Interview with Thomas Walenta


Project Management Is about Reducing Uncertainties

Interview with Thomas Walenta, PMI Fellow

Member of Board of Directors
Project Management Institute

Interviewed by Yu Yanjuan
Journalist, Project Management Review: PMR (China)


Journalist’s Introduction

Several months ago, I read an interesting article titled “Projects & Programs Are Two Different ‘Animals’ ”, in which project managers are compared to lions while program managers are compared to elephants. Deeply impressed by the vivid description, I decided to probe more about the author behind the article: Thomas Walenta

Thomas Walenta, PMI Fellow, member of PMI Board of Directors, former President of PMI Frankfurt Chapter (1998 to 2005), global advisor for PM World Journal, former Program Manager for IBM, is a leading expert in delivering value to business through project and program management. According to his friends and workmates, he is helpful, devoted, competent, open, passionate, professional and motivating.

In the interview, Thomas Walenta shares with us his perspectives, experiences and observations about project management profession. He explained why he took up project management profession in spite of being a maths major; he released the secrets of high-performance PMO; he emphasized the importance of lessons learned; he put people at the core of management… There are some golden sentences that have enlightened me and will surely inspire the global readers.


Part 1: Lessons Learned

PMR:      In 1988, you decided to abandon your technical skills to take up the career of project management. Why?

Thomas Walenta (Walenta):     At that time, being 34 years old, I just had finished my first significant project successfully. When thinking about what had been learned from that, I recognized that the most important factor for success was how you deal with the people involved:

  • a good and frequent exchange with the customer PM, trying to understand his constraints and problems and trying to help him,
  • an irregular but positive relationship with the customer sponsor
  • my regular and clear communication events (a monthly all-hands meeting, weekly status meetings, reports), which instilled discipline and awareness
  • collaboration with subcontractors, honoring contractual commitments while integrating work results by all participants efficiently

I liked the positive feedback and I thought by myself, what would be easier: maintaining a technology acumen, or building on people skills continuously acquired and tried. For me, the answer was clear: working with people will be always required while technology is changing quickly and also has a wide range of options nobody can capture. And, maybe most importantly, I focused on my new priority and cut off any ties to technology. It was a decision with consequences that I never regretted.

PMR:       As a program manager yourself, what leadership style do you adopt and how do you assess your own leadership style?

Walenta:     In general I adopt a servant leadership style with my team based on ethical values and beliefs.  I use the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct as a base for that. In certain situations (crises, conflicts) I use a more authoritative style, but where does the authority come from? It comes from being accepted as the leader by previous ethical behavior instilling trust. Sometimes the team even demands more guidance from me, e.g. being guided more closely in problem solving or keeping timelines and agendas, and I try not to offer this to them, since it would mean to manage, not to lead, and take the challenge away to improve themselves.

As a program manager specifically, in a business stakeholder environment, I am more blunt, direct and persistent, trying to establish a powerful position and finding allies. This may include pre-meeting conversations. But I avoid common behaviors like being dishonest or bullying others also in these circumstances. Having worked a lot with Japanese, I understand and focus on relationship building and reaching consensus and establishing a reputation.

In any international environment it is key to be aware of the cultural specifics and prepare accordingly.

PMR:     You’ve noted that “lessons learned” is the right thing to do in PM. Would you please explain it?


To read entire interview, click here


Editor’s note: This interview was first published in PMR, Project Management Review magazine, China.  It is republished here with the permission of PMR. The PM World Journal maintains a cooperative relationship with PMR, periodically republishing works from each other’s publications. To see the original interview with Chinese introduction, visit PMR at http://www.pmreview.com.cn/english/


About the Interviewer

Yu Yanjuan

Beijing, China




Yu Yanjuan, Bachelor’s Degree, graduated from the English Department of Beijing International Studies University (BISU) in China. She is now an English-language journalist and editor working for Project Management Review Magazine and website. In the past, she has worked as a journalist and editor for China Manned Space Agency website and Student English Times. She once worked part-time as English teacher in training centers. For work contact, she can be reached via email [email protected] or Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/yanjuan-yu-76b280151/.