HR Vision Podcast #20 – A personal approach to Project Management ft. Kate Bush

By FourVision
Nov 17 • 1 min read
HR Vision Podcast Episode 20 ft. Kate Bush

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“Throughout my career, people and relationships have always been at the heart of everything I do.”

That’s how Kate Bush introduces herself as a Project Manager. In this episode she gives us her personal view on Project Management, the important skills to have, the common challenges she’s seen, and why good relationships are important in the course of any project implementation.

Ivo:
Hey everyone, and welcome to the HR Vision Podcast. I'm your host, Ivo, and every week I'm going to have a conversation that matters about HR.

This week I have with me, Kate Bush. Welcome Kate! How are you?

Kate:
I'm good. Thank you for having me for this conversation today. I'm looking forward to it.

Ivo:
Me too Kate. Thank you so much.

Kate is based in the UK. She's a project manager at FourVision and today we're going to discuss what it's like to be a project manager in HR Tech. So let's start Kate. Welcome again. I would like to start, yeah, from the beginning with a small introduction about about yourself and your way into this world of HR tech.

Kate:
In terms of how did I get into it?

Ivo:
Yeah, how did you get into it? If you studied for project management at all? What was your background before getting here?

Kate:
Well, I guess so... How did I get to where I am today? So I've been in the Microsoft Dynamics community for... oh goodness. 25 years at least. Something like that.

I actually started on the customer side, working for a Danish company who were implementing Navision, as it was known then, version 260. Long story short, but from there I ended up going into the partner community. I guess in terms of... I didn't really sort of set out to necessarily have a career in HR, but there was one thing in particular on that very first employment with the partner that sort of set on the course of HR, and what I feel about it.

Throughout my career, people and relationships have always been at the heart of everything I do. My career started through sort of account management into support, into operational management, project management, but it's always been the people and the relationships through all of that really mattered for me. And I remember actually in terms of the role that the first role I had at the partner, I'd obviously been through at the interview I had a formal job offer that I accepted. I had a contract, I had a start date. And I turned up on my very first day to find out that the Managing Director was actually not expecting me. In fact, there was no one expecting me other than the person who had interviewed me for this role. There was no HR process, so there was there was nothing. My first day I just sort of sat in a room with two colleagues who worked on the support desk in this partner who didn't speak to me for the whole day, and I think that really sort of set the scene for me.

An element of what I think about HR and the whole importance of relationship and communication. Throughout everything I do. So that experience really has stayed with me and I think about that and how I communicate with people all the time. including the work that I now do as a project manager.

Ivo:
Yeah, I can imagine, that's a very interesting perspective. Right from the start, so you you worked always with the partner community within Microsoft.

Kate:
That's where a large part of my career has been. Yes.

Ivo:
Yeah, for 25 years. That's a that's a long time. Did you study for project management? Was something that came into your into your path. like you start developing skills within within that area and you move naturally there, or how did that happen?

Kate:
Yes it was a natural progression for me. As I said, I started so going back to this very first role where they weren't expecting me. Actually I was going to be working on the support desk. So using all the knowledge that I had gained working for the Danish company. But it would improving my knowledge and going into different products on this support desk, but as I said no one was expecting me. But I stuck it out and I was in that role. I think for about a year.

I was then promoted into account management, and that was really interesting for me again. In terms of getting inside the customers. Knowing their business so you knew how to help them. You knew what additional products or services that you could offer them. That would would help their business to evolve and grow. And again that keeps coming back to the relationships that you have with people.

I then went on to head up a particular account management team which is very interesting. From there I went actually into operational management, so I worked for a partner with the Operations Director and I had the project managers, the consultants, the developers reporting in to me. But that took me sort of more into so that project management field and I've managed various projects since.

Ivo:
OK! How how did the connection happen with the technology behind behind HR? Was it only here at at FourVision or something that you had in previous experiences? Was it actually the people side that pulled you into the technology area. How did that happen?

Kate:
To be honest, I don't know. If I'm honest with you. But I can say that as my journey in technology has continued, my belief is still sort of around the importance of people and relationships. I think I might have touched on this before, but you can have the very best systems and processes and projects and technology. But I still firmly believe that the very best assets are other people. You know, the relationships that you can build still make such a real difference. And I think. in terms of what the whole world has been going through after last couple of years with COVID.

I think it's taught us how important that connection with people is. The power of the voice and the face still is so very important.

Ivo:
Absolutely, I think we agree there. OK, now that you're a project manager in HR tech, you're dealing with technology, or at least you're dealing with projects to implement technology. What gets you most excited about it? Do you find it fulfilling, the way you're enabling people to get the best technology for them to do their best work?

Kate:
Yeah definitely, that's a real excitement and buzz. When you're working on a project and knowing that you can deliver some sort of real and meaningful changes to businesses and their people within the businesses as well. So I really get a real buzz out of that.

Ivo:
OK, what do you think? What do you think are the must haves if that for for Project manager to be successful in this HR tech world, or even tech world for that matter.

Kate:
Oh goodness!

Ivo:
You can take your time it's fine!

Kate:
A sense of humor definitely. Patience, great listening skills. You need to be able to to plan. So you have planning management skills, people, management skills. Being able to lead the team. Commercial management. Those things are important in abundance.

Ivo:
Do you think our they are equally important or theirs? Some something that it's more important than above all?

Kate:
If you don't listen in the first instance, then you won't be able to potentially do any of those things. So yeah, you've got to be able to listen, to then be able to plan, to then be able to lead to take care of your budget.

I would probably put that one at the top of the list, but maybe ask me again a few minutes time, I might change my mind.

Ivo:
OK, well, let's let's go again! No, no, no I'm kidding. OK, listening is a very good perspective of it. Do you find it hard to do that to listen sometimes? To what the requirements are. You think it's a challenge sometimes to really understand what the customer is asking for? Because part of it, in my view, is also asking the right questions. If you find that hard sometimes to listen, or to understand what are the requirements and what you need to do in certain projects. You know what I mean?

Kate:
Yeah, I think so. I think listening is a hard skill in. In any case, I think sometimes maybe we're all guilty of hearing things rather than listening. So that's probably the first thing to say.

There are still things that I come across that I don't fully understand. But what I haven't so much more confidence now in, perhaps at the start of my career is asking things. If you don't understand something that you're you're listening to your hearing or you're reading, don't be afraid to. Ask again because it's important to have that understanding. And to be clear, because if you as a project manager isn't clear, how can you guide the customer?
How can you advise your team? How can you do anything?

There are things we come across that we don't understand so don't be afraid to ask questions around it.

Ivo:
Right, right. Just a little thing on that. D you have any strategies that you have to have in project management, that could be a good advice for people looking into that area? Which kind of tools that you use for communicate with your team. Do you have periodic meetings? How do you, organize your work as a project manager?

Kate:
How do I organize my work order? Question more around...

Ivo:
More around the teams. The teams that you work with. You work of course with with consultants, you work with the client, so you need to manage all that communication. So I'm more interested to know like in tangible things that you use that help you managing projects.

Kate:
So for me, managing the project. I'm making sure that I'm communicating with my team. So if you're going to have. We all need to have meetings, whether that's one to one meetings with with a specific member of your team for a catch up, or perhaps a stand-up call, but always make your meetings and have a purpose. And set objectives that we're going to get out of the meeting. So rather than just sort of put meeting soon into everybody's diary without understanding the impact of those meetings and what we're looking to get out of them.

I think, as busy as you can be in a project, it's always good to make time to talk to your team as well. Sometimes you can get so busy or focus just ends up being around: "What's the latest update on this?" "What's happened?" "Come on this task, are we on track for that?". Whilst all of that is important, it is sometimes still very important just to be able to check in with somebody. And don't, sometimes maybe we're all guilty of this, but don't ask the question "Hi, how are you?" at the beginning of the conversation if you haven't really got time to listen to what that person is going to say to you. And again, I think how our work has changed with COVID being able to have that time just to connect in with people, and check that they really are OK is also important as well. Rather than, you know, "Hi, how are you? Are you OK?" and you're not really listening to their answer before you've gone into "Can you just tell me what's going on with this?".

Ivo:
Yeah yeah, I totally understand. Did you find, your communication skills to grow or to develop during COVID? Because I guess, you really need to find the time and try to be personal in the remote world. You know what I mean? Did you find it hard? And how did you overcome that?

Kate:
I think I did have to develop the skills. I'm thinking a little bit more about taking that time to connect with people. It's always nice to be able to see somebody's face when you're talking to them as well, because you couldn't look in their eyes and look at them and see. And also see how they're feeling. But also there's some awareness that not everybody feels comfortable with things like that as well. And you want to make people feel comfortable when you're talking to them, because probably that way you're going to get more information out of them.

I think that's also a very important to point as well. That when you're connecting with people from making sure that you're talking in a language that they also understand. That can apply with customers as well, right? Sometimes you end up talking all about languages and technology that might mean something to you, but they don't necessarily mean something to other people as well.

So yeah, I did have to develop and change a little bit to make sure that you are still connecting with people in the right way.

Ivo:
Absolutely. Now going through the overall implementation that you've been working on; overall projects. What would you say are the most common challenges that you face during a project implementation?

Kate:
Oh goodness, most common challenges.

Ivo:
I love how you start almost every answer like 'oh, goodness'. Go ahead, I'm sorry.

Kate:
So, scope creep. You know, scope creep I guess can be a natural for any project. Maybe there are times when it could be seen as beneficial. However it's always very important to manage scope, communicate with the whole project team and to keep that scope in check as well for a whole variety of reasons.

Lack of communication. We've talked a lot about that in our conversation so far, but effective communication in a project is extremely important for the project to be successful. A lack of clear goals and a success criteria clarity is one of the most important requirements for the successful completion of a project. Lack of it creates several challenges.

Budgeting issues. There's a. There's a clear budget and being clear on and how you intend to report on that budget at the very beginning.

Ivo:
And that probably connects also with the scope, right?

Kate:
Yes, yeah. Inadequate risk management. Being able to identify possible and potential 'what if' scenarios and are making contingency plans. It is important as well. I firmly believe in that. I think lack of accountability. I think in my experience, a project team performs really well when every member of that team feels responsible and tries to fulfill that. That role that's assigned to them. I think where there is that lack of accountability that tends to lead to issues as well. I think also limited engagement around stakeholders. Oh and unrealistic deadlines! Definitely! Well that's one I've come across.

Ivo:
Yeah, that's probably a problem for everyone. I'd like to just say that lack of accountability. How does that translate into practical terms? It's just that it depends on the project manager, style of management that doesn't include people, or doesn't give them the responsibility or the accountability to do their work. Does that translate to practical terms? If you can explain it.

Kate:
So I think as I said, first of all everyone needs to understand the role and the responsibilities that they have on the project. I think that's the first step. As a project manager when you're kicking off the project, it's important that that people know the standards and what's expected of them. That 'why' we're delivering this? What's important? What's the business case? How we expect to operate. The standards that they are expected around that.

And I think for people to feel empowered to do their role, but to know that. That they have that accountability. They have that responsibility on them.

Ivo:
OK alright. I think this what I'm going to ask you next. Probably it's not like the main responsibility of a project manager, but a lot of times, software implementation or to be successful, there's a lot of change management involved. So do you do anything to help the customer sometimes understand what is in in question? Why are we doing this? Do you go that way as well to support the customer on that transition. How do you do that? Because. Yeah, sometimes the decision comes from the management above and the people that are working with it actually, don't agree, don't want to do it. Those those kind of impediments. So do you do something in that? In that sense, do you try to help them with change management?

Kate:
Yes, I think so. I mean for you to understand change, for change to be effective; We need to understand sort of all the in's and outs of that change. So perhaps where you're looking to help people is and help sort of communicate to the stakeholders within the business in terms of why do you need to change. What are the key objectives to help identify what the benefits of the change will be to the organization to focus on people in a positive way. The impact on the people positively impacts on how that will affect the way that the people will work as well. In terms of we hope that will be in a positive impact as well. And what people will need to do to be successful to achieve that change as well?

Ivo:
OK! Let's say some listeners, they have never experienced an implementation. So I would ask you to... not to walk us through all the process, but what would be the first steps when someone is starting an implementation? What are the first steps that you take as a project manager to make it go more smoothly, let's say?

Kate:
I'm sorry I don't understand the question. Can you just expand on that a little bit more for me?

Ivo:
Of course. Imagine that the listeners they never experienced an implementation or they're about to start one. And you are the project manager for that customer. So my question is, what can they expect from you, in terms of project management, to make it go more smoothly? What are the steps you take in place? Initial meetings, report what they can expect, to get the updates about the project every week, every day, every two weeks? How do you go about that - do you understand what I mean?

Kate:
I think so. OK, so I think as part of the governance that you will put down for your project. And again, that should have been covered off in your Statement of Work, and then reflected also into your project charter. So you would have a clear governance structure that will say how we are going to engage, how we are going to report the frequency of the reporting, the types of meetings that we're going to happen.

And I think it's important to establish at the very beginning that open communication, which will help to build trust as well. And that comes into reporting as well. Even though you might be having a weekly steering committee meeting, and you may well be delivering a weekly report. We know that there are always going to be challenges and hiccups along the way with projects. But it's important, I feel that when something like that happens, to communicate these things sooner rather than later because it helps: "Then here we've found this problem. We were hoping this task would be completed. But this has happened, and so unfortunately this task won't be completed until the end of the week. However, this what we're going to do to mitigate any risk.". Or this is how this is happening."

It won't impact another area, so to have that dialogue open and to get that feeling of trust established and to talk about that at the rate beginning. In terms of how we want to work together as a team. Again terms of establishing the rules around... the rules, that sounds like quite a strong word. That's a bad word. Establishing how as a team we want to communicate. But again, don't be afraid to ask questions. So don't say yes if we actually mean no, ask questions. If we don't understand which is something we talked about earlier as well, I think making sure that you have committed project sponsors and an active, engaged stakeholders as well. Making that clear at the very beginning of the project is very important.

Ivo:
There you go. You asked the question to clarify the question, and the answer came very insightful. So thank you for that. You're practicing what you're saying, you're walking the walk.

So a couple more questions for you Kate. Now that you were working with HR tech, and you said that you in your previous experience weren't always with people and the HR world. How important do you believe HR Tech is for managing processes, to help people in their daily lives as HR professionals, or managers, or even employees. What do you think is the importance of this technology?

Kate:
I think it's very important. Gosh, it's a really interesting question. It is important, but it actually creates a lot of thought in my mind when I think about the future of HR and technology. Yeah, perhaps the idea that maybe software should be designed with the broader business user in mind. Focusing on the overall organization's success. I think technology also needs to look at preparing for the changing work methods and styles, so for diverse workforces as well. I think planning...

Ivo:
Do you think it's already doing that? It's already going that direction?

Kate:
Yes I do. Yes.

Ivo:
Alright, so. Do you see with the customers that you've been working on, do you see a major improvement? Do they give you feedback about how they are looking into the tool, how they are liking it or not, what you've been listening to. Let's say.

Kate:
They do give feedback that they're liking the tools, that it's definitely helping shaping their business. And improving the lives for themselves and for their employees as well.

Ivo:
OK, so it happening now, and it's also a trend in your view that HR tech should be more and more a technology that supports the new way of working that supports the organization that helps people take decisions based on data and what their employees are doing, how they are performing and all that. Is that correct?

Kate:
Yes.

Ivo:
OK, alright thank you for that. Just one small challenge to end the episode.

Challenge... Well it's another question basically. But if we had someone out there that doesn't know anything about HR tech, or doubting it or whatever that may be, what would you say to these people?

Kate:
Oh, I don't know. Oh, you caught me on that challenge.

Ivo:
So I'm gonna put it to you in another way. Imagine that you have a family member. Someone very close to you and he or she would ask you in a in a family dinner or something. "Hey Kate, I know that you have been hearing about this HR technology and those kind of those kind of things. You work in that right? So do you think it's useful?" Let's put it that way.

Kate:
It's definitely useful. I mean it's helping to change things in a in a positive way for people. It's helping them to give like a a richer experience. It's helping them to stay more connected. So yeah, it's definitely worth it.

Ivo:
OK, well I think that's a simple and a fair answer.

Kate:
OK! You're welcome.

Ivo:
All right, Kate. Thank you so much for taking the time. I really enjoyed the conversation. I hope you did too.

Kate:
Yeah me too. It's been great. Thank you.

Ivo:
OK, thank you Kate and for everyone out there listening, I hope you like the episode and we'll see you in the next one.


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