In Step with Projects

In Pace with Progress

Brane Semolic: 21st Century Innovation Projects Needs New Personal and Corporate Competencies


Journalist: Yu Yanjuan  |  Source: PMR  |  Updated:2019.04.08
Introduction to the Interviewee: 

Brane Semolic holds a scientific master degree and doctorate from business informatics. His focus of professional interest is industrial and system engineering, technology and innovation management, virtual systems design, project and knowledge management. He has 40 years of working experiences in different industries as an expert, researcher, manager, CEO, and professor. He is initiator and leader of international virtual living laboratory LENS Living Lab. 

He served as professor and head of the Project & Technology Management Institute at the Faculty of Logistics, University of Maribor and guest professor in different foreign Universities.

He is a registered assessor for the accreditation of education programs and education organizations by the Slovenian Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

He was the co-founder and president of the Project Management Association of Slovenia (ZPM), vice president of IPMA (International Project Management Association), chairman of the IPMA Research Management Board (2005-2012), and technical vice-chairman of ICEC (International Cost Engineering Council). Now he is the director of the IPMA & ICEC strategic alliance. He has been serving as the first assessor in the IPMA 4-level program for certification of personal competencies since 1997. He was a Member of Strategic Advisory Board of European Competitiveness and Innovation, as well as the president of the Slovenian Chamber of Business Services.

He was appointed as ICEC Distinguished International Fellow in 2008. Besides this, he holds many awards from different national and international professional associations. 

Professor Semolic is also an editorial advisor for the PM World Journal and an academic advisor for PM World Journal, as well as member of different others national and international editions.


Career path

Q1. Why did you choose project management as your career focus? Have you enjoyed it? What are enjoyable and challenging parts? 
Brane Semolic: I faced with industry research, innovation, and technology development projects during my entire career. Very soon I realized that the business success of such projects depended on the presence of competent implementation experts, as well as professional PM approach, embedded in a corporate business environment and supported by the adequate leadership.  This fact led me to the need to devote part of my entire career to the development of PM competencies for the development needs of new technologies, informatization and the development of business models for the organization of industrial innovation ecosystems.

I enjoyed (and still enjoy) PM very much in different roles as an expert, work package leader, project manager, program manager, portfolio manager, project sponsor, and a management consultant. I experienced PM in all kind of projects – from entrepreneurial innovation project up to sizeable international partnering industry research and innovation projects. Beside this, I enjoyed as professor of PM and technology management at the University of Maribor and today at Cranefield College in South Africa.

The most enjoyable parts are as follows: exploration and acquisition of new technologies; an opportunity for professional growth; new inter-personal professional links; growth of international innovation community, and getting to know and better understand other cultures. 

The challenging parts lie in how to harmonize different professions, personalities, expectations, and cultures. 

Virtual team management

Q2. What are the challenges of managing virtual teams? And what are your tips on dealing with these challenges? 

Brane Semolic: The most challenging is how to motivate, energize and establish adequate leadership and group dynamic of such a virtual team in the course of achieving project goals, including team members’ satisfaction. 

My tips about how to overcome these issues are to find and assign competent and motivated team members. Team members need to be technology literate and be able to perform in a virtual working environment well. The professional and social compatibility with the friendly-supportive business environment is the critical tissue and characteristic of such high-performing teams.

Risk management in innovation projects

Q3. In innovation projects, risk management is key. What should we pay attention to managing risks in innovation projects? 

Brane Semolic: We are facing with varieties of different risks in innovation projects. Generally speaking, these risks include technical and non-technical risks. These risks are present in all projects. What is different in the nowadays innovation projects? Different are risks connected with the “COMPLEXITY” of nowadays innovation projects. Today we are facing the varieties of technical, organizational, behavioral and business complexity risks. The project integrative complexity risks need special attention.  Such risks need to be identified, defined, evaluated, their interrelations assessed and scored. This is needed for the development of the integrative complexity risk management plan.

Impact of gig economy on PM

Q4. With the rise of gig economy, where will project management go? What opportunities and challenges will organizations face in managing projects in gig economy? 

Brane Semolic: Internet and related ICT enable and generate opportunities for new business models and perspectives. Classical business and organization models are in the process of transformation and change. The “Gig Economy” is part of this change – which is already very present in our business environments,  like in the US, where more than 35% of their workforce is identified as “gig workers” (Forbes, 8th Jan 2019). Independent contracts and part-time jobs are present in modern projects as well. We are having a lot of freelance experts and self-employed professionals (including project managers) who are selling their services on national and international markets. Most of them are having a project or program based contracts. I’m quite sure that this market will grow and prevail. The PM profession is becoming one of the critical integrative professions in this networked 21st-century business environment. We are expecting growth of agile and dynamic markets. The globalized labor markets are part of this. The “Gig Economy” markets need new professional and social standards. The existing standards and governmental regulations are in most cases designed for the needs of the traditional industrial environments. International and national professional communities must participate in the development of such standards which will provide new professional rules, and resolve existing open issues of the “Gig Economy” markets.  The new 21st century professional associations must take responsibilities for the development of new standards and represent themselves as new age international and national professional guilds. “Gig Economy” actors should be members of such guilds which should operate as "profession syndicate," and provide security standards for all involved actors. This task is the challenge for organizations like IPMA to contribute to the development of such PM profession standards and guidelines, and lobbying for its implementation at international and national levels. 
The main problem lay in the fact that on the national and international level we are lagging with the adequate institutional, legal frameworks which should introduce new global and national business standards on this field. Therefore this is a challenge for PM global and national associations, who should contribute and promote such new PM standards and culture.

Digital maturity in PM

Q5. In the era of digitalization, how should an organization build “digital maturity” in project management?

Brane Semolic: I have over 30-year experiences with PM of IT projects, including the introduction of PM standards into the Praxis. What do I see in these projects is that some organizations still believe that the use of some market widely recognized IT applications is enough in the process of solving their organizational problems. This was never a case - not yesterday, not now and also will not be in the future. The old IT slogan "Garbage-In-Garbage-Out" is still valid in such cases. This is also valid for PM digitalization projects. So, where is a solid basement for the PM digitalization maturity development? It starts with well defined and accepted PM practices. These practices can be assessed regarding PM digital maturity level. The base level begins with the use of classical paper-based PM practices, with well defined and widely accepted PM organization standards and PM corporate culture. The next levels are paper online, digital PM services, and so on.

Influences Industry 4.0 will have on PM

Q6. I’ve read your figure “Project Management Vision-Moving forward to 2030”, in which you listed 12 influences that Industry 4.0 will have on projects and project management. Would you please elaborate on the influences?

Brane Semolic: Here is a short explanation of the mentioned influences:

1. Social responsibility – need for better understanding and serving the welfare of local, regional and global interests of the project societal environment;

2. Stakeholders value satisfaction and new life-cycle concepts – we are operating in the globalized knowledge-based economy, where real intrinsic personal satisfaction is one of the critical success factors of a project and sustainable business success. Inclusion, collaboration, co-creation, customer satisfaction, and “win-win” approaches are the main characteristics of this new project culture. The critical factors in this development stage are people who are directly or indirectly involved in such a project. Competent and highly motivated people (internal and external) can provide results which reach beyond owners, managers or client expectations. Personal excellence and satisfaction of all involved parties are in focus;

3. Collaborative projects – are multi-owner partnering projects where one of the partners takes responsibility of the coordinator of such projects;

4. Project-based open innovation environment – project organization is a temporary organization, and need to be innovative and be able to recognized and exploit all innovation potential present and available in project business environment, during the whole process of project life-cycle;
5. Project eco-systems – presents business environment influenced by the project and all project stakeholders. We need to identify and secure the balanced presence of all actors of such ecosystem which shall enable achievement of project goals;

6. Complexity – the presence of different technologies, professions, organizations, and cultures are making nowadays projects and businesses very complex. Identify the complexities which are relevant for an observed project and find the harmonized and balanced approach how to deal with this complexity mix;

7. Technological literacy – technological literacy encompasses at least three distinct dimensions: knowledge, ways of thinking and acting, and capabilities (Pearsons & Young, 2002). Project managers need to be technology literate and have a good understanding of digitalization and related enabling technologies;

8. Project-based collaboration platforms – presents virtual collaboration platform which enables the collaborative environment for project work in selected areas of such collaboration, supported by the appropriate organization and e-services;

9. A process-based organization, virtual project teams, and workplaces – inter-organizational value chains, spatially distributed and dislocated project teams, supported by virtual collaborative workplaces;

10. Changes and continuous improvements – something that project's  client(s) and sponsor (s) is (are) expecting from every project;

11. Project managers as leaders and communicators – project managers recognized by project team members as a competent, respective person, capable of motivating, energizing and leading a project. The project manager has to be a successful communicator,  relevant information provider, and open issues resolver;

12. The multi-polar business, social and cultural environment – a mix of different industries, professions, organizational cultures, and societal expectations

Top qualities for PMs

Q7. As you have been a PM competence and standard developer, what are the top competencies for future project managers?

Brane Semolic: I’m quite sure that future competencies will be an upgrade of the existing PM competences with digitalization and technology literacy, multicultural behavioral and leadership complexity issues. The top qualities of the new age project managers are in their ability to understand and manage the complexity of the projects or programs, and their multi-business, multi-technology, multi-professional,  and multi-cultural business cases. The ability to utilize new dynamic-agile concepts of project work, the leadership of project teams and open innovation communities in the virtual business environment, will be their main preferences.

Impression on PM in China

Q8. How much do you know about project management in China?

Brane Semolic: My visits to China were related to my engagement within IPMA (International PM Association) where I served as vice president of this organization, chairman of its RMB (Research Management Board), as well as assessor for the IPMA’s International Project Management Award. I participated in a couple of meetings organized in your country and involved as an assessor for the group assessment of China’s project, nominated for the IPMA’s International Project Management Award in 2007. I learned a little bit about China’s PM practice during that time. I was positively surprised about your practice and how you are using and integrate your old Chinese wisdom in the modern concepts of management – like “Xiang Thinking” as an example.


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