Mr Gonzalez, you work as a project manager for the regional programme Ça Marche, "Bouger plus, Manger mieux !" ("Be more active, eat more healthily!") in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland. What are your main responsibilities?
For the regional programme, I was asked to develop and implement a project to promote physical exercise and healthy eating, aimed at migrant populations. The multicultural project "Mon Assiette, Mes Baskets" aims to become firmly established among migrant populations and communities. Networking with partners and participants of the scheme is essential in order to tackle sensitive issues such as obesity, nutrition, exercise and fitness. Wherever possible, I try to open up activities to a wide range of migrants and non-migrants. Together we look at three areas. Exercise is covered by Nordic walking, organised walks in the local area, dancing, theme-based excursions and, twice every six months, a pedometer-based activity. These activities are aimed at reintroducing or showcasing the role of exercise in everyday life. For the areas of nutrition and health, we invite external partners along to food-based events where participants can get involved in cooking and share tips on grocery shopping, and to health workshops, where participants undergo a health assessment and are given helpful advice.
This gives you an idea of how diverse my work is, ranging from networking, making new contacts and being hands-on, to organising, planning and building partnerships. While my experience of community work has proven to be invaluable, my background in engineering has been essential for organising my work and the various projects.
Because I'm responsible for the programme's annual calendar of events, I have to set short and medium-term goals. At the same time, I'm constantly on the lookout for active partners I can recruit in the local area, as well as funding. I have to forge relationships with key people both in migration and in government agencies that deal with health and consumer rights, as well as in local and regional government and other public bodies. The fact that the programme is conducted under the aegis of Ligues de la Santé, the local health association, is therefore crucial. This gives me direct access to programmes such as Allez Hop Romandie and Fourchette Verte. I'm also lucky enough to have a dynamic and open-minded group of colleagues. I run exercise workshops and organise walks, I co-host cookery workshops and events and liaise with participants. This forces me to keep my feet on the ground. Finally, I handle evaluations and write activity and management reports. I enjoy having to be in two places at the same time, but you need the right tools to do this.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges (obstacles) involved in managing a project?
To understand the challenges I face, you need to bear in mind that I work in community healthcare. The biggest challenge is coming up with a wide range of activities that participants can do in their spare time. We also need to manage their expectations, and be responsive and flexible so that our ideas and proposals are tailored and relevant. Finally, we have to be able to reconcile the milestones imposed by our sponsors with the practical aspects.
How do you personally address these challenges?
Flexibility and adaptability are essential. Having the right contacts, being confident and being committed to providing a good service are key. You can't be complacent about it. It is important to be extremely open-minded and to have good negotiating skills, both with the participant base and with partners and sponsors.
In your opinion, what are the best management tools?
I use mind maps a lot to visualise how the project will be structured with the group. Meetings and briefing sessions are important in order to fine-tune things. Finally, the more traditional project management tools, such as Gantt charts and dashboards, are also useful. These can be created using various tools and software applications (Excel, Mind View, XMind, etc.), but the Quint-essenz project management tool can be used to share the creation and definition of projects online, which is particularly useful during the planning process.
What advice would you give to someone with no experience who wants to become a project manager? What should they focus on in particular?
It is difficult to give advice without knowing the context. However, I can draw various lessons from past experience. Things never go to plan, so you have to be flexible.
You also have to be a good listener, but stay on track. This means focusing on the strategic aspects and long-term vision of the project. At the same time, you need to be tactically adept so that you always react in a way that is relevant and appropriate. The project manager has to provide direction, but must also have faith in partners and colleagues. The project manager has to remember that he or she is not the repository of all knowledge, but is there to facilitate knowledge transfer. To merit a place in the project and to earn respect, everyone must be given a bit of breathing space so that they can deliver their best performance.