Jacob Duhan, Program Manager, Interim Manager
Jacob Duhan, Program Manager, Interim Manager

We have talked to Jacob Duhan, Group PMO, about the advantage of Interim Management in critical projects and transformations. With a background as Regional Manager for southern Europe within maintenance, as a management consultant, and most recently as interim Project Manager, he knows the value that an Interim Manager can provide to a business that faces complex challenges.

You just finished an assignment as an interim Project Management Officer (PMO), what was your mission?

“The customer, a global security provider, was going to make a comprehensive transformation where the business areas were going to be own legal entities and operationally independent, from previously being more integrated. We created new legal entities, put new organizations in place, implemented a large number of ERP systems, and managed the tax issues, change management and M&A, which is a great exercise! It was a very complex task as many countries and businesses with different laws and regulations were involved. Engaging the team and employees were central as the change affected the entire company. After 1.5 years, it was finished – in record time! Now it is important not to lose momentum and hold on. My interim role has transitioned to a permanent position as Group PMO for new and large projects as the company sees the value of disciplined execution of strategies, having a person who makes sure that you keep the schedule and budget, and above all, focus on the right things. Many companies have a strategy but lack the ability to implement it.”

What is the advantage of bringing in an Executive Interim Manager when driving a change or a large project?

“When you bring in an interim, you usually are under a strong time pressure, you have a big project or must fill a vacancy. If you don’t have the right skills internally or do not want to hire a person permanently, it is a good solution to bring in an expert for a limited time. The interim comes in with experiences that he/she can use directly and deliver value from day one. It can also be a trial period if you are thinking about hiring permanently. The assignment must be clear, and you have to understand how to score goals – what are the most important things that need to be put in place early, what makes the biggest difference and how do I prioritize the tasks? When I get into an assignment, I try to quickly establish structures, get to know the team, clarify what must be delivered and make sure to motivate and engage them. Even if I don’t know everything, I start right away and don’t drag out on the planning. The structures should be simple but robust, you should not make it too complicated, and it is important to communicate where you are now and where you are going. To motivate my employees, I clarify how we will achieve success quickly, divide complex tasks in clear partial deliveries and ensure that everyone has understood what is expected of them. Everyone must be able to do their job, so roles and responsibilities are super important. The more clarity you can create, the more peace of mind you give the organization. This also applies when reporting upwards so that the client knows that you have control of the situation and follow the plan.

When you have reached milestones, you should celebrate! A funny anecdote is when I promised a British colleague to play the bagpipe (which I learned when I lived in Scotland) if he went live with an ERP rollout first among all the parallel rollouts. He delivered on time and at the next weekly meeting I played the bagpipe – the atmosphere and motivation were at its peak! It’s good to be able to laugh at your own expense and create memories together with the team. Earlier in my career, I focused mostly on the project deliverables, but now it’s clear to me that you should also contribute to the company’s culture, it gives so much value.”

“For an organization to work, it is very important that you have the right person in the right place and that you give them the space and tools to succeed.”

Why did you choose to work as an interim Executive Project Manager?

“I myself have been involved in engaging an interim CFO and was impressed with how well it worked, and what value it gave the organization. I thought it seemed interesting and wanted to try it. It’s exciting with new assignments and challenges and it’s well paid. I started my career as a management consultant and learned how to lead projects. After a while, I moved on to different line roles on management team level at Quant, an outsourced maintenance company. The most fun and educational period was when I was Regional Manager for southern Europe. The Italian market was a challenge as the legislations makes outsourcing difficult. Spain had better conditions and we grew in that market. It has given me a lot of experience in the role of a senior leader. It is also an advantage that I have been responsible for the entire business, which gives a greater perspective and an understanding of the whole business. For an organization to work, it’s very important that you have the right person in the right place and that you give them the space and tools to succeed.”

What is the advantage of working as an Interim Manager compared to management consulting?

“I like to be my own, but at the same time be part of a team. I focus entirely on the assignment and delivery and do not have to represent a large American management consulting firm. As an interim, you have a greater degree of freedom. You are expected to have a toolbox, experience, leadership, and maturity. As an Interim Manager, you see the success, not just the strategy and analysis.”

You have always worked internationally; how do you deal with cultural differences?

“I enjoy working internationally and meeting different cultures, I have been an interpreter in the military, speak several languages and have lived abroad. There are challenges, but it’s fun to talk to people on three different continents in one day. You must understand that things can be perceived in different ways and that some people deliver on time while others do not. I can contribute to culture creation by implementing habits such as that meetings start on time and that if you have agreed on something, you deliver it. I think it’s good to be transparent and use visual management!”

How do you make sure you have a good work/life balance?

“I love to be outdoors and enjoy camping and fishing and I’m also a scout leader. To get exercise, I usually ride my bike to the office and stop at the gym on the way.”