Professor Shankar Sankaran
About the speaker
Our speaker today is Professor Shankar Sankaran.
Shankar is the Professor of Organisational Project Management at the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building. Prior to joining UTS in 2005, Shankar was an Associate Professor in the MBA program at the Graduate College of Management at Southern Cross University.
His research covers project governance, leadership, evaluation of action research and innovation and specialises in project management, systems thinking and action research. Shankar is a core member and joint leader of the Organising Cluster at the UTS Centre for Management and Organisation Studies (CMOS) and core member of the UTS Centre for Creative Design Practices (CCDP).
Shankar is a member of a diverse range of professional affiliations and has received a number of awards including the UTS Health Research Showcase 2008: Best Research by an Individual or Team of Experienced Researchers.
Shankar holds a Masters of Engineering from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and a Doctor of Philosophy in Business and Management from the University of South Australia.
It gives me great pleasure to invite Professor Shankar Sankaran to deliver the occasional address.
I would like to start by acknowledging the Gadigal and Guring-gai people of the Eora Nation upon whose ancestral lands UTS now stands where we celebrate your graduation today.
Pro Chancellor Dr Ron Sandland, Presiding Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Booth, Presiding Deans Professors Peter McNeil and James Hutchin, Academic Board Representative Professor Louise McWhinnie, Presiding Director of Student Administration Jacqui Wise, university colleagues, guests, family and friends and most importantly all the graduates here, it is my privilege to be your occasional speaker today.
Like many of you graduating here today I gained all my postgraduate qualifications while working full-time and raising a young family. What a relief to be graduating today!
While education, in general, provides us knowledge we are often forced to learn from experience. At UTS we try to prepare you to engage with industry through our courses to empower you to tackle real-world challenges using critical thinking to adapt to situations.
One of the biggest challenges I faced as a manager was when I was employed as the technical director of a Japanese MNC in Singapore and was responsible for the profitable performance of our engineering division which employed 150 engineers. Our operation was facing a crisis due to the rising Singapore dollar making us non-competitive. If we could not find a way to cut our costs and the management was threatening to close us down. I had been personally involved in recruiting more than 100 of these engineers when they were fresh out of university and technical colleges as well as in training them in our Japanese headquarters. I could not bear to let them down. To find a way out we had to think laterally, set up a global centre for projects, take on more work but reduce costs by outsourcing software to India and the Philippines and at the same time upskill our engineers to take on higher level tasks. This was when outsourcing had just started becoming a strategy for increasing cost performance, and we had to learn what to do by working together in teams. It took us three years of very stressful and challenging work to meet the company’s targets and save all the jobs. Most of the problems we had to solve were people related for which we were not prepared as most of us were engineers who had been promoted to management positions with very little training to be managers. Our education did not prepare us to deal with such a situation.
Let me now turn to my topic for today. I want to talk briefly about ‘projects’ and how they can provide you with opportunities to advance your careers or to seek new careers.
Let me start with the term ‘project’. What do we think of when we hear the term project? Projects are defined in specific ways by professional societies but I want to make it simple. I often hear the word project mentioned by various people, young and old, in casual conversation. I then wonder if they are talking about the ‘projects’ that I discuss in my lectures, which have to be managed so that they are completed on time, under budget and deliver benefits. I soon realized that that it was not the case, but it still was an aspiration in is own right. Put simply, a project starts as an idea in someone’s mind and to fulfil that idea the person has to, on their own or in collaboration with others, find ways to realize the idea, meeting challenges along the way. So, to me, a project is simply the act of realizing an idea however small.
The word project is being increasingly used these days as many successful knowledge-based organizations like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Intel operate as project-based organizations as they find this to be more efficient, less bureaucratic, innovative and agile. We hope UTS has equipped you with graduate attributes that will serve you well to work in what is now being hailed as a projectified society – a term that has been used by both project management and organization management scholars.
You would have witnessed, during your brief stay here, the metamorphosis of UTS into a future-focused institution with its new buildings, facilities and spaces. Not all projects being implemented at UTS lead to physical products. Enabling all these to deliver new learning strategies are service projects such as the learning futures initiative, the technology services that our infrastructure provides and the social climate that we try to create to make student life an enjoyable experience.
So what opportunities does a ‘projectified society’ offer you in the future?
The growth of project management as a strategic capability of organizations will open up new opportunities for business graduates. You can aspire to be project owners or champions who ensure that projects get ongoing support; your skills would be valuable in making decisions on what projects your organizations should undertake; you can serve as members of steering committees that facilitate project governance. In short, you can help your organizations to deliver their strategies. I work collaboratively with two professors, one at the BI Norwegian School and the other at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Both of them teach strategic project management in their business schools. Business schools are realizing the importance of helping managers acquire skills to manage projects.
In DAB, urban planners can use their planning skills to develop critical infrastructure projects in Australia and overseas; property management students can develop new development projects and create investment opportunities. Nowadays prominent architects want to manage their own projects so that their vision can be realized in practice. All of us know the story of the Sydney Opera House and its architect Jorn Utzon. Designers love to be involved in innovation projects and new project management methodologies like agile project management.
Not all projects need to be big or megaprojects. Projects can be used for social benefit as well. In our school we are engaging students in community projects so that they can be involved in providing community leadership and service. Two of our graduates helped to manage a community fun run that raised $16,000 for funding research into mental health issues faced by youth – in particular, by students studying at universities. While this sum may be small compared with multibillion-dollar mega infrastructure projects it is also a significant project as mental health and depression have been projected as becoming the killer diseases of the future. What is more important is that this year this community project tripled the amount raised for research last year. And the two graduates involved in organizing this year’s fun run are inspired to do it again next year.
Thus, our projectified society is opening up new opportunities for our graduates university wide, not only in traditional private and public sector organizations, but also in not-for-profit and community organizations.
Congratulations on your graduation and the very best of luck for the future!