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Knowledge of the basics of project management is useful for all specialists

Vladimir Serbin answered questions about project activities and explained why it is necessary to study such a discipline as “Project Management”.

Knowledge of the basics of project management is useful for all specialists

Serbin V.M.

Vladimir Serbin is an Associate Professor at the Department of Business Informatics and Operations Management at the Shool of Economics and Management of the HSE (St. Petersburg). In frame of MA Programme “International Business in the Asia-Pacific Region” Prof. Serbin teaches the discipline “Project Management”. Prof. Serbin is a unique specialist with an interesting biography. In 1981 he graduated from Leningrad State University (now St. Petersburg State University) with a degree in Astronomy, and in 1984 he defended his PhD thesis in Astrophysics. He worked in various organizations, but his main activity was related to software, and for the last 30 years he has been leading companies that develop software.

Prof. Serbin, for a long time you work in business, but this year you decided to join the HSE team and teach students. What motivated you to do this?

The main motivation is to transfer knowledge to students, so that they have the opportunity to use this knowledge for personal development, professional career development and social benefit. At the HSE I teach Project Management, which is a general discipline that is used in any industry, since projects are carried out everywhere - in government, non-government, public organizations and, of course, in business. Wherever there is some kind of activity, there are projects, so knowledge of project management is universal and useful for any category of specialists, and primarily for managers.

Do you think students of which directions should study the discipline "Project Management"?

If students associate their future with such concepts as management, administration, leadership, then, certainly, they need to. The basics of project management should be known to all the specialists. Specialists with higher education will participate in the implementation of various projects. Understanding the environment in which they will find themselves, the methods that will be used, will help them more effectively perform their duties.

What do you like and dislike about working with students?

It's interesting to work with students because in a few years they will begin to shape the future of our country. I want to ensure the continuity of generations, to pass on life and work experience. I like the students' desire to gain the knowledge they need. The overwhelming majority of those I have dealt with so far are motivated and interested people, ready to devote their time and effort to acquiring new knowledge.

I wouldn't say that I dislike anything. All people, including students, have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes there is a lack of understanding of the need to do certain things at a certain time, that is, discipline. Rather, it is the underdevelopment of internal discipline, the inability to organize their time, rather than an inability to follow external requirements. Many students could better organize themselves. "Project Management" can help with this. In my course, I talk not only about project management from the point of view of the collective work of the project group but also try to give students information related to self-organization and time management, i.e., self-development.

For me it is important, that students would start applying elements of the knowledge they gain during the course in practice. Especially aspects related to their personal development. They could start applying these techniques immediately, and I would advise them to do so, to turn the so-called wheel of learning.

What is the most important in project management?

If we are talking about the success of an individual in the role of a project manager, then the most important factors for success are this project manager's attitude towards their work, their personal characteristics, soft skills, perseverance, the ability to overcome difficulties, the ability to say "no", and so on. For success in project management, these personal characteristics are more important than formal knowledge of project management practices (hard skills). It can be said that the key aspect for success is the presence and manifestation of leadership qualities.

From the point of view of project management methods, perhaps the most important thing is the ability to manage the scope of work and changes, i.e., to prevent uncontrolled changes in the scope of work (preventing scope creep). Any projects are subject to changes. Changes are constantly happening, and they need to be managed. It doesn't matter what methodology is used, it is important to have a change management process and for this process to be executed. Often it happens that project managers know that the process is being executed with major flaws but do not make corrections in practice. This leads to big problems.

Summarizing, leadership qualities are needed from the point of view of management, and management of the scope of work and changes from a technical point of view.

Could you please tell us about the most successful project you have ever implemented

The criteria for project success can be different, for example, meeting customer needs on time and within budget. I can tell you about one project that was successful, and one of the main criteria for success was the speed with which it was completed.

We had a customer, a large American insurance company, and this customer needed to urgently implement a new information system in a very short period of time. We executed this order as part of an English company, but the developers were here, in St. Petersburg. A team of 20 employees went to the client's site in Pennsylvania, USA, spent 3 months there and almost "from scratch" managed to deliver this system to the client, develop the software code of this system and implement it. This system is still in use. The deadlines we demonstrated were unique, extremely fast.

There are aspects and features in project management. In software development, working at the client's site can significantly speed up development. Collocation, when the whole team is in one room, also speeds up development. We all worked together in one room, together with the client, and this ensured the highest speed of execution.

Have project management methods changed?

Over the past decades, project management methods and views on project management have changed quite significantly. First of all, because methodologies have appeared that are called Lean or Agile methods of project management. Especially this concerns the industry in which I am still involved. In software development, information technology, and many other industries, Lean and Agile have simply turned the ways of delivering projects upside down. The emergence of these methodologies has also influenced traditional project management methods. Approaches are changing, novelty is there, and this is a positive shift.

Do you think there is a shortage of qualified managers?

I wouldn't say there is a shortage, but qualified managers are always needed. The word "manager", unfortunately, is devalued in everyday use, as it is often associated with a sales specialist. I prefer the Russian word - leader. There is no double interpretation here. A leader is someone who leads a team, a project, organizes the work of others. Of course, there are few good leaders. Good leaders are primarily personal qualities, leadership skills. Leaders who help their employees and subordinates effectively perform their duties, solve their problems, the problems of the team, remove obstacles in front of this team, guide people, and lead them. There aren't many such people, and they are always in demand.

How do you think is it possible to develop these leadership qualities by yourself?

Of course, you can, but you have to work on it. Some are born with leadership talents. Many of today's leaders demonstrated such behavior virtually from childhood. Leadership qualities need to be developed as early as possible. Many qualities of leaders are developed human qualities - the ability to hear and understand others, to take into account the interests of others, and so on. The foundation is laid in the family. I hope that our modern society, school, and higher education will also act in this direction.

Currently, additional education courses for the Project Management are extremely popular among already working people, not only students. How do you think what is the main reason?

There are operational activity and project activity. Everything we do relates either to operational activities, our daily tasks, or some project activity aimed at achieving specific goals in a certain period of time. Projects permeate our entire life. Therefore, it is relevant, people want to increase their efficiency, individual efficiency, team efficiency, the efficiency of their enterprises, and organizations. Such a discipline as "Project Management" helps in this.

Could you please advise our students books that will help solve both work tasks and personal development tasks more effectively

There are also a number of authors whose books have had a significant influence on me. For example, Charles Handy's book "The Age of Unreason", which was written almost 30 years ago but considers perspectives on how people will live and work; ways of organizing in business. Charles Handy foresaw 30 years ago what is widely used today - outsourcing, part-time employment. He called this way of building an organization a shamrock, i.e., an organization in which other types of employees are involved alongside full-time employees.
Also, i consider as important and usefull books written by Stephen Covey, such as "First Things First" and his first book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", which describe an interesting system for managing personal time and priorities. There are other books on this topic, for example, "Getting Things Done" by David Allen and "Your Time in Your Hands" by Lothar Seiwert. Students can start with these, but shouldn't stop. Personal development has many aspects. Among other things, spiritual and intellectual development is important.