Martin Stretton is an operations focused Programme Manager with an extensive track record of delivering multi-million pound change for both private and not-for-profit organisations in the education sector. He talks about his experience at Pearson and making the leap into self-employment.
What first prompted you to move into project management?
I’ve always been drawn to process improvement and saw project management as an opportunity to get a holistic view of how a business operates across functions and divisions. Besides change being as certain as death and taxes seemed a future proof career to me!
Take us through your career to date, who have you worked for?
I started my career in an entry level position in customer services at Pearson, getting promoted to a managerial position soon after and rapidly progressed through the organisation. In all, I was there for fifteen years heading up multiple functions of the business, holding senior roles in operations, programme management, product development and international business development before deciding to specialise in the thing I am best at and enjoy the most – programme management.
I now run my own business as a programme management consultant and have had the pleasure of working with market leading clients such as City & Guilds.
What are you up to right now?
Currently I am in contract with the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) as an operations and programme management consultant, working with the senior management team to design the blueprint of their future operating model.
What makes your work fulfilling and fun?
Purpose. Using my skills to help organisations operationalise strategy to have a greater impact in my sector – education. Immense satisfaction from knowing that improving the education system helps individuals into gainful employment.
What are your key strengths and how have you used these?
Always drawn to structure. Strategic solutions is my area of specialism. Ability to put structure to strategy. Turning direction into direct action through optimising governance and reporting structures.
What aspects of the role pose the greatest challenge?
Business is fundamentally people oriented. We are creatures of habit and inherently reluctant to change. The greatest challenge in my view is supporting people to transition and adapt to change. In many ways it also gives the greatest satisfaction to help people on their journey to a better future.
What training have you received and how has this helped you in your career?
Certifications in PRINCE2 and MSP are arguably the greatest assets for my vocation. My view is that recognised certifications give you credibility in your field but equally the learning within itself has enabled me to apply universal principles to successfully manage change and business transformation.
What characteristics and skills do you think make a great project manager?
Hard and soft skills in equal measure (50/50). A need to be structured and solutions focused but also adaptable and empathetic.
Which project are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my work with the team at City & Guilds on apprenticeships programme: Capability building in support of the government reform to apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are an increasingly viable option for young people to enter work and are starting to deservedly get parity of esteem with degrees.
And then a number of firsts, first to market, first to deliver 10,000 apprenticeships and on a personal note my first contract as a consultant.
What elements make your work easier (methodology, software, strategy etc)?
Methodology gives you the credibility and foundation to perform. As a qualified expert in your field applying your learning in a live environment is dependent on your knowing your stuff and being able to lead with confidence.
Knowing your subject matter and being able to explain it to business people in as simple a way as possible for them to get it and see the value you add.
Does being a good project manager help you in other aspects of your life?
No! I’m extremely focused and structured in my work life but I try and go with the flow in my personal life. It’s extremely important to have balance. As I have got older I have got better at switching off. This is actually more productive!
How would you like your career to progress from here?
It’s important to push yourself to the edge of your potential. I have set some pretty audacious goals for me and my business, NOVO Project Management.
Ultimately, my goal is to extend my reach to share my learning with as wide an audience as possible in order to help people and organisations grow educationally and economically.
What’s your best advice for people hoping to move up the career ladder?
Integrity is all. Treat people with respect and you will get respect. Recognise that everyone from the CEO to the cleaner has to perform for an organisation to be successful.
Invest in you. Back yourself to win. Gain qualifications/certifications even if you have to pay for it yourself. Adopt a growth mindset. A thirst for learning. Expose yourself to new business ideas through podcasts, books etc. Keep challenging yourself and your thinking.