We sat down with Panos Papoutsis, iRead Project Manager for European Research and Innovation Office. In our blog post interview, Panos tells us about the two very different types of “hats” he’s worn during his time on the iRead project.

iRead Project Manager Panos Papoutsis giving a presentation to project colleagues.

Hi Panos! First, could you tell us a little bit about your background, who you are, perhaps where you are from and your professional background? 

I grew up in Greece, where I have lived and worked most of my life. In August 2017 I moved to London to join UCL. Since then, I have been managing a portfolio of around 4-5 research projects (one of these projects is iRead). Prior to joining UCL, I was working for around 10 years in the Greek education private sector, as well as for the University of Athens, as Project or Financial Manager of research projects. My background, in terms of studies, is in Public Administration (BA) and European Studies (MA). I am also a certified Project Manager (PM) by the Project Management Institute (PMI-PMP).

How did you initially become involved in the iRead project? 

When iRead proposal was being drafted, back in 2016 (even before the project was submitted & approved) I was working as PM for Doukas School in Greece (key iRead Pilot Leader). It was then when we were approached by NTUA colleagues and asked if we would be interested in participating in the project. The profile of the school (one of the best schools in the country, pioneer in IT implementation in classroom, with a vibrant R&D Dept) was key to this invitation. In particular, I believe it was Kostas Karpouzis who made the initial contact to join iRead. I have shared with Kostas that I will be always grateful for including Doukas School and me personally in iRead, as it has been an overall fantastic experience! 

I have understood that your role changed during this project. Could you describe a little bit about the different roles and responsibilities you have held during the project, and how these roles are different/complement each other? 

iRead was literally my ticket to move to the UK and start a new life! ðŸ˜Š Back in 2017, when iRead started, I was working as PM at Doukas School in Greece. It was then when the previous UCL iRead PM (Anna Szathmary) informed me, during an iRead Project Meeting, that she would be leaving UCL and her job vacancy will need to be refilled! I was keen on taking such a step in my career, I applied for the role and I joined UCL! Since then, I have been managing iRead from the Coordinator’s point of view (rather than the Partner’s point of view). Although I have been managing large consortia of Partners from the coordinator’s point view even before I join UCL, the experience I have gained has been enormous. Apart from adhering to our Funder’s (European Commission) rules, one needs to follow strict UCL internal procedures, which is a very challenging task. My main role is to manage all financial, contractual and administrative matters and monitor the activities of all Partners (not just UCL’s). I also need to safeguard project scope, which means to continuously compare our project plan with the actual work in progress (WIP) and advise the scientific team at a higher level.

The iRead project is a huge project with several international partners and team members from different backgrounds. I’d be interested to learn more about what is challenging in this/this type of large project from a project manager’s perspective? How about most rewarding?

The most challenging aspect in such innovation collaborative projects with Partners across the Europe is the fact that the Team Members in each country or at least the Team Leaders are high profile, extremely busy and sometimes strong-minded people. A PM needs to continuously exercise a comprehensive skillset to manage these stakeholders, resolve tensions between them by providing compromising solutions to critical differences, convince them of the importance of fulfilling our contractual obligations and of delivering the work we have promised on time. In order to be successful in all the above, a PM needs to gain the trust of the project stakeholders and this requires the exercise of soft (or power) skills such as empathy/emotional intelligence, talent and very hard work.

The most rewarding aspect is the excellent results and praising comments the Consortium receives (following a project review for example). At the same, the mutual respect and true friendships developed with almost all project team members are invaluable…

What has been most memorable experience for you during this project professionally?

In fact, the whole project will be a memorable experience for me. It is a complex, very ambitious, 4.5-year project that I supported from scratch and I will continue to do until its closure. We have every reason to believe that the project will be rated as excellent in the end. Hence, successfully running the full project life cycle (from project initiation to project closure) coupled with its impressive results, is an important milestone in my career as Project Manager…

The iRead project finishes at the end of June 2021. What happens in the project manager’s world after a project is officially finished? Does your work continue in some way or do you “close the books” that day? 

After the official project closure, a PM is heavily involved in supporting iRead Consortium’s typical obligation to attend a Review Meeting with the Funder (the EC) and submit a Final Project Report (we have 60 days to do this). However, it is equally important for a PM to internally record the Project’s key Lessons Learned. Hence, I will be sharing with all Partners an online Project Closure Questionnaire, where we ask every single team member across Europe, to (anonymously) evaluate project results & processes followed, to record biggest gains and highest risks they faced and finally, to record key Lessons Learned. This is all part of the Project Closure, a very important step, a PM follows in order to take into account valuable conclusions on what went well and what could be improved in future projects. The aim is always to improve, make your next project even more successful, keep the Project Team members even more happy…