Dave Garrett of PMI: “Changing the game”

“Changing the game” can often be the difference between success and failure. Make sure you are aiming for the right outcome. As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Garrett. As the Chief Strategy and Growth Officer at the Project Management Institute (PMI), Dave Garrett crafts […]

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“Changing the game” can often be the difference between success and failure. Make sure you are aiming for the right outcome.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Garrett.

As the Chief Strategy and Growth Officer at the Project Management Institute (PMI), Dave Garrett crafts and drives the execution of PMI’s strategy to create a clear growth path. He works across the organization to define, test, and deliver “new products that matter,” to deliver dramatic increases in value to their customers. He is charged with assisting PMI to build teams that are aligned and integrated seamlessly across the organization. Dave continues to be responsible for mergers, acquisitions, and strategic sourcing partners for PMI to address the emerging new work ecosystem.

Dave had joined PMI in January 2014 through the ProjectManagment.com acquisition. Since then, he has held several roles to his credit, starting with a dual role as Director of Digital Presence and CEO of ProjectManagement.com . Under his leadership, ProjectManagement.com social media traffic increased tenfold and PMI.org traffic by 28% in just 15 months. He also played a crucial role in establishing a strategic partnership with the Agile Alliance to jointly build our first “Agile Practice Guide” in 2017.

He was the co-founder, President and CEO of ProjectManagement.com (formerly Gantthead.com ), an online community for project professionals established in 2000 and acquired by PMI in 2014. During his time with Gantthead, he acquired the ProjectsAtWork magazine in 2003 and formed partnerships with some of the world’s best known project management software providers.

Before that, Dave served as the Director of Advanced Technology Group with Headstrong, Inc. He led the knowledge management function, which included the development and management of the corporate intranet site, ongoing systems development, and administration. Dave created Project Pain Reliever, a just-in-time handbook for managing projects, and published articles related to web development, project management and online publishing. He also served in multiple volunteer positions for PMI prior to becoming employed by the organization.

Dave is a graduate of The American University (Washington, D.C., United States) with a Master’s of Science in Management Information Systems.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always loved helping people get things done. The world is full of projects — amazing things people are working on — and there are different ways of working to help them get there.

I’ve always enjoyed giving change makers that nudge that helped them in some way, by introducing them to a concept, an idea or approach that can help them get “unstuck”. 
 The nudges themselves — the ideas and approaches — always come from smarter people than I. I’m just often there to help make the connection. Connecting people to ideas, approaches and others who can help them has been the common thread, throughout my career from running knowledge management at a boutique consulting firm to running ProjectManagement.com to everything I do with the Project Management Institute (PMI) today.

I can’t really say what brought me here, but I can tell you what makes me stay. All of those individual “thank-yous” the PMI staff and volunteers get every day from people that feel a little more capable because of what we do.

In today’s high stress world, there is nothing more rewarding than helping people move past barriers and accomplish great things.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Gantthead.com, now ProjectManagement.com and a part of PMI launched on March 1st, 2000 at the height of the dot-com boom with every intention of growing at all costs. Two weeks later the bubble burst and everything changed. Our board went from “get big fast” to “get profitable by the end of the year”.

With much pain and failure along the way we got there, but only after an important turning point — becoming laser focused on customer centricity. We developed a persona we called Jerry, the Project Manager. Jerry was 40, married and doing project work that was unlike anyone else in his organization. Our impression of him was formed based on meeting hundreds of Jerrys and surveying thousands.

Jerry was constantly being asked questions by people above and below him. Within the four walls of his company, Jerry had a very lonely job. However, in Gantthead he found kindred spirits, not only doing similar work, but facing similar challenges. His situation guided every decision we made and more often than not, things worked out and we became a truly meaningful community of peers — the world’s largest community of project managers.

The lessons I learned throughout this process still stick with me today and should be applied to all applications being developed today — even Citizen Developers who might be inclined to “just build”. It’s super important to not only begin with the end in mind, but to build with a (well informed) WHO in mind.

There are many things to be mindful of when working with technology, but how well you “get to know your Jerry” will always make or break your efforts.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Endless possibilities and customization of technology is putting a massive strain on already over-worked IT departments around the world. IT departments are swamped with requests by teams and leaders seeking to not only implement the newest technology advancements, but to customize them to solve more niche problems and automate specific tasks. However, there is a known shortage of skilled software developers and IT departments are stretched thin.

To break through this ongoing challenge and provide individuals with more autonomy over their projects,PMI has developed PMI Citizen Developer™, a vendor-agnostic governance framework to help leaders and their employees unlock the potential of citizen development. Citizen development is powered by the development and enhancement of no- and low-code software platforms, which allow individuals with limited experience to make customized applications and solutions reality.

Citizen development enables a “hyper-agile” way of working where anyone can become both the user and the creator of software applications, empowering all professionals to take an idea and design, build, test, and deploy it faster and cheaper.

How do you think this might change the world?

Citizen Development helps everyday businesspeople — those closest to the customer or closer to a business challenge — turn ideas into apps.

Given the pace of work today, people need to leverage technology, including custom apps and software solutions, to help them deliver outcomes more efficiently and effectively. Citizen development is democratizing software and app development by presenting an opportunity for anyone at any level of an organization to create business tools and solutions.

Citizen development is growing at a phenomenal rate throughout the workforce, and one day very soon, will become as prevalent as Excel. PMI is at the forefront of citizen development with PMI Citizen Developer™ and we believe it will speed up the adoption of citizen development — increasing productivity, lowering costs, and empowering organizations and individuals to maximize technology’s potential and support agile digital transformations.

Can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

The rapid adoption of citizen development understandably makes IT departments nervous due the potential security and management risks involved. With individual professionals customizing apps to meet the needs of specific projects, the potential for “shadow IT” projects that are not compliant with company policies is one of the most common reasons for hesitation in adopting no- or low-code platforms. However, there are ways to proactively combat this concern through proper employee education and a sturdy, replicable framework.

A vital step in the adoption of citizen development involves creating a framework to deploy it in a secure and scalable way across the entire organization. One way that PMI has been able to assist organizations with this important step is through our PMI Citizen Developer™ foundations course, which provides individuals with the methods and standards required to develop customized applications that are still within their organization’s infrastructure and governance models. These standards educate professionals on how to properly customize applications and alleviate the cybersecurity concerns from IT teams.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

As with many things, COVID was a real tipping point for the world in every way. Businesses who were half digital, needed to become fully digital overnight. Not all could, but nearly all tried and many used Citizen Development platforms to help them get there.

As we compiled and released our 2020 Most Influential Projects lists, which showcase the projects that are defining our world’s future, it was incredibly clear that, as the project management profession continues to evolve, projects and programs are becoming increasingly technology-enabled. COVID just accelerated that process.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

It’s not a question if — rather a question of when and NOW feels like the time. With large players like Microsoft & Gartner saying that over half of applications developed 4 years from now will be built by Citizen Developers, there is already a lot of momentum behind this movement.

Simply put, technology’s immense potential and rapid evolution is organically leading to the widespread adoption of citizen developer. As artificial intelligence and automation continue to infiltrate the workforce, citizen development and individual citizen developers are becoming increasingly vital to the long-term plans of organizations that are looking to maximize technology’s potential.

However, for businesses to take the jump and deploy no- or low-code platforms cross-functionally, leaders need to be sure that there aren’t increased security risks. Proactively upskilling employees by providing a scalable framework that aligns with their IT infrastructure and governance models will be integral to building organization-wide confidence. Simultaneously, individual project managers and change-makers need to invest in their skills to leverage technology to its full potential. Those who commit to learning a scalable citizen development framework will be able to deliver value more efficiently and effectively to businesses and stakeholders using no- and low-code platforms.

Deploying citizen development across an organization will require a company to be willing and able to transform. Any transformation process requires participation from all employees, not just the C-suite. PMI recognizes that transformations such as the adoption of citizen development are incredibly complex projects, and our Organizational Transformation course series can help educate executives and professionals on the best practices for leading and supporting these large-scale efforts.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

To accelerate the adoption of citizen development, PMI plans to release a full suite of resources, including online courses, certifications and more. We recently released our first resources within the suite, which include:

The Foundation Course: An e-learning training course that provides a comprehensive introduction to citizen development and best practices in the methodology.

The PMI Citizen Development Body of Knowledge (CDBOK™): A centralized resource to help individuals and organizations understand best practices for implementing citizen development at scale.

The Citizen Developer Community: A global network of developers in our interactive community.

In addition, I along with my colleagues at PMI have been sharing thoughts on the best ways for both individuals and organizations to adopt citizen development through the Official PMI Blog. We discuss planting the seeds of citizen developer success and cultivating competitive advantage with early adoption of citizen development, among other topics. Our PMI Citizen Developer™ webpage will also continue to be updated with new resources throughout the year.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

More than 20 years ago I worked for an amazing innovator, Kevin Murphy. He taught me to never take a problem at face value and always consider how you might change the game. That was pretty interesting advice, especially from someone who was assigning me specific problems to solve.
 He always made a deeper look at the problem, driven by my analysis, part of the process. This set an expectation for me that I maintain even today. Whether I look at a challenge through the lens of the “5 whys” or some other way of giving it a fresh look — everything worth doing deserves a step back & a second look.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As I mentioned above, my personal mission is to help everyone I can drive necessary change and impact — big and small — in the world. I like to think his happens every day in some form.

Through our educational foundation, PMIEF, PMI offers several million grants to help youth and new project managers with their social good efforts. I’m proud that these efforts are driven by many wonderful people within my department.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

— “Changing the game” can often be the difference between success and failure. Make sure you are aiming for the right outcome.

— “Always finish what you start” only works if your assumptions continue to prove valid.

Curiosity always makes you better. A bit of wandering is not only a good thing, but important to your success.

— Become a student of people. See both the good and bad in them. Understand what matters to them and why.

— Find, even create, moments where you are stronger than you ever thought you could be.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I like to think of PMI’s help for Change Makers as a movement. With over 12K volunteers helping us do what we do on every front — they make it happen every day. The mantra “we’re changing lives” is ever-present and inspires me every time I hear it. 
 I can’t think of another movement that inspires me more than the one that’s already happening.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
 “Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others.”
 — Pablo Picasso

I’ve spent a lifetime, maintaining the goals I believe in while constantly changing my approach to make them happen. This quote is a constant reminder to do that.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m very active on my LinkedIn profile, discussing the implications of AI and other technologies on the future of work. I also contribute content to the aforementioned Official PMI Blog.

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