An Exclusive Interview with Tammo Wilkens: A Masterclass in Project Management

In the dynamic world of project management, Tammo Wilkens stands out not just for his vast experience but also for his transformative impact on the field. In this exclusive interview, Wilkens shares his journey from engineer to revered project management educator and his profound insights into the discipline's evolving landscape. His candid reflections offer a masterclass in navigating a successful career in project management.

The Genesis of a Project Management Career

Interviewer: You’ve had a remarkable transition from engineering to project management. What sparked this shift?

Tammo Wilkens: It all began rather unexpectedly. Back in 1979, I was offered the role of Engineering Scheduling Department Head. The title sounded impressive, and I was intrigued by the challenges it promised. Little did I know, this role would be my gateway into the world of project management. It was the allure of new challenges and responsibilities that really drew me in.

Pioneering Moments and Career Milestones

Interviewer: Throughout your career, what have been some of the most significant milestones?

Tammo Wilkens: Several key moments stand out. Firstly, being named the Engineering Scheduling Manager was a foundational step. Managing the Craven County Waste Wood Energy Plant project was another major milestone; the stakes were incredibly high, and the pressure was immense. Lastly, the opportunity to volunteer and then lead the Project Management Certificate Program at Cal State Dominguez Hills has been one of the most fulfilling experiences, shaping the next generation of project managers.

Specialization and Expertise

Interviewer: You mentioned specialties in scheduling, earned value management, and procurement. How did these develop?

Tammo Wilkens: These specialties evolved naturally from the demands of the projects I managed. Scheduling and earned value management, in particular, are critical for maintaining control over the scope, time, and cost of projects. My involvement in developing PMI’s first Scheduling Standard also deepened my expertise and allowed me to contribute to setting industry benchmarks.

Overcoming Project Challenges

Interviewer: Can you share how you navigated the challenges of the Craven County project?

Tammo Wilkens: That project was a true test of our team's resilience. The risk of losing a significant power purchase agreement loomed over us, threatening the project’s viability. By focusing on meticulous project control and fostering a collaborative team environment, we managed to meet our deadlines and ensure the project's success. It highlighted the importance of trust and teamwork in overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Interviewer: What about the challenges with the LA MTA’s red line project?

Tammo Wilkens: The red line project faced significant delays in tunnel construction. I encouraged the contractor to foster a brainstorming session, which led to a breakthrough in their approach. It was a testament to the power of collective problem-solving and maintaining a solution-oriented mindset.

Tools of the Trade and Leadership Philosophy

Interviewer: What project management tools do you find indispensable?

Tammo Wilkens: The Critical Path Method and earned value analysis are fundamental. However, beyond tools, I believe in the power of leadership. My philosophy is simple: empower your team and then step back. Let them own their tasks. It’s about facilitating rather than dictating.

Longstanding Engagement with PMI

Interviewer: Your involvement with PMI has been extensive. How has this shaped your career?

Tammo Wilkens: PMI has been instrumental in my professional growth. It kept me connected with the latest developments in our field and allowed me to give back through teaching and volunteer roles. Serving as the VP of Finance at the PMI CIE Chapter also broadened my understanding of financial management within non-profits, which was incredibly enriching.

Addressing Industry Challenges and Offering Advice

Interviewer: What do you see as current challenges in project management?

Tammo Wilkens: A significant challenge is the dilution of the managerial authority in project management. There’s a trend towards managing without authority, which I find counterproductive. Effective project management requires the ability to make decisions and act on them.

Interviewer: Any advice for those entering the field?

Tammo Wilkens: Embrace a leadership style that combines decision-making authority with the empowerment of your team. Don’t be swayed by trends that suggest otherwise. True leadership in project management involves guiding your team through empowerment and informed decision-making.

Envisioning the Future

Interviewer: How do you see the role of project managers evolving?

Tammo Wilkens: The role will undoubtedly recalibrate towards a more authoritative approach once more. Trends are cyclical, and the need for strong, decisive project leadership will become apparent again as organizations recognize the limitations of a hands-off approach.

Interviewer: And finally, what’s your key takeaway for our readers?

Tammo Wilkens: The project management profession is both demanding and rewarding. It requires a keen understanding of both the micro and macro aspects of managing projects. My advice? Stay engaged, stay informed, and most importantly, stay involved in communities like PMI to continually grow and learn.

Through this engaging interview, Tammo Wilkens not only shares his wealth of knowledge but also inspires a robust dialogue about the future of project management. For those looking to deepen their understanding or contribute to the project management community, engaging with the PMICIE Chapter could be your next great step. Visit PMICIE.org to learn more about how you can get involved.