Digital transformation: a young man in his thirties epitomizes innovation at CIMA

portrait de Gabriel BédardProject management professional Gabriel Bédard is the latest winner of the CIMA+ President’s Award in the Innovation category, an award presented by the firm’s President and CEO, as its name suggests. Surprising? Not really: it is largely because of employees like him that CIMA+ has successfully completed its digital transformation.

“Do you have a minute? We need to talk.” On the other end of the line is François Plourde, President and CEO of CIMA+, and he’s talking to Gabriel Bédard, who works in the Project Management department at the consulting engineering firm. “Let’s just say it’s not every day you receive a phone call from the big boss,” the affable 32-year-old engineer recalls with a laugh, while on a site visit with one of the many clients of the firm, which boasts over 2,600 employees.

The news is good. Gabriel learns that he is the finalist for the 2021 President’s Award in the Innovation category, following glowing statements from 22 (!) of his colleagues at CIMA+. “I couldn’t believe it, it went beyond all my expectations,” says the proud resident of the Quebec City neighbourhood of Limoilou. “Here we are, months later, and I’m still on cloud nine,” he admits.

Leading innovator

This prestigious honour is nonetheless well deserved. After barely five years as a project management professional, Gabriel Bédard has already made his mark at CIMA+. He has participated to the introduction of the Yammer and SharePoint applications to facilitate collaboration and make in-house exchanges smoother. He has also promoted the use of the management tools in the Microsoft Office 365 suite, including Planner, OneNote and Forms. Demystifying the data analysis solution Power BI in order to simplify cost management? Also one of his contributions.

“I recognized the potential of these tools for addressing known issues,” he points out. “If it wasn’t for my colleagues, most of whom know more about the tools than I do, I would never have won the award.”

“My role is essentially one of a facilitator. What I do is simplify communications so that needs can be met, all of which benefits our clients,” he goes on to say. Timing is everything, he is fond of repeating. That’s fitting: there’s a structure specifically designed to facilitate the flow of information and the emergence of smart ideas in place at CIMA+ including, for instance, the firm’s innovation committee and its innovation intelligence network.

“It’s something that’s essential in the field of project management,” the creative thinking pro adds. “You have to know how to channel innovation in a way that allows you to access it whenever you want. Because great ideas often make their appearance at very inappropriate times. In fact, innovation rarely just magically turns up. The legend of the ‘Eureka!’ type breakthrough is precisely that, pure fiction. Without genuine, sustained work, you’re putting fate into the hand of chance.”

To illustrate his point, Gabriel Bédard gives the example of the now famous communications and collaboration application Teams. It’s in part due to his foresight that it was being used at CIMA+ long before the COVID-19 pandemic. “There are several project managers in the department and they’re often sent out to work with clients, which cuts them off from office realities. Teams is a way of bringing them together and fostering a sense of belonging to the firm,” he explains. In short, of showing solidarity.

Non-technical skills

Innovation is also a matter of capabilities. His great ease at entering into relationships with others and his ability to address old issues from a fresh perspective are skills Gabriel Bédard first started developing in the lecture halls of Université Laval, his alma mater. “I studied architecture briefly before transferring to civil engineering,” he points out. His time working for a general contractor helped him to further hone these life skills and then take the plunge into the major league.

“It allowed me to become more aware of other views of the world,” he says. “When I’m sitting at a table with people from different backgrounds, which is often the case at CIMA+, I think this experience enables me to understand the different points of view and reconcile them.” In this sense, he embodies the firm’s motto of “Engineering for people” perfectly.

This atmosphere of dialogue and listening even transcends hierarchies and generations at CIMA+. How? Gabriel Bédard mentions another of his triumphs: the setting up of a shadow board. “The shadow board consists of putting a group of young professionals from Generation Y in contact with members of management,” he explains “The avowed aim is to foster a clash of ideas around different problems faced by the company.”

At the end of the day, the exercise brings to light the blind spots that no one had thought about rather than the antagonisms. More importantly, Gabriel Bédard has forged strong ties which are propelling the firm, and by the same token its clientele, to the forefront. “Getting yourself heard when you represent the younger generation and you’re just starting your professional career, is worth its weight in gold,” he insists. “It’s a great source of motivation, and it also creates an atmosphere of mutual support and solidarity, and arouses the desire to surpass yourself for the firm.”

 

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