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Oliver F. Lehmann

Oliver F. Lehmann, MSc, PMP, works as   a self-employed trainer in project management based in Munich, Germany. He   volunteers as the President of the PMI Southern Germany Chapter. 

He is also frequently invited as a   speaker on corporate events and conferences, where he combines intelligent   entertainment with new insights into project management.

Having acted as a trainer for over 22   years, he has served major companies including Airbus, Bosch, Oracle, SAP,   T-Systems and many more from various industries. He is also an Adjunct   Professor at the CeDoSIA Doctoral Program of the Technical University of   Munich. 

His focus is on Situational Project   Management and on the business aspects of the discipline, when project   managers in customer projects are challenged with “Bringing money home with   projects”.

About PMI and PMP certification

1.How was your starting as a Project Manager and a Project management trainer?

It was about 35 years ago. I did actually not just become a project manager. I was an application engineer in automotive and aerospace projects and was involved with projects in process engineering and process certification implemented inside manufacturing environments.

Over time, I found myself sliding more and more into this role. There was simply no one prepared to spend time on organizational matters. My colleagues focused on technical and commercial aspects and left the organizational part for me. I found it interesting and decided to learn more about it.

Ten years later, I found myself in the role of a single father with a nine years old boy at home. My project management job required vast times of international travelling, that was in conflict with my tasks as a father. After some attempts to reconcile the different roles, I decided to change the profession and became a trainer. By that time, I had a focus on the Munich area, where I am living.

The boy has meanwhile grown up. He has emigrated to the Silicon Valley some years ago and works as a Software Engineer at Facebook. It was a difficult situation for him, when he was a boy, but he made definitively the best out of it.

2.What has been the biggest challenge that you have found when training employees to become Project managers?

Most of my students are experienced project managers who I help on the way to the PMP certification. But I am also educating beginners.

The most difficult thing with young people at the beginning of their career is that they expect a cooking recipe that helps them gain quickly the abilities of experienced colleagues. Sometimes, this is referred to as “Best practice”. I do not have such a panacea to cure all diseases, and as I believe that approaches in project management must be situationally adjusted to the ever changing situations, I am certain, “Best practices” in project management do not exist.

By the way, I would not doubt that there are truly poor practices.

3.Do you think is it completely necessary to have a special training and/or education to become a Project manager, or do you think any employee could become a Project manager just with the work experience? Why?

It takes three things to develop professionalism in project management: Knowledge, experience and observation. As a trainer, I can offer knowledge. Regarding experience, I can do much less. Experience comes mostly from doing the job. I can help people to contemplate their experience and gain a better understanding of it, but I am normally not there when they make it. 

The same is true for observations. Observing others is rarely discussed as a means to develop professionalism in our profession, but good observers learn faster: They do not need to make all mistakes by themselves, they can learn from the failures of others. I can help people better understand their observations, but the task to observe will still remain theirs.

In a complex mosaic of professional development, the work of the trainer is just a stone. It is an important stone to make the picture complete and avoid a black hole, but it is not the full picture. Project managers must go through many learning processes alone, for others, a trainer is simply needed.

4.What does it mean that a project manager has PMP certification?

The certification is also a stone in a mosaic, not the full picture. It is a signal.

It signals that the person is interested in project management, is motivated to learn and grow in the field and wants to be part of a global community of certified project managers. This community has today around 760,000 active holders of the PMP certification, plus an unknown number of holders of other certifications. This is not a small, marginal or elitist group, this is a strong force massively shaping the discipline.

For a recruiter, such a signal is valuable. Recruiters are interested in people’s achievements, interests and determination in order to match the candidates they have with the jobs they need to staff. 

I am sure, all recruiters are aware that certification is a signal, not a guarantee. The chosen person will still have to show that the signal is a true one.

There are also strong benefits for employers to get their project managers certified. These project managers will have a stronger stance in discussions with a credential proving their knowledge of the discipline, and for corporations in customer projects, it will be much easier to win good business and end the project with profit.

Good people also rather stay with employers, where they see a potential for personal growth. Investing in certification is a great way for an organization to show its project managers, how much the company values them. It is then important to have a great trainer, who builds rapport with management and students and does not damage this investment with incompetence. I am happy to say that we have a lot of great trainers in PMI, who make seminars a success for all parties involved.

5.What are the keys of success to pass a PMP exam at the first attempt?

For first-attempt exam success, the first need is a good trainer and mentor, who helps understand the terminology, the key concepts and the underlying “philosophy”. And then: Answering sample questions. Tons of sample questions.

After my own certification in 2001, I thought that it may be helpful for people preparing for the exam to have some sample questions. The collection is still online at www.oliverlehmann.com/pmp-self-test/75-free-questions.htm, it was the first free collection of such questions as far as I am aware of. I have meanwhile replaced many questions to reflect changes in the real exam. More questions came over time, and other providers also added great materials. At the end of my page with the 75 questions, you can find links to their work.

These questions help gain routine and speed, identify knowledge gaps and measure exam readiness. When you have done your 35 hours training and have read the PMBOK Guide, answer sample questions.

6.What do you think has been the biggest contribution of PMI to improving project management as a profession? 

When I began managing projects, I was not aware that this was a profession on its own. It rather seemed an inevitable waste of time to deal with organizational, social, and interpersonal issues, when technical and commercial issues seemed to matter so much more. PMI helped me and others understand that these undervalued tasks are actually a core element of the dynamics of success and failure in project management.

7.What kind of opportunities could you get by joining PMI local chapters and PMI global institute?

PMI and its chapters gave me the opportunity to sharpen my claws in tasks that I would normally not do in my normal professional environment. I am a self-employed trainer, a kind of freelancer, but working for PMI and its chapters, I could engage myself in teams and grow into leadership positions.

8.Which has been the biggest challenge as the PMI Southern Germany Chapter President?

Germany has currently four chapters, and historically, this was a great format, as it allowed us to stay in proximity to our members. The four chapters have grown, and so has the significance of project management (not only) in Germany and of PMI. We have to adapt by developing structures that can ensure impact on national level. In essence, this means that we have to unify the four chapters. 

Not all PMI chapter representatives share this opinion, so a lot of consensus building in this issue is still necessary.

9.Which will be the new challenges for the PMI chapters in Europe?

Europe faces an uprise of neo-isolationism in many countries. 

Europeanisation and globalization gave people new jobs, new products and services and many other opportunities. Some people have lost more in this process than gained, at least that’s their perception. We have to strengthen the cross-border bonds in Europe, resisting the centrifugal forces in the interest of our profession, which is international, but also in the interest of our cultures, of peace and of our identity as global humans.

10.What is the future of our profession in Europe?

I am guessing, but I think, we will have to look much closer at the different manifestations of project management. At the moment, we are treating our profession mostly as if project equals project, situation equals situation. A much more refined look will help us gain new insights and separate the favorable approaches from the detrimental ones in specific situations.

For Europe, project management has the power to strengthen us economically, but also give us means to better help others. 2017 sees the greatest famine in human history. Project management must participate in developing responses.

About the books

11.According to your book “Situational Project Management: The Dynamics of Success and Failure” what is most common issue by which the companies lose money on the projects execution and how could it be avoided?

Project management is an open-skill discipline, not a closed-skill one. The terms come from sports psychology. Closed-skill disciplines like figure skating are introspective. The athlete focuses on the own performance that the person trains through endless repetition and performs in an environment that separates the person from the surroundings and avoids disruptions. An example for the opposite, open-skill disciplines, is hockey, where players have to respond to ever-changing situations, and frequent disruption is the normality, not the exception.

Many companies consider project management closed-skill, but it is definitively open-skill most of the time. People involved need situational intelligence to master their projects. Failure is expensive, situational approaches are therefore necessary.

12.What is the best thing that a Project manager could do if he/she realises that a project is going to fail?

Identify the causes and find solutions quickly. Early responses are less costly and the number of options that are feasible in a given situation goes down over time.

It may sound strange, but sometimes, running away may be the best when the project manager finds himself/herself in a clear WOMBAT project, a Waste Of Money, Brain And Time.

13.What kind of tips and new knowledge we can find in the book “Situational Project Management: The Dynamics of success and failure”?

First, a typology of projects is developed, which helps respond more appropriately to the different project situations that we find ourselves in. To my knowledge, I was the first to typify projects, and this has value for practitioners as well as for research.

Then, my recommendation is to remain aware of the degree of predictiveness that a project allows for and that it requires at the same time, the planning horizon. A situation may be best characterized by the words of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, “Wanderer, there is no way, the way is made by walking”. Then, agile approaches may be best. In other projects, a detailed and highly predictive plan may be needed to ensure that resources are booked early, before they get blocked by others, and work is tasked soon enough to providers, who will need to start tomorrow to have their results finished when the project needs them.

Another help given relates to the selection of “Achieving styles” that project managers use to respond to tasks. This section builds on the “Connective leadership” model of Jean Lipman-Blumen, a Professor at the Peter F. Drucker School and for many the Rockstar in leadership theory.

14.How can you identify what kind of methodology, agile or traditional, it must be used for managing a project?

The PMBOK Guide 5th Ed., pp. 44-47, says that there are three approaches to project management: Adaptive/agile, predictive/waterfall, and between them something called “Iterative incremental”. I prefer the term “Rolling wave” for the last. Rolling wave sits in the middle between agile and waterfall, and the PMBOK Guide is mostly driven by this approach, calling it “Good practice for most projects most of the time”. I made some research five years ago, which showed that this statement is probably true: The middle between agile and waterfall is a great place to start. I recommend to begin a project with a prediction period somewhere between two and six months, what seems appropriate to it.

When a project manager then finds that a situation is more driven by frequent change and by “the way is made by walking”, the project should use shorter predictions, applying agile methods with prediction cycles of under a month. When longer prediction is necessary, one should move to the other side.

15.Tell us about the new book you are writing and when do you expect to publish it?

When I developed my typology of projects, I found a type of projects sometimes addressed in literature, training, academic education, but nowhere truly elaborated: Customer projects. 

In customer projects, the job of the project manager is much less that of a change agent or of an implementer of corporate strategies, the job is to bring money home. I am digging deep into this field now. It is actually another project management knowledge area: Project Business Management. It deals with matters of profitability of a contractor working for a customer, but also with the complex and dynamic supply networks that have replaced old supply chains and are so hard to understand and to manage. This goes beyond the knowledge area in the PMBOK Guide “Project Procurement Management”, which mostly looks at only two parties, a customer and a contractor, not at complex networks.

The title of the book will be “Situational Project Management II: Bringing Money Home With Projects”. I expect publication around the end of the year.

16.Finally, we would like to know how to contact you in order to know more about the training programs.

Of course: oliver@oliverlehmann.com

By: Lilian Morales, PMP®