Frank Turley (FT), Director of Professional Development at PMI Belgium Chapter interviewed
Gil Dehogne

Frank: What is your current job title and what do you do?

Gil: My current job title is quality assurance manager @ Yara and within the Yara project office (YPO), which is the engineering office of the Yara company.

Frank: How long have you been in this role and what did you do beforehand?

Gil: It has been five years, so I’ve been here since 2013. Previously, I was in charge of business development in a small company extracting essential oils, and before that I was in charge of regulatory affairs within a chemical company called Methanex which is the biggest producer of methanol.

Frank: Why did you choose this new role as it seems to be very different from before?

Gil: It was just a change. I was looking for new challenges and Yara offered me the opportunity to work in an international environment with multiple projects. We have approximately 40 factories that are taken care of by the Yara project office, and I did find the challenge and the environment to be very interesting and that’s the main reason why I got into this interesting position.

Frank: How many project managers do you deal with at the moment in your quality assurance role and what type of projects?

Gil: We have 26 project managers within the Yara project office. Some are dedicated to major projects, others are dedicated to medium and small-sized projects. I work with them regarding risk management on all of their projects, which is a mandatory requirement. Sometimes we have challenges but globally it is very well accepted. I mean the benefits are seen and understood. Obviously, we always get some pushback from people that are unconvinced, but I would say that luckily for me, those are generally the projects that had the most problems, so it backfires on them.

Frank: Does quality management and risk management go together at Yara?

Gil: That’s correct. We have two parts of it in quality as always. We have the quality assurance and risk management is clearly part of the quality assurance. Once we get into execution and the projects are being built or constructed, then we get into quality control, but regardless, the risk register or the risk analysis carries on. For some, we know that we will be facing risks that we will have to live with. For other risks, as the project matures, we have new risks coming on the radar. Therefore, it’s an exercise, the risk review is an exercise that we do ... we try to do every month to every six weeks with the team.
I facilitate the first meeting when we launch it and then I basically follow up. We usually leave it with the project manager and then every two to three months, we investigate the status of the risk register. If they need our support, we can facilitate some more, but generally they see the benefit and they use it regularly during their team or their project team meetings.

Frank: That answers my questions about frequency of follow-up. How do the project managers see your role? Is it somebody looking over their shoulder or do they see you as a help in their role?

Gil: You’ve got it all ... I would say that mostly they see that as a help, especially if we are facilitating. The quality team is facilitating the exercise. Sometimes people want to take control, especially if there is a big time difference. We let the contractor manage that. That’s another option. Generally, it’s well received because they understand that it’s a good way to mitigate problems. It’s also ... and sometimes, I wouldn’t say that we get hijacked, but we get side-tracked because it’s one of the few meetings where all the key members of the teams are present together and it allows them to discuss other topics that are related to the project and to the risks, or to other problems or solutions, which are defined right away.

Frank: How is the reporting done? I mean, do people ... project managers report to you and who do you report to?

Gil: Clearly, we are here as support for project management. I’m on an independent structure, which is the quality and project guidance group, and I’m reporting to the head of the quality and project guidance group, but the project managers are reporting to their head of project management. So we are independent, we are the same company, and that’s how it works. We do not have a reporting line between each other. On the other hand, we are now more and more reporting all the information that we get to what we call the management team, and therefore that’s the way the progress is escalated or the issues are voiced.

Frank: Do you have the power to stop a project if you see it ... that it’s a real danger?

Gil: In the early phase, we have within quality assurance the opportunity to stop projects during our project review or at least ask them to mitigate or to resolve some issues. Once they are in execution, the project manager is the only one able to stop the project. However, we can escalate issues in order to make sure that they are addressed or at least that the mitigation action are taken care of.

Frank: Can you give me an example where you saw a project in deep trouble and perhaps it failed because risk management didn’t go correctly or because a big risk actually happened that you thought might come up?

Gil: Well, I wouldn’t want to be specific. We’ve had multiple cases where issues had not been mitigated and then we pushed in order for those issues to be addressed and that allowed the project to basically carry on normally in a safe environment.
We’ve had multiple sites that have been delayed because of problems that we had foreseen but we had not mitigated, so it kind of backfired. Unfortunately, what I find a little bit frustrating is that even though I try to be constructive and looking forward, it is sometimes in a situation where, “I told you so,” especially since the risk was identified earlier. I find that sad because it doesn’t add anything to the resolution of the problem, but if we had been heard, it could have been resolved.

Frank: Do project managers learn from each other to deal with quality assurance and risk management?

Gil Well, it depends. We have lessons learned and we are implementing that. We have a database which is becoming pretty significant. We also have during the project assurance review, the peer review, where other senior project managers are coming into the meetings and challenging all the critical decisions - process decisions, construction decisions, site layout, in order to be sure that all stones have been turned. Nothing is being kept aside or forgotten. This is the kind of exercise which is seen as very valuable by the project manager because we are all running left and right and a little bit like in a beehive, so it’s important sometimes to just sit down, think thoroughly, and assess the situation.

Frank: You’re also a member of BELRIM. Can you explain what BELRIM is and what you get from it? How does it help you?

Gil: Well, I don’t know if I’m a member. I know that I took part in some of their activities and I did some presentations. BELRIM is the Belgium Risk Management Association and its an association of Belgian risk managers. The good thing is that it’s very wide. You have all the different areas of the economy or the Belgian economy that are covered there from transport to chemical world to construction to banking to insurance. So it’s just a place where likeminded people can exchange, can unite, and try to talk about their problems and the solutions. So it’s something which is ... I discovered lately, but it’s extremely useful and it turns out that it also prevents you from reinventing the wheel in your field and see that you are not alone facing some similar problems.

LinkedIn: Gil Dehogne


Interview with: Dmitry Ilenkov, PM Consultant, Lecturer
LinkedIn: LinkedIn Profile
Interview by: Frank Turley
Date: January 2019
Job Title: Project Benefits


Dmitry is a project management practitioner with over 10 years of experience. In 2014, he started lecturing and now he is an associate professor at Finance University under the Government of the Russian Federation. In 2015, he founded PMClub to support young project management professional and in 2016 he became the President of PMI Moscow Chapter, Russia.

One of his favorite topics is project benefits so I decided to ask him a few questions.

1) What are benefits?

Benefit is the measurable improvement resulting from an outcome perceived as an advantage by one or more stakeholders, which contributes towards one or more organisational objectives. You may say that we undertake projects to gain benefits.
For example, you are building a highway to connect distant suburbs with the city centre.
The project output will definitely be the highway itself, the outcome - people spend less time in traffic jams, the benefits: pollution reduced by x %, real estate in the suburbs goes y% up. But here comes the thing - residents of the neighbourhood you built the highway through are not likely to enjoy a road view in the backyard or noise from the passing traffic.
Quite possibly some people are going to sell their apartments if they are too close to new highway or put them on rent, and the prices will get down, which will cause other consequences. Here we are facing project disadvantages, and we should never forget that they always come along.

2) How do benefits differ from Return on Investment?

Return on investment (ROI) is a model used to evaluate investment efficiency.
It can be applied to measure financial benefits, but not all benefits are financial, and not all projects are intended to bring profit.
For example, university is organizing an annual alumni event. The benefits here might be 100 000 Euro donated to the university, which is a financial benefit and 100 new alumni joining the association, which is not financial.
There are also intangible benefits, which are sometimes hard or nearly impossible to measure. Do not worry. As Albert Einstein put it, “Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted counts”.

3) Why should projects bother tracking on benefits during the project?

A project completed within the Triangle of Constraints is not the end goal. We launch projects to bring change and value to our business, to our communities. Tracking on benefits helps us justify the project while initiation and check whether justification is still valid during execution.

4) Who should be involved in benefits definition?

Beauty is in the eyes of beholder - what one stakeholder may see as a benefit, can be seen as a disadvantage by another. That is why it is better to involve all relevant stakeholders and ensure that we do not miss a big piece of the puzzle.

5) How to prevent people from over exaggeration of the benefits, so they get their project funded?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, as Peter Drucker once pointed. It is vital to have a healthy environment in your organization, where employees share common values and goals. Besides, we need to review benefits on a regular basis if we don’t want them to become a kind of New Year resolutions. And we need to have the right person in charge - benefits owner, the one not only responsible for benefits identification, but accountable for their realization.

6) Who should track benefits during the project?

Benefits owner. If program management is in place, it can be the program manager. But most often it is not. The project manager does not fit this role - he is responsible for achieving project goals, not benefits. Then the most appropriate person is a project sponsor - the one who is interested in acquiring project benefits and has enough power/influence to be in charge to track the benefits, communicate them and more important, take action when needed.

7) Do we need to track benefits after the project is complete and why?

Benefits usually arise not during the project, but after it is complete. In my experience, tracking benefits can provide you with invaluable intelligence to enhance project selection and motivate teams. Also, sometimes we may find it necessary to undertake additional activities (another project possibly) to exploit the benefits or to mitigate disadvantages. Unfortunately, only 52% organizations actually track benefits achievement.

8) What are typical mistakes you see with regards to benefits?

Well, we do plenty of mistakes, regarding benefits. The main one - we try to ignore them.
According to PMI research, only 45% organizations identify benefits and only 36% create metrics. That means we initiate projects without any clue, what they will bring.

Second mistake - we do not have a person, responsible for benefits. We facilitate workshops, create RACI, do all sorts of things to find out who is responsible for each activity, but we don’t have a person, responsible for the benefits - the real reason, why the whole project is undertaken. Just ask yourself - who is responsible for tracking benefits after your current project is complete, and then approach that person and ask him the same question.

9) And last tips - where to get more information ,etc....

You can watch my webinar, and to get more information, I would recommend Thought Leadership Series by PMI.