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Nelleke’s take on project management and AI

Daphné Vermeiren

'Next-level drive and dive' is typical for project manager Nelleke Doyen. She puts her talent for 'bringing gusto' in projects to good use in her work, where she brings her passion for innovative technology, AI, and people to life. Read her story.

The die-hard triathlon fanatic ( 🏊🏼 + 🚵🏻 +🏃🏽) extends her goal and planning hunger into her leisure activities and vice-versa. The athlete's high translates into a project management high, especially when technology can help people.

From marketing to project management in tech

Nelleke started at an ERP software company where, as a marketer, product marketer, and then project manager, she helped find an answer to how technology could help customers in their daily business management. Seven years later, it was time for something new.

'After seven years, I ended up at TPO Agency, and it clicked immediately. I wanted to specialize in project management, and they gave me every opportunity to make that happen. We work with cool high-tech companies within the Raccoons cluster (to which TPO Agency also belongs), such as Brainjar for AI and Edgise for space projects. We are now eight months in, and I feel completely at home!'

It is more from a marketing perspective that you started at TPO Agency, not necessarily because tech attracted you?

No, not only marketing! I've always been interested in what kinds of technology are out there and how they can help people. Often, this is big business, but it's about people for me. In addition, I have always been curious about how things work in technology. I find the fusion of project management, people, and communication immensely fascinating!’

'I find the fusion of project management, people and communication immensely fascinating!'

Is that something that permeates your life?

'Project management? Absolutely! I set goals and work toward them. I like to make plans, strive for a certain goal, and then achieve it. That's also why I got into marathons and triathlons. They are always a challenge, and it's the same with project management. You know where you need to get to; you make a plan and try to get there without too much trouble (laughs).'

I like to make plans, strive for a certain goal, and then achieve it.

So, you do project management with a specialization in AI solutions?

'At TPO Agency, we often collaborate with Brainjar for AI projects. For other technologies, we work together with other ventures of Raccoons. Currently, I am involved in three space projects where a whole world of possibilities around AI is opening up. I never thought I would be working with space solutions, especially as a non-technical person! Every day is a bit of a journey of discovery.'

So, a day in your job is mostly talking to people and organizing team meetings?

'It is. I have to say I'm pretty old-school. Before corona, I went to everyone to chat (laughs), but now I schedule as many calls as possible, prepare reports, and ensure everything stays on track. '

Triathlon and knowledge sharing

You mentioned earlier that you are also heavily involved in triathlons outside of work. What role does that play in your life?

'It has played a fairly big role since I started doing them about three years ago. At the moment, I train six to seven days a week. It's the ideal change from my desk job, as I can put all my extra energy into it. At one point three years ago, I just signed up and went. It's a must for everyone, by the way. And I have already won my first medal, totally unexpected! That was a great feeling!'

So basically, you've already made it to a podium in three years without having a past in sports? A natural talent?

'(laughs) I don't believe it myself sometimes! But I had always been naturally in good shape and ran 10 km without any problems, and then you always want to go further. Every time I thought: "Couldn't I run more? And then the marathon succeeded, then a quarter triathlon, a half triathlon, and I don't know where it will end!'

Maybe you'll be the next Iron lady (laughs)?

'That would be great! That's another goal to make a plan for!'

Looking back on your career, what were your biggest successes and challenges?

'When a project goes live, that's great, of course, but the most significant success for me is showing the people I work with that you can approach projects in different ways. Especially demonstrating that project management can help them with this. I often notice that people are not always familiar with the structural approach of projects. As a result, people usually jump in with great enthusiasm but do not achieve the desired result. Teaching people more about project management and how to deal with it is a real victory for me.’

Are there significant challenges involved?

‘There certainly are. You're meeting with very different stakeholders each time, which also requires a very different approach. The big challenge is knowing who you’re meeting and what exactly they expect from you. I now have a project at FPS Justice, and the way of working there is very different from a space project or an AI project with Brainjar. Technical people also require a specific approach. The trick is to find the right motivation in everyone to get things done and meet deadlines; that's what makes it exciting.'

The trick is to find the right motivation in everyone to get things done and meet deadlines; that's what makes it exciting.

What is your secret recipe for this? A combination of your intuition and your expertise, since you are also a scrum master, among other things?

'Indeed, Agile Scrum usually works best for me. We use the more classical waterfall method in government projects, but it is different every time. Sometimes, I have to call a wide range of people for all the projects in a row, which requires a high degree of flexibility. You might have to go from very formal and serious to informal from one minute to the next. By planning fixed days for each project, I try to avoid that as much as possible. After all, I'm only human and can't switch constantly. Today is normally 'space-day,' Monday is FPS Justice-day again. That's how I work optimally!’

Project manager Nelleke

Project management and the future

What are the ambitions and dreams you want to fulfill in the future?

'Definitely that Iron Lady (laughs)! I want to continue competing in many sports competitions, including those abroad. I want to end up on a podium again! Professionally, I want to make project management feasible and manageable for everyone, as I feel there is a definite need for this.

I want to help rejuvenate the image of the project manager.'

That fits in nicely with your drive to share knowledge?

'Absolutely! I'm surprised that not many younger people are interested in project management. Often, the typical image of the older grey man is associated with it. I want to help rejuvenate the image of the project manager.'

You probably made that assumption too. What convinced you to get into project management?

'The organizational and motivational role was something I always naturally took on. I felt it was my thing, regardless of that image that was indeed prevalent. Like in triathlon, my initial reaction to something that piques my interest is to jump in, see, and create a plan step-by-step. My experience is that women are very good at letting their intuition play a role in starting good conversations, and that's just key in the business.'

Role model in out-of-the-box thinking

Are there any people who have ever inspired you and whom you would like to meet?

'That might be a classic, but Steve Jobs is someone like that. I find people who dare to think completely out-of-the-box especially interesting. David Lynch is another such person, a role model in out-of-the-box thinking. His approach appeals to me. In the world of sports, the story of Bashir Abdi, the Ghent marathon runner, is also super fascinating! How he rolled into it and what he has already achieved. I think sports and work-life can run parallel. Especially the next-level drive they have in common. What drives them each time to reach the next level and how they go about it are questions that trigger me the most.'

Thanks to Clusity for capturing Nelleke’s story.

Written by

Daphné Vermeiren

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