'I've been given tools for something that you don't realise off the bat that you even need tools for' says project manager Morten Fenger.
He is referring to the skills he was introduced to when he was offered a job in the consulting department of one of the country's leading accountancy and consultancy firms. But that was after he discovered that he was born to be a project manager, which happened at the University of Copenhagen.
From the University of Copenhagen to KPMG
After earning his MSc at the IT University, Morten Fenger landed his first IT-related job at the University of Copenhagen. He started in user administration and ended up project managing the implementation of a great many projects. This is where Fenger discovered that he is a project person who thrives on responsibility and solving complex problems. After eight years with the University of Copenhagen, Fenger was offered a job in process and project management and financial analysis at KPMG. Going from the public world of the university to KPMG's highly professional and sales-focused reality was quite a change.
'If you are taken on as a consultant at KPMG, it's because you have a high level of professional knowledge and are strong in your area of expertise. I had implemented several major ERP and product systems, so I was on solid ground as a project manager', says Fenger.
All new employees at KPMG gain a number of additional skills to differentiate them from the competition: they are sent on courses to learn how to give a professional impression.
'This is something the consultants in the department I joined were really good at. In addition to your professionalism, you have to have what they call a "Consulting Mindset", which is equal parts understanding human nature, managing complex problems and taking a service-minded approach to everything'.
The Consulting Mindset
Fenger learned a great deal from the latter component. He sensed that it was here he could make a difference.
'It sounds like a cliché: You have to be accommodating and friendly – it's a little like being a shop clerk. That doesn't mean you should lose yourself, of course, but the thing is you have to be solution-oriented and give-and-take with the client'.
At KPMG, Fenger was taught how to prepare for and manage an array of fixed elements in the client relationship. The productive meeting, for instance: how to structure, conduct and wrap up a meeting and how to properly initiate a dialogue. Fenger explains:
'These were things I didn't know I needed courses in. But if you use the tools, it gives added value for the clients and that's actually all there is to it'.
According to Fenger, IT projects generally lack project managers and consultants who are good at facilitating, managing processes and handling situations that have gone off track for one reason or another. This is something he sees when meetings are a disaster and consultants get sick of unprofessional clients.
'But that is actually the consultant's bread and butter – helping clients with challenges they cannot overcome on their own. That is why it is vital to be able to read the client and handle opposition. There is a set of tools for that and they really make a difference. You go into a meeting, acknowledge the challenges and find some tenable solutions'.
The tools Morten Fenger acquired at KPMG were not a revelation for the project manager, but they gave him a professional boost.
'I was good at forming relationships even before this, but I gained tools for how to behave psychologically in a work situation – and that is more important than you think', says Fenger, who puts a lot of thought into how he can make a professional impression.
As he sees it, consultants should be agreeable, stay one step ahead of the rest and deliver on time. If you do that well, you gain a good reputation – and you will hopefully be engaged for new projects. But the tools from KPMG are not the only reason behind Fenger's good evaluation from the client he is with now.
Thought is at least equally important.
'I think a lot in order to be a better project manager. As a consultant, you are obliged to continually evaluate yourself and I've made it a habit to take a couple of minutes to evaluate my performance after I have carried out an activity.
That way, I adjust my methods, tools and professionalism on an ongoing basis'.
The jump to freelancing
Actually, Fenger has always believed the freelance life was too uncertain. But over the course of his four years with KPMG, he found out that he wanted to try going it alone as a consultant. On an assignment at Danske Bank, he met several freelance consultants whom he quizzed to learn more about the demands of the freelance life.
'It was useful for me to know the level they were at and I believed I could measure up to them. And so I made the jump', says Fenger, who threw himself into the freelance life last year, when he was offered an assignment through ProData Consult with a large public-sector client. Here, he is the sub-project manager for an ERP product, responsible for the entire change line, among other things.
'This is a very exciting project: It is expansive and covers a great many people in various ways. You might say that ERP is the DNA for the entire organisation. But it's also a large-volume assignment that demands a great deal of coordination, and I am lucky enough to be working under an old pro who is happy to share his knowledge'.
Convergence of coincidences
If Fenger had been more structured and had planned his career, he would like to have been a manager before he became a consultant in order to learn how to manage people. But for many years after he began working, Fenger chose his career path based on where he thought it would be fun to be.
'My career is a convergence of coincidences, but still, I have been searching towards where I am now and have always chosen a next step that provided a few more challenges than the last one. That happened in the move from the University of Copenhagen to KPMG – and again from KPMG to my current project, where I am standing on my own two feet'.
These days, the project manager makes more conscious career choices. He has made a pact with himself that he wants to take the step up into the commercial project manager's position when the opportunity presents itself.