introduction to the interviewee:

Nick Houlton is Chief Operating Officer at APMG International, a world leading accreditation and certification body. He has been in this position since 2014. Before that, he worked in senior positions in the software industry for SAS, Oracle and CA. He is also the founder of “Love Life and Ride”, an organization dedicated to reducing injury to cyclists and motorcyclists. Nick lives in Wokingham in the Thames Valley, United Kingdom.


Part 1: Introduction to APMG International

Q1. Would you please introduce APMG International to Chinese readers? What is your Praxis Framework mainly about?

Nick Houlton: APMG, an award-winning global accreditation and certification body, is now 25 years old. Since its establishment in 1993, it has been working tirelessly to share best practices around the world. It has been established in China since over 10 years ago and has worked with the UK Government for 25 years. 

Praxis Framework combines a strong Body of Knowledge (BoK) with techniques and a common language to help everyone working on projects collaborate and achieve better outcomes. Praxis Framework is online and is completely free of charge. It has a “creative commons” license, which allows people to download and use much of the framework without cost. Since it is community driven, individuals can contribute and extend the framework. It has been translated into many languages, including Chinese.

Q2. Since its establishment in 1993, over two decades has passed. What are the achievements worth mentioning?

Nick Houlton: Here are some worth noting:

• In 1993 APMG had one product – PRINCE2, and one Partner – H.M. Government in the UK.

• Since 1993 over 2 million people have taken qualifications with APMG.

• APMG accredits 500+ organisations, training companies and consultants.

• APMG has representatives in 16 countries.

• APMG China is proud to be based in Qingdao.

Part 2: Praxis Research Centre (China)

Q3. Why did you decide to found a research centre in China? What are the major driving factors behind this initiative? What is the significance of founding a research centre in China?

Nick Houlton: Praxis Research Centre (China) was launched in December, 2018. As Praxis Framework is community driven and has a “creative commons” licence, it will facilitate use in teaching and learning. The Framework is comprehensive and is designed to be extended with additional content. 

With China research centre launched, we hope more content will be added. APMG hopes this research centre will help to extend the framework further and make it more relevant for use in international projects and programmes, especially projects in China. We recognize that China is able to finish lots of infrastructure, service and technology projects at tremendous rate and we hope this experience will enhance the Praxis Framework.

Q4. For what reason did you choose Shandong University and Professor Ding Ronggui as the cooperative partner in China?

Nick Houlton: Shandong University is perceived as the top one university in Shandong province, with a variety of disciplines, strong academics and distinctive characteristics. It is a national key comprehensive university with significant impact both in China and abroad. It is important to us to work with international organisations that have strong networks around the world.

Professor Ding Ronggui is one of the distinguished PM experts in the academic area of project management. He has been actively promoting cooperation with international professional organizations. His research could bring Chinese best practices into global framework and contribute to the evolution of the framework with Chinese experiences.

The cooperation between APMG and Shandong University & Professor Ding is a win-win collaboration between strength and strength, which is expected to benefit both Chinese and overseas professionals.

Q5. With China Research Centre launched in December, 2018, do you have further plans to open Chinese market?

Nick Houlton: Firstly, we hope to embed Praxis into high education study, especially for teachers, students and postgraduates majoring in PM in China. Secondly, we look forward to improving the use of Praxis and sharing experiences via academic conference or seminars in China. Lastly, we plan to explore successful case studies from the well-known Chinese enterprises to improve and contribute to the Praxis Framework.

Q6. How many times have you been to China? What is your impression on project management in China?

Nick Houlton: I have had the privilege to visit China many times over the last 15 years and I am constantly impressed and excited by the level of innovation and speed of implementation of ideas in China.

China has thought leaders in many industries. Our challenge is to consider whether there is sufficient adoption of good practices in project management to deliver every initiative to a high standard.

Large infrastructure projects tend to make headlines, but the economic well-being of the country is more reliant upon very large numbers of smaller projects being successful, across industries and across geographies. Chinese expertise is being sought after by many international organisations. How will we equip people with the skills they need to participate in international projects? We believe Praxis Framework can help close that skills gap by giving access to the online framework worldwide.

Part 3: PM Future

Q7. What PM trends have you observed? And what are your company’s strategies to embrace these coming trends?

Nick Houlton: Here are the trends I have observed: 

•There is a desire for organisations to become more agile. By adopting techniques from other industries, projects have shorter lifecycles and higher expectations.

• The democratization of technology has brought new challenges to leading projects, encouraging more collaboration and reducing the hierarchy of management.

• Working across business cultures and time zones require project managers to develop different techniques, ones which embrace collaboration platforms and encourage the virtualization of work packages.

APMG is embracing these trends through diversification and growing the number of partners we have around the world, partners who bring specialist insights and expertise into local or regional market requirements. This allows us to develop better products, reduce our time to markets and improve the outcome of our work sharing best practices.

Q8. APMG International will hold a free Webinar on the topic of “Change Management in 2019”. So what is your observation about change management in the future?
Nick Houlton: 

• For an organization to become more agile, change in how people work is inevitable.

• Digital transformation is changing organisations dramatically, automating tasks and
delivering a very different value proposition for customers and citizens.

• New skills and responsibilities are needed and APMG has worked with the Change
Management Institute to provide techniques to PMs that really work, helping to reduce
the time to realize value on projects and retain key talent in organisations during transition.

Q9. I read from LinkedIn Page of APMG that you’re celebrating a fantastic milestone for AgilePM (100,000 AgilePM exams). Based on your experience, what should we pay special attention to in applying agile project management?

Nick Houlton: There has always been a degree of agility in good project management, which was seen as a differentiator for those who were able to deliver on it. Now organisations expect PMs to take full benefit of the technology enablers provided and to determine how best to implement for maximum early benefit. 

I think special attention should be paid to developing situational leadership skills to be able to deliver projects in an agile environment.

Q10. According to Wellington's “State of Project Management Survey” findings, stakeholder engagement is rated as the top project management processes which – when applied well – adds the most value. What’s your opinion about stakeholder engagement?

Nick Houlton: 

• Stakeholder engagement encourages PMs to develop the social skills to identify and work

with stakeholders, as groups or as individuals.

• Helping to develop leadership and influencing skills, it focuses on what is needed to improve
communication and build buy-in to the project.

• Managing conflicts can be reduced or avoided if stakeholder engagement is done well, freeing time and resources to focus on the project itself.

Q11. As far as you are concerned, how will AI, Big Data and blockchain technology influence the development of project management?

Nick Houlton: Despite many years of professional development, there remain stubborn challenges on delivering projects successfully on a repeatable basis. The promise of applying data collection, aggregation and AI should be to reduce complexity on projects and programmes, offering new insights into what works well and how to improve outcomes.

Digital transformation relies upon the adoption of these technologies and so PMs are today engaged in activity to re-engineer organisations, roles, responsibilities and processes to embrace fact-based decision making and distributed value chains.

Blockchain enables secure collaboration, enabling partnerships to develop in a much more meaningful and deeper way than ever before. This could signal the beginning of the end for the need for large corporations, whose organizational structure sought to shield commercial intellectual property whilst it was developed. Blockchain favours networks of small organisations collaborating together, and this could allow PMs to source contributions from a much wider pool than ever.

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