Meet Tatjana Knežević
A passionate project manager who believes in achievement of SDGs and therefore works hard on writing and perfectly managing our projects from start to finish.
- Why was BioSense your choice and what do you see as the importance of project management, especially in the field of science? Have the projects contributed to shortening that path from science in laboratories to science for society?
BioSense institute is a place where breakthough ideas germinate and get tested before they can be scaled up, and to me, creative and critical thinking about innovative ways of doing business sounds like an exciting challenge.
Through research projects that we are working on, we support collaboration between industry and academia ensuring that the academic knowledge and results flow into industry. Likewise, this approach gives researchers the opportunity to increase their skills and gain a better knowledge of industry needs.
However, in such combined teams comprising people from both industry and academia, managing a research project highlights tha importance of project manager’s role. On one side, we are responsible for management and coordination of the work ensuring that the targeted results are efficiently and effectively delivered and, on the other side, our job is to disseminate the new knowledge being generated.
- What projects are you working on and what is your role in them?
I am involved in the following projects:
- CYBELE – Fostering precision agriculture and livestock farming through secure access to large-scale HPC-enabled virtual industrial experimentation environment empowering scalable big data analytics
- WaysTUP! – Value chains for the disruptive transformation of urban biowaste into biobased products in the city context
- ZeroW – Systemic Innovations Towards a Zero Food Waste Supply Chain
- agROBOfood – Business-Oriented Support to the European Robotics and Agri-food Sector, towards a network of Digital Innovation Hubs in Robotics
My roles on these projects vary from support, coordination and evaluation of the activites of the Pilots to exploitation and commercialization of the end-products resulting from them.
- Expect the best, anticipate the worst and be prepared for surprises. Is that how project managers work, what are the most important skills they must have and why?
That’s absolutely true. A good project manager needs to be creative in problem-solving. Issues that need attention regularly come up for us, and it’s our responsibility to predict potential problems in advance and brainstorm solutions in case these issues arise. Having backup plans and alternatives available can prevent costly delays and keep work on track.
I spend most of my time communicating with project partners, monitoring and reporting progress of a project, so good communication skills are necessary for every project manager. This includes written and verbal communication, presentation skills, ability to clarify and paraphrase, as well as ability to motivate colleagues in critical times and encourage collaboration.
And of course, management skills are essential. Project managers set goals, plan and organize activities, coordinate tasks and evaluate performance. Therefore, having a project manager in place is crucial to ensure the project launches on time, within the budget, and meets expectations.
- List five reasons why you love your job?
I love my job because I truly believe in what we are doing. I am proud to be a part of BioSense institute contributing to the delivery of innovative solutions to agriculture, and to the overall protection of environment and human well being on a local, country, regional and on a broader European level.
Working at BioSense institute is extremely exciting because we are working on cutting-edge ideas, but is also challenging. When writing and implementing projects, we always need to think out-of-the box, because we are working on someting completely new and I like the fact that this challenging environment allows me to grow as a business professional. I also have an opportunity to learn from colleagues from all over Europe who have diverse backgrounds. I have a chance to collaborate with the best scientists, engineers, business owners and managers in Europe.
We often travel to the other countries and have an opportunity to share knowlwedge and best practices among us. This way, we are staying the front runners in the field.
- How challenging is it to constantly monitor the process of digitalization of agriculture in Europe and try to implement good practices in our country and vice versa?
It is very challenging because even though across the world technology is rapidly changing the way food is produced, transformed, and distributed, at the same time, most farms around the world, as well as in Serbia, are small or mid-sized.
Digital solutions in agriculture offer small-scale farmers a range of opportunities. However, a variety of conditions must be met for small-scale farmers to receive access to these innovations:
- Internet applications should be adapted to the local context and languages and should offer solutions promoting rural literacy and education (e.g., by employing videos and images)
- They should take into consideration sociocultural factors such as the incorporation of indigenous expertise and traditional agricultural products
- They should be tailored to the users’ level of digital literacy
- They must be developed, tested, and improved in conjunction with the farmers/target groups, etc.
Diverse sources of rural income are another complicated piece of the puzzle. Even in Vojvodina where agricultural growth has recently been strongest, earnings from farming remain at around 20% on average. In other words, rural households secure 80% of their income from other sources, mainly pensions and off-farm work. This has profound implications for expansion or technological upgrades. Why would a farmer invest, if off-farm work offers better income?
- What are the biggest challenges you faced from the beginning of the project to the end and how did you turn the challenges into advantages?
The biggest challenge I faced was related to the implementation of the CYBELE project where we were developing a powerful HPC infrastructure to support nine different precision agriculture (PA) and precision livestock (PLF) demonstrators.
Developing scientific tools and applications on HPC Infrastructure is not an easy task. It requires strong and constant communication between scientists and IT developers from the very beginning of the project to its end. The role of project managers is extremely important to enable mutual understanding and collaboration between experts with different backgrounds.
Since we didn’t have a clear idea at the beginning of the project of all data sources that PA and PLF tools will need in order to deliver results, a few months after the HPC infrastructure has been developed we realized that the CYBELE platform lacks the capability for imaging (satellite, and other image sources) and geospatial data which was necessary for the execution of some demonstrators. This was a huge red flag in the project implementation.
Luckily, we, as project managers had regular meetings with all project partners, so we managed to early identify this issue and timely prepare efficient mitigation measure.
Hence, one of the most important lessons learnt from the project refers to time management. Even though the tasks were prioritized according to the importance and logical order, it was hard to estimate the delays caused by technical difficulties to perform certain activities.
Also, during its timeframe, CYBELE project faced different unexpected events that impacted its implementation to certain extent. One of the main unexpected events was Covid-19 pandemic which caused task delays since a lot of project partners suffered from the disease in different periods of time, relevant institutions were closed for some time and their support was needed at certain project phases, field works were delayed, etc.
In our project, in order to overcome unexpected challenges, we had intensive meeting schedules and negotiated project conditions.
This is crucial because in such complex projects even small flaws in early stages of the project implementation can have a high impact on the final project outcomes since they cannot be easily fixed at the later project stages.