Ricardo Viana Vargas, a Brazilian engineer, is a specialist in project management and strategy implementation. Ricardo is the managing partner and co-founder of PMOtto.ai, a virtual assistant which helps to revolutionize user management with the help of chatbots and artificial intelligence.
He was the first Latin chairman of PMI in 2009. He is also the executive director of Brightline Initiative. He holds the esteemed position of being the presenter, partner, and founder of PMDome Workshop.
He authored a plethora of Projects, Portfolios and Risk Management books, which were published and translated in a wide array of languages. He is also the executive director of a strategic management movement founded by The Boston Consulting Group, Agile Alliance and Project Management Institute.
Over the last 20 years, Ricardo has been actively engaged in 80 major transformation projects in several countries across multiple sectors, including mining, infrastructure, IT, oil and gas. He is an entrepreneur in this era of the digital economy, who puts a sole focus on PM tools that leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Since 2017, he has been serving in the capacity of the executive director of “bright line initiative”. He has served as the director of infrastructure and project management in UNOPS (united nations office for project services). He was awarded the “Most valuable professional” (MVP) award for his contributions in various Microsoft Projects. In 2015, he was awarded TQM from Association for the advancement of coast engineering.
Let’s start his interview without any further delay!
TaskQue: To break the ice, we are really curious to know what really inspired you to choose project management as a career.
Ricardo: This goes back to when I was a student of chemical engineering, and I had some classes of operational research and one of the topics was around PERT/CMP.
So, how to calculate critical path, how to create an order and some sort of structure on the work that you must do– Gantt chart.
And this I fell in love with, so I felt really in love with that at the school. And I started trying to look forward to finding a tool to help me on that.
And at that time Microsoft was just starting with the concept around Microsoft Project and I was also a teacher of Excel.
So, I was very young and I was teaching excel windows at that time.
So, then I saw Microsoft Project a way to get inspired by what I learned on operational research and also to do something.
And this is how things happened and then of course came PMI.
The seed was this curiosity at the time, So something that I would love, I was fascinated about this kind of exercise, you know.
There’s Gantt chart calculate critical path and then resource leveling. It was then I started that at the university.
TaskQue: Being a specialist in strategy implementation, which challenges have you faced during the strategy implementation process?
Ricardo: My personal view on the concept of strategy implementation is that most of the organizations, they have very low experience, knowledge and capability to transform their ideas into results.
And when I say capability, I am saying project management capability, I am saying change management capability, I am saying control awareness capability and the change in the mindset.
And one thing that is always an assumption in my life is that people love to talk about change, but people hate change.
Having said that, one of the biggest challenges is that crafting a strategy is a very challenging work.
But transforming that strategy, you just crafted, into reality is what makes the difference. Okay, so this is the big challenge for us.
TaskQue: In an interview, you stated that the key aspect in project management is communication. How can a project manager hone in on his communication skills? What are the best practices for ensuring effective communication?
Ricardo: It’s very important that a project manager understand her/his role is not only doing nice tables or nice WBS or cost budgeting.
But one of the key aspects of the project manager is to ensure that people on the team know exactly what should be done, and that you are able to use your communication skills to leverage the results and to motivate people.
So, what are the best practices? First is awareness of how relevant– a lot of people don’t pay attention to communication.
They think that you just talk and people listen, you just write and people read. It’s not like that it’s a very complex aspect of human behavior.
So, first thing you need to be aware of that without an effective communication nothing else matters and communication is something you need to put attention, put effort and understand because people understand messages in a different way.
People have different sets of values and judgments and this makes a massive change on how you should communicate.
So, if I can give you one advice is put communication on top of your mind and pay attention and spend energy on trying to do the best and most effective communication process in your project.
TaskQue: Your firm is currently experimenting with artificial intelligence and chatbots. Where do you see the future of project management in terms of this state-of-the-art technology?
Ricardo: Yes, I don’t see only the future of project management but the future of work, because I think the concept around AI and the technology will play a massive role in the work.
I will not say in short term but in the medium term and long term. I am saying from 5 to 10 years from now it will be quite different.
So, the project management will change dramatically because this kind of tool used to be very hard and very painful.
For example, to make a forecast and now it’s just streamlined, easy and very efficient.
So, this will be a very key movement that we will see in project management and other sectors.
TaskQue: It seems that you harbor a penchant for international conferences? What is the best thing about attending conferences? Please share any recent experiences.
Ricardo: Look, I attend conferences for two reasons. First: I attend conferences because I speak in many of them.
So, most of the time the conference I am attending, I have something to share.
To share about technology or to share some concepts we are developing.
And I think international great conference– I am not saying just international, but great conferences, they give u a full set of insights.
For example, I recently attended TED 2018 in Vancouver and it’s just incredible.
It blew my mind with what people are doing in terms of society and in terms of creativity.
And I always try and if can share with you I always try to attend conferences in my field of experience but I love to attend conferences that are completely outside my field, my comfort zone because it’s likely to expand– how I can expand my capabilities in terms of business, in terms of field of the work.
So I love to see presentations on art, history, human rights and this helps me in making a better judgment in the work I am doing.
TaskQue: You have been associated with PMI for a long time. Do you have some suggestions for students who are planning to give their PMP exam this year?
Ricardo: So, first, I am being associated with PMI. PMI is a love story because I started 20 years ago– no more 21, 1997.
So, I am associated because I truly believe that if people share common interests and common intent and they decide to work together for a good cause, things happen.
You can change. So, when I started with PMI, PMI was far smaller than what is it today, far less relevant and the community built PM to what it is today.
You said about do u have some suggestions for students.
So, my suggestion is that you must be obsessive.
Let me repeat, obsessive for learning.
You must learn everything you can and one of the key things when we talk about project management are the credentials.
So, one example is the CAPM or PMP. Maybe, if you are a student you will not go for the PMP straightaway.
Because you may not have the experience.
So, go for the CAPM and then you jump into a PMP, when you have the credentials.
And PMP, it’s very important PMP is not something like a credential that assures your results but it’s something like credentials, like a driver’s license that puts you in the context of what the project management is.
And please don’t restrict yourself only to the PMP or CAPM. Look for other frameworks in this.
This will make you a much more rounded professional. So, look for certifications, in the agile environment, look for certifications in the human side, in the risk management.
So, it’s very important that you open. As more as you are, you will be more valuable for the society. Ok!
TaskQue: “You do what you love and make money with that”, But what if your breadwinner is not exactly your passion? What could be a viable transition phase without affecting your earnings?
Ricardo: This is a phrase that I love to share because I think that when you love something and if you are smart and drive, you can make your living out of that.
Of course, what people need to leave is different. Right!. So, some people need more, some people need less, some people need almost nothing.
But for me, you know your breadwinner must be your passion, because you will have a miserable life, if you work just for the sake of making money.
So, this is just my opinion. If it’s just for the sake of making money, you’ll be in trouble.
And what happens if you have the situation now? It means you need to start planning on how you can make this transition? Ok!
How you can make? So, how you can do? Maybe, you can go through an association, you can find people with some commonalities, you can work on your spare hours.
Off course, it will require you an additional energy because you have the energy to do your current job and you need to spend the energy on your transition.
But let me tell you it’s worth it. Don’t be trapped in this golden cage that is only driven by money because at the end when you become 80, money will be much less relevant from your overall life experience. So, think about that.
TaskQue: Project Management is a real challenge to contend with in developing countries. What do you suggest to project managers hailing from those geographical regions?
Ricardo: So, look! I think project management is a real challenge everywhere.
Ok, everywhere. Maybe in developing countries, it’s more because there is more to be done. Right! Less things are ready.
What makes a great project manager is persistence, commitment, handwork and knowledge and that’s it and that’s it.
Look, we are paid, and we have our jobs because we have challenges.
If there is no challenge there is no job. Right! You only create products and you only create services– you only create products because the world needs.
If the world doesn’t need, we are not needed. So, the concept around developing countries is for me, less relevant.
I think that all project environments are a real challenge and commitment, the persistence, the knowledge and drive, it makes a huge difference.
TaskQue: You have had the honor of managing a team of 300+ project managers during your services in UNOPS. Please share some of your memorable experiences. What was the biggest challenge you faced at that time?
Ricardo: Oh god. I have so many great experiences because what you see one of the great things about working in an international organization is that you work mostly with people in dramatic life situations.
For example, when you go to an IDP, an internally displaced people camp.
It’s like a refugee, but refugees, we use only four people changing countries but people that move from one part of the country to another.
We call them an IDP (internally displaced people).
And then when you bring light to that– full of kids and thus it is something the pleasure of seeing something like that is priceless.
You know when you see the impact of building a maternity clinic in places like Haiti.
When you build a road that will give access to an extremely poor society and this is a very very relevant.
And what is the biggest challenge faced at that time?
Most of the time is the political environment because when you are a humanitarian, you have the two sides of the coin.
From one side you have the young people who basically give up on everything to work in these very challenging environments to make things happen.
But when you go up on the ladder, you know, when you become more senior then the political aspect starts to play a major role.
And then you see that nothing is so perfect and the world is not full– that you thought when you were young– full of people who want to make difference.
A lot of people, they just want to keep their jobs and have a nice life and this for me personally is incompatible when you work in such a complex environment.
You need to have something else in your DNA to work in this environment, that is only make money.
Ok and this was a big challenge. So, when you see the decision makers, you see that there are a lot of things that are driven by politics and these kinds of things.
TaskQue: In an interview, you stated that “we need to be very agile”. Can you please elaborate on how adopting agile practices can help organizations of third world countries that usually cannot tout perfect processes inside the organizations?
Ricardo: Look! When I say very agile, I am not saying about agile practices.
Agile practice is just a subset, a tiny subset of what is to be in agile.
Being agile for me is being nimble, being capable to adapt to different circumstances, being able to quickly change your course of action, being able to re-plan, being able to refocus,
being able to produce products faster, create minimum viable products and one of this aspect is the agile practices but you need to–
You can be very agile using traditional waterfall process. You can! It’s much more a question of mindset.
And now because agile is very fancy, everybody wants to talk about agile but my concept of agile here is to be nimble. Ok!
TaskQue: You have been working in the community for a long time now. Please name a few individuals who have been your inspiration or whom you admire a lot?
Ricardo: Look! I will prefer instead of saying, normal people, I would say people that are like my idols.
Ok! I think that I can combine. First, on the technology and the drive and the ability to change the world I would put two people. One is alive, one passed the way.
One is Bill Gates and the other is Steve Jobs and both of them they changed a lot on the technology side where we are today.
Ok! For different reasons on that. The third person is going to the humanitarian aspect.
And this is Mandela because it’s just incredible to see how someone can spend 30 years in jail and come forgiving those who hurt him.
The fourth one is on the music about a relevant change and I would put this Paul McCartney because what he did under cultural revolution and music.
So, I have this a lot of things and of course, I can’t forget my father who passed away because he was an inspiration for me on public speaking and charisma and being yourself that helped me a lot in who I am today.
TaskQue: You have often mentioned that it’s very important to be passionate about your job otherwise the work becomes drudgery. Unfortunately, in third world countries, people don’t have enough opportunities to follow their dreams. What do you recommend for such people?
Ricardo: Sorry! But I disagree a little bit with what you said.
I come from a third-world country and I was full of dreams and I think that in countries that are challenging you may find much more ways of making your dreams come true because you need to be so creative that this makes a lot of change.
Ok, a lot of change! For me, I think one of the biggest challenges when you live in a country that everything is so ready, is so nice, is so perfect that you forget your own drive.
So I love to be born in Brazil, I think that there’s beaut– who I am today.
And for those who are in countries like Brazil.
I think you have a wonderful chance of becoming more creative and thus much more than in very traditional space. This is what I can say.
TaskQue: You are blessed with 2 daughters, how do spend time with family without affecting your work life? What is your secret to maintaining an ideal work-life balance?
Ricardo: First, the secret is you create a community. We look after each other but we decided to run our lives together.
So, what happened with my wife and I? When we decided to have kids, we said we want to have a kid that join us in our journey.
They will not become our journey. And this is something that we respect the relationship I have with my wife and the kids.
And we all look towards the same direction live with our own identity and this was fantastic.
And time is relative, if the quality of time you spend with your family is not good.
So, u need to have a quality time with your family and not just time.
So maybe you spend hours but if you spend a couple of minutes doing the right thing, you will find this balance.
And last but not least, about work-life balance. I want to reinforce what I say always, there is no work-life balance, and there is only life.
So, the way I see when people talk about work-life balance means work is not part of life.
So you work and you have an awful life or you don’t live and then you go home then your life starts.
No, your life is 24 hours per day and you must be happy in the work in your personal time while sleeping because at the end there is only life. Ok!