Queenslander Mark Porter was a youngster when he began working at his family’s large timber manufacturing and export business, and it was at the tender age of 19 that he first started practising some of the principles of project management.
“I was placed in control of product development and marketing, and it was from this initial role that I saw a need for scheduling and stakeholder management to ensure customer expectations were met, and that joint schedules were established to ensure consistent visibility of products and key milestones,” he explains.
However, Porter didn’t discover project management in its true form at this stage. Instead, he developed an affinity with computing and commenced his studies with information systems. It was the project management component of this degree that launched him into his current career as a project and program manager, he says. “Once the project management module came up—it was the third or fourth module along—I went ‘wow’ and starting reading more and more about it, then realised ‘I’ve been doing this, and this, and this’. I’d been doing de facto project management throughout my career.”
Porter knew he had fallen for the discipline when he began reading PMBoK 2.0; while most students found it mundane, he admits to finding it surprisingly interesting, cementing his future as a practitioner. Since then he has studied and taken on board other methodologies, including Agile, MSP and PRINCE2.
The business of projects
In 1998, Porter began a sole trader consultancy firm that rapidly grew into PM Solutions, which he heads today. While he can’t pinpoint any individual project that has particularly challenged or shaped him, he does say running a business and being a project manager has taught him a lot.
“I’m one of these silly people who still have a full-time onsite job as well as running a company. I have to really separate the two, and it’s a lot of long hours, but project management has provided me a lot of benefit,” he says. “It has given me the ability to plan where my businesses is going, manage what I’m doing as a business owner, and it also keeps me engaged with other business owners, technology trends and peak industry bodies.”
And the alignment between project management and business will only become stronger, Porter believes. “Planning is something business owners should take on board, rather than do it on the run as a lot of businesses continue to do; those who fail to plan, plan to fail. On the flipside, it enables you to put in place the tools to gain measurement of what you’ve done, to find out the worth of what you’ve achieved and capture lessons learned.”
At this point in time, however, he sees a lot of misunderstanding about the discipline and a gap between its increasing professionalisation and the external perception of it. Job advertisements for a ‘project manager/business analyst’ miss the point because this shows a “clear lack of understanding of a project manager’s role and can lead to a weakening of the profession and ultimately, poorly managed projects,” he explains.
“When business owners mature to the stage of realising they need professional project managers to manage their products of change, then their businesses will benefit greatly and project management will be seen in its true light as the professional management of, among other things, components, people, risk and products.”