A Conversation with Olfa Hamdi
By The Project Management Institute (PMI)
Olfa Hamdi is an international researcher in the field of project management, independent consultant, founder of the Advanced Work Packaging Institute, co-founder of The Institute of Management and a tech entrepreneur in project management technology solutions.
She holds a Master of Science in Capital Projects' Management from The University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Science in Engineering from Ecole Centrale de Lille, and a graduate degree in Alternative Dispute Resolution for construction disputes from Texas School of Law. She is a fellow of the State Bar of Texas Construction Law section.
Olfa has numerous publications in prestigious academic and professional journals as well as media outlets. Olfa speaks four languages and is a firm believer in the role of interdisciplinary research in driving capital projects effectiveness and project management knowledge sphere expansion.
We are glad to feature her as March's Member of the Month! Please take some time to get to know Olfa!
How did you get involved in project management?
When I was 13, my grand father delegated to me the responsibility of a part of the seasonal olive harvest in one of our lands in Gafsa, Tunisia. I remember he told me: “You’re in charge, and I hope you won’t disappoint me”. He simply meant in modern terms: “you’re responsible for the project, I’m trusting you with and you’ll be held accountable for the outcome”
In fact, he came through with his promise and I got a “fat” bonus considering my age at the time that I used to pay for my English classes. ?
As a conclusion, the project management profession comes down to the basic idea of taking personal responsibility for a project and being accountable for its successful delivery.
This was true when I was 13 years old and it is still true today.
Later on, when I completed my first master of science in engineering in France, I joined the University of Texas at Austin for a second master of science specializing in capital projects management; that marked the official start of my involvement in the project management field.
Who or what inspires you to be the best project manager you can be?
By nature, in whatever I do, I have always been against all forms of waste. I see the project management field as a framework through which we, as wealth creators, can learn how to reduce and in some cases eliminate all forms of waste, whether in the public, private or personal spheres. Doing this will ultimately help us becoming more responsible individuals as well as successful investors in our industry.
Projects that go wrong have indirect consequences that go beyond the extra cost paid to remedy them. In the medium to long run, they do impact the entire organization through its people, operations, culture and ultimately undermine the company’s shareholder value potential. Having seen and studied the impact of organizational failure in project management, I believe that every organization, aiming for a thriving future, should invest and protect its project and asset delivery capabilities because that’s the kind of expertise that you can’t just order out of the shelve; it’s the kind of expertise that is anchored in experience and in time.
Putting aside the basics of the business and financial considerations of a project, I believe in the saying: “tell me how a company does its projects, I will tell you how solid is that company”.
So, in a word, what inspires me in this profession? I guess, the promise of success that comes with good project management and I always would like to take part of that success.
What is one thing you wished you'd known when you first started out in your career/project management?
Looking back at my beginnings in the field, I wish there were more resources to help and mentor young professionals such as myself at the time.
In your experience, what one skill does a project manager need to succeed? Why?
A project is a promise and what matters most in a promise is the reliability of whoever makes that promise. I believe that successful projects are delivered by people who have grown to be reliable within their professional sphere and who are led by high-integrity project managers. With personal integrity comes reliability toward others.
You’ve reached a point in your project where you need to make a choice between delivery and quality. How do you proceed?
There is no short answer to this question.
It really depends on the type of project, the business case, the contract terms and many other factors that shape this kind of trade-off. This question highlights an important aspect of the project opportunity shaping. In fact, when I teach the project management 101 class, I typically pend over 10% of the class time on the cost, schedule, scope and quality trade-offs definition because that’s what defines the value promised by the project and it’s important to get right from the beginning. This being said, it is indeed possible to reach advanced stages in execution where cost and schedule expectations change due to reasons outside of the project team control. In that case, a key practice is alignment between the client and the contractor from one side and between the multiple other stakeholders involved in the project execution from the other side.
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