Q&A with Andre Mahfouz
Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Andre Mahfouz, Project Director @ Temenos
How could you describe your career path in a few words?
Computer science was gaining reputation in the last decades of the 20th Century. This has shaped the education sector as it starts to be, slowly, popular. Hence, my education inherited the science form the early days of punch-card processing to the revolution of the microprocessor and personal computers (PC).
Also, my career path has been shaped with this scientific education, and it stays to be a tough journey. I am from the age of the five-kilograms weight of 100 MB hard disk, and a floppy disk size of few hundred of KB size. But also, I experienced the move of room-size mainframe to the PC. And I lived the revolution of the Internet that shapes not only the industry but also the world, to date. With the fast evolution of the sector and computer industry, I had to couple my experience with continuous learning and focused education. However, I have learned much from the school of hard knocks, where every day is a challenge turned into success story.
Shifting my career to the next level, I opt to move to banking technology leading vast projects and programs to deliver a unique banking solution, transforming the business to allow our clients gaining competitive advantage in the industry. Working with international projects and multi-cultural environment is a unique knowledge and exposure, but also an ongoing challenge and daily knowledge acquisition.
What was your most challenging experience, and has it changed your mindset?
The difference between project management and operation management is that the latter is stable within known business as usual activities, while the first is unstable and disruptive, by definition. Hence, it won’t be an exaggeration saying it’s a daily challenge, and every new project is a new different problem.
However, the most difficult, yet successful experiences, were when I was obliged to do reverse-engineering to solve the problem. That is, in normal way to complete a task or a project you have to go from point A to point B, to complete a deliverable. In reverse-engineering mode you have to train yourself working backward to deliver. And that happened three times; first time was a software reverse-engineering from object to source (not from machine code per se) and that was very tough but unique experience. And the other two more times in projects were almost identical, were I had to reverse engineer the software solution, from the user interface had to go backward to reengineer the functionalities and analysis done behind. The third was the longest but the most well regarded as success story from the client. Those were unforgettable experiences, but they add up to my leadership skills the problem solving and working in abnormal circumstances – things that cannot be read or acquired from books.
What value project management learning has added to your career?
The most important factors that may damage projects are uncertainties, but they are at the same time, unavoidable. Uncertainties become damaging if not foreseen ahead of turning into real issues because not being managed adequately and timely. All schools of project management that I have learned, especially with PMI ®, are based on growing practices and guidelines that are widely accepted as standard within the project management industry. In other words, it doesn’t bring something different as such, but it collects experiences and mould them into standard processes. Continuous learning from others’ experiences will help reducing risks and challenges across the project lifecycle and, therefore, preventing project failures.
We learn from these methodologies how to tailor processes to our needs and put things into perspective so that when facing unknown risks, and situations, we have the necessary knowledge to manage them, instead of failing because being surprised with unknowns.
Certainly, there is no “one size fits all” solution to all risks, however training ourselves to situational challenges and building up our own experiences on top, will help us to identify every risk, gauge its consequences, and pin down responses timely, so to avoid surprises to the bigger extent possible.
Based on your experience, what’s the most important key factor for a leader to succeed?
To understand factors for a leader to succeed, we must agree first on the fact that leadership is a process, not a position. This means that success must be secured at each step and each situation to assure a successful process. Leaders must be innovative, develop their skills and enable others to develop theirs. Leaders should focus on long-term vision but motivate and serve the others to achieve it through clear goals to succeed. Leaders should focus on the situation. There is no one simple receipt to solve them, rather what works for one does not necessarily work for other. Hence why leadership success is commonly associated with rational but emotional skills too. Where actions and influences based on reasons must be tuned up to the level of people thoughts and concerns, hopes and dreams, needs and fears, goals and personal ambitions… hence some situations could be complex to deal with and require high leadership skills.
In project management real world, leadership is tailored to drive project organisation activities and day to day tasks… and it has one supreme goal which is to complete and deliver successfully as planned. This goal is divided into smaller goals where the project director’s role is to inspire managers, team leads and project members to achieve them all the way through the finish line.
What would be the major pitfalls that may undermine the success of a leader?
It is enough to assume that if we follow the above rules and theories, we avoid failures, because, in real world, leaders must master the ability to make things happen. That is having the skills and striving for success sometimes is not good enough if you didn’t assure success. These are some examples just to count few. If you delegated a task adequately, it’s a pitfall not to make sure you get feedback. If you communicated excellently to your team but, assuming you have more experience than they do, or you don’t have time being so busy, so you do not listen to their voice and argument, is a big pitfall. If you appreciate verbally team’s work but you don’t empower enough and give credibility and make sure that credibility commensurate with the effort they make, it is a pitfall – “people don’t quit their job, they quit their managers!”
Last but not least, leaders lead by example; so, if you are frequently absent or arriving late to meetings, don’t expect them to do better and blame them when they do wrong – they are watching you, leaders need to avoid this drawback.