Hiking and the art of project management
To prepare for a four-day hike in Nepal, Ong Keng Wah spent three months building up his stamina. He took long walks around Macritchie Reservoir, climbed assiduously up and down Bukit Timah Hill and chalked up thousands of steps.
“I had to prepare myself mentally and physically,” he recalled. “City people like us like to take the escalator and the lift, but the route that we were going on is known to have a lot of climbing steps, so I had to get used to the distance, and this couldn’t be done overnight; it had to be built up progressively.”
It was just like managing a project. “You start off doing smaller projects to build up your experience. And when client has faith in you, you will have the opportunity to take on bigger challenges.”
Keng Wah is Practice Lead for Project Leadership at NCS Business Application Services, overseeing pre-sales and delivery for clients in Public Sector, Defence and Homeland Security. He is also the Application Managed Services Lead for Service Leadership, managing application system maintenance and operations. And he sees many similarities between this world and the experience of trudging up mountains.
Forming the right team
During a hike, companionship and teamwork are important. “You need people to encourage you, a good coach and guide to motivate you to take small steps and achieve little goals along the way, until you finally complete the journey.”
In project management, good teamwork is also key to successful delivery. As Keng Wah pointed out, “Our business is primarily driven by people. Project managers have to be sensitive to what the team is going through and help the members to understand one another.”
“When things do not run well, there is no point saying you have a lousy team, or that the people are not functioning well, or HR is not giving you enough resources. If a team cannot deliver, you have to find out what it is that motivates the members and fix it.”
In his view, a good team has to be a hybrid of different kinds of people. “If you have a team where everybody is a visionary, who will be there to do the delivery? You need to get the right combination so that the team members will complement each other.”
This may mean having some people who are very detailed in their work, some who are good at coming up with ideas, some with strong domain knowledge or technical skills, and some who may be good in leadership. “As leaders, we are defined by the teams that we form,” he said.
A view worth the effort
Project management journeys can be painful at times, especially if the delivery is rough, he acknowledged.
He has worked on large transition projects where NCS took over from another vendor, and had to build up technical knowledge of the system from scratch, understand what the incumbent was doing, read up the documentation and pick up the day-to-day operations and processes by shadowing and reverse shadowing the incumbent and client.
“Sometimes, the project delivery can get rough,” he said. “It is hard work but as you press on, you realise that you can actually do it.”
During the Nepal trip, Keng Wah was climbing about few thousand steps a day, setting out at 8am and finishing only at about 6pm. The going was tough, and there were moments when he wondered what he was doing there.
“But when you finally complete the trip, the view is breathtaking,” he said. “So don’t give up. When you finally achieve your goal, all the hard work is worth it.”