Juggling international projects
Tobias Labarta works on many projects in different time zones. He is Project Manager Project Portfolio Management in Global Demand & Business Relationship Management (GDBRM). In this interview, he explains this long title, his tasks and what he enjoys most about his job.
What does your job in GDBRM involve?
Our department is responsible for driving forward digitization in the Fresenius Group together with our in-house customers. I am part of the Project Portfolio Management team, which is in charge of planning all projects in the Group. For example, we check whether there is sufficient capacity to carry out all ongoing and new project initiatives. In other words, we plan the resources and provide transparency on the various projects. Other tasks are more like typical account management. For example, I am the contact for Global Research & Development (GRD) at Fresenius Medical Care, a research division responsible for developing new dialysis machines and concentrates, among other things. I advise, supervise and support them on the management of their research and development projects. That also includes taking into account their demands on our project planning software.
Can you give us an example?
Sometimes, our customers request new functions for planning projects, such as new reports, time tracking and so on. Together, we delve into the underlying processes, which gives me greater insight into product development. I also get to see how the different departments work together, such as Product Development, Marketing and Quality Assurance. Sometimes the requests are not very precise, for example they might say, “We want to improve process XY but don’t know how.” Then we analyze it and try to find a solution that can be mapped in the tool.
So everyone chooses their own topics to work on and can create their own areas of specialization. Motivation and skills ultimately count for more than having the right professional background.
And what is your background?
I started at Fresenius straight after graduating from high school – as part of a dual course of study in International Management for Business & IT (IMBIT). That’s a degree in Business Information Systems with an international focus at the DHBW of Mannheim, combined with practical experience at Fresenius, where I worked in various departments. I completed my Bachelor’s degree at Fresenius Digital Technology and stayed on once I had finished. I joined the GDBRM division at the end of 2018, initially as a trainee in project management, and since this year (2021) as Project Manager.
Did you always want to work in the pharma industry? What kind of employer is Fresenius?
Well, to tell the truth, I ended up working at a pharma company more or less by chance. I had been interested in project management for some time and wanted to work in that field, preferably in an international environment. So I asked around my classmates and heard about this dual course of study. Although I didn’t know much about IT up until then, I thought it was an exciting combination, and ultimately, it suited me ideally – both the content of the degree and Fresenius as an employer. I wanted to work in a large company with opportunities for development, and that is definitely the case here. The job security and the salary are both good. What I particularly appreciate about Fresenius is that I have a lot of freedom in my work. There are few strict guidelines, basically everyone can build their own area of expertise. During my degree course, I was well looked-after and got lots of help finding the right department to work in later on. I like the flexibility and the good training opportunities. And even the food in the canteen is much better now!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Through my work for Fresenius Medical Care, I learn a lot about patient-related topics, which I find fascinating. I’m also interested in how a global research organization is structured and works to continuously develop better therapies for more patients. I always wanted to work internationally, partly because I never managed to spend time abroad while I was at school. During my studies, I worked at Fresenius Medical Care’s research location in Concord in the U.S. for a while, which gave me a chance to get to know the colleagues there better. I really enjoy the international aspects of my work. I like the fact that I can have a phonecall with a department head in Shanghai in the morning, talk to colleagues from other European countries in the afternoon, and with those in the U.S. in the late afternoon. I also enjoy using agile methods and planning sprints, as it gives me the chance to deliver higher value to GRD in a more efficient manner.
What do you find challenging about your work?
In the beginning, I found it a bit nerve-wracking to telephone or do video conferences with people, some of whom were much higher up in the hierarchy. Portfolio management is an abstract concept for many people, so I had to explain it a lot. I have since got used to it. Otherwise, every day brings surprises. I have to learn about new topics, which can be hard work, but is also very varied and interesting.
What project or result are you particularly proud of?
In early 2020, we were asked to implement our project management software as a time-tracking tool for all GRD employees in the U.S and Germany. But we only had two months to roll it out to some 800 employees – including training them. Up until then, they had worked with individual solutions, so our job was to standardize. My boss was on vacation for some of this time, so I was largely in charge of the project and the team and had to report directly to the CFO of GRD. First, we had to find the right solution after I and my team had won against external competitors in the evaluation process. Then we had to adapt it to the specific requirements of the finance division, and finally onboard and train several hundred employees in online courses structured in two-week blocks. But everything worked out in the end, we were on time and within budget, and the feedback on the rollout was good.
What would you recommend to future applicants, what skills should they have?
Even though it’s a big company, we are given a lot of freedom here. You should be proactive and not wait to be given instructions. Being able to work independently and having an entrepreneurial mindset are important, because we choose most of our own topics. Motivation and skills ultimately count for more than your area of specialization. Everyone in our team comes from very different backgrounds – from event management to biochemistry and business information systems – so we’re a very mixed bunch.