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Get to know IIL's CEO, E. LaVerne Johnson

E. LaVerne Johnson, Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of International Institute for Learning, Inc. (IIL) was recently interviewed regarding IIL’s role in the advancement of the Project Management profession through her organization’s leadership role in originally creating, and continuing to produce, International Project Management Day.


Q: What are the top priorities and/or concerns with PMs today that make it more important than ever for them to remain current in their profession and attend IPM Day?

Overall, IPM Day is a wonderful opportunity to learn a wide variety of new skills and techniques; gain knowledge about the latest hot topics; and benchmark themselves versus what their peers are doing in other organizations.

The recent AXELOS PPM Benchmark Study (2017) found that a majority of project managers recognize the value of continuing professional development activity; and, while organizations responded in a similar fashion, they are not backing up their positions with the necessary funding for such development. Such training should not only consist of “hard” skills, but leadership and strategic skills as well. Certainly, many project managers have a keen interest in all things “agile”.

Another priority of many project managers is to stay competitive in the marketplace, not only by upgrading their skills through training and professional development, but also by earning various, and valuable, industry certifications such as the Project Management Professional (PMP)®. While there has been a lot of debate about the value of certifications, one only has to look at project manager salaries to see their effect. Project Management Institute (PMI) recently reported that those with a PMP certification earn, on average, twenty percent more than those who do not have the certification. (PM Network, January 2017).

Q: What are the top forward-looking trends in Project Management as a profession?

One key trend is the need for Project Managers to be Business Leaders. In fact, organizations now require project managers to be both “managers” and “leaders.” The second trend is that project management is not just about the project’s deliverables; it’s all about the project’s benefits. What value does a project have if its intended benefits have not been delivered? Accordingly, organizations today have expanded the definition of a project. A project doesn’t end when the deliverables have been met; the project ends and is deemed successful, when the return on the project has been realized.

This is a fundamental change in the nature of project management itself. Many of our IPM Day offerings—which are led by world-renowned experts in their fields—bring the latest cutting edge information to the marketplace. Our attendees know this is the “place to be” every first Thursday of November.

Q: Why did you select the theme: People, Passion, and Purpose in a Digital Age for IPM Day 2017

The digital age is bringing sweeping changes to every aspect of our lives. In fact, all this disruption is manifested, and brought to fruition, by the very projects that organizations undertake to change the status quo. Accordingly, we need the right people (project managers) to “lead the charge” into the digital frontier—people whose passion and sense of purpose galvanizes their teams and stakeholders to bring their best to the office every day in pursuit of major change. IPM Day taps into the desire of project managers to rise to the occasion and make things happen, regardless of their industry.

Ultimately, the success of the Project Management profession depends on the soft skills as well as the critical hard skills of the Project Managers. People are the ones who get the projects done, and they need to put themselves in situations where they can follow their passions. Purpose is what drives an organization and the PMs who are knowledgeable of and aligned with the organization’s purpose want to – and will – succeed in carrying out that mission.

Q: What are you most excited about regarding IPM Day 2017? What’s new, different, and/or important for PMs?

For the past 14 years, IIL has celebrated what PMs do and who they are in their profession. We charge a very low fee to encourage the maximum number of people to participate. In addition, this year we have corporate unlimited licenses at very low prices to encourage companies to expose all of their people to the greatest thought leaders, movers and shakers in this profession. We are featuring two keynotes and other presentations that will demonstrate how companies are using project, program and portfolio management to achieve major successes, efficiencies and cost savings by applying the principles of PM, Agile, and Scrum.

I am especially excited about the line-up this year, including our own Dr. Harold Kerzner, Dr. Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of SCRUM, and 30 other top-notch presenters sharing stories about what it takes to stay “ahead of the curve” in our fast moving digital world today.

Q: Which industries, where PMs are crucial, have been expanding? What are PMs growing roles in those industries?

According to the PMI, the following sectors are expected to have the highest demand for project management talent in 2017 and beyond: Construction, Cybersecurity, Aerospace and Defense, Finance, and Energy. A PM’s role in each of these industries is a common, and important one: to deliver project benefits that have been identified in the business case and to satisfy the requirements, needs and expectations of the stakeholders.

Q: Regarding traditional PM industries, such as IT and engineering, is the role of the PM changing? If so, how?

In IT, the landscape has shifted dramatically. For example, an increasing number of organizations are moving their critical applications to the cloud; more organizations are focusing on the development of mobile apps to interact with their customers; and financial firms are in an existential battle with “fintech” startups who are “cherry picking” the most lucrative applications from the larger financial firms and offering a host of applications for millions of consumers.

Among other things, these changes require project managers with deep industry knowledge and the ability to work in an agile environment to get the job done quickly and successfully.

Engineering has changed significantly. Project managers now are often faced with complicated outsourcing arrangements, working internationally, and being pressed to deliver their projects in shorter and shorter timeframes, under the watchful gaze of clients and regulators. All of this adds up to the need for a Project Manager with a multiplicity of skills, far beyond those that can be learned in a standard university engineering curriculum.

Q: How did IPM Day originally come about?

One of IIL’s long-time trainers, Frank P. Saladis, PMP, was talking with me in my office one day in 2004 about the need for a special day to recognize project managers for what they do every day in all kinds of organizations all over the world. He commented that we have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and many other special days for recognition, so why not have a day for recognizing project managers? I was immediately on board 100%. I saw it as a perfect way for IIL to “give back” to the thousands of organizations that trust and work with IIL year after year.

We agreed on having the event on the first Thursday of each November. The IIL program gave the “special day” its strong launch that year. During our first year, Mayor Bloomberg proclaimed the first Thursday in November as International Project Management Day, a special day for recognizing project managers in New York City. Together we accomplished our goal: organizations all over the world now view this as a very special day to recognize what project managers do for their companies, communities, states, countries, and the larger world. Now, thousands of organizations and PMI Chapters have local programs to support IPM Day and hundreds of city mayors have proclaimed this day International Project Management Day.

Q: Can you comment on returning attendees, or alumni?

We have project managers who have participated in our IPM Day events for many years. They now start emailing us in June and July asking for information in anticipation of the current year’s event. Many project managers also rely on IPM Day to “learn and earn” their Professional Development Units (PDUs) – a requirement to keep their certification status with IPM. We expect over 50,000 registrants this year and over half of them will be returning attendees from all over the world.

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