Project Management & Planning Articles

Are Project Managers Aliens? Interview With the Lazy Project Manager

by Christophe Primault
Published on 15 February 2012

Interview PeterTaylor Project Management ExpertWe asked Peter Taylor, aka LazyPM, a few questions about himself, how he defines project management, what are the benefits of project management for businesses, what people should be careful about when choosing a project management tool and where to learn more about project management.

Read on to discover what Aliens have to do with project management and why laziness and productivity can be compatible!

Can you describe yourself briefly and what is your passion?

'Lazy but oh so productive'!

Well that is the simple definition, add to that author, speaker, PMO leader and husband, father etc. But the constant over the last 27 years has been 'project manager'.

And my passion is, not surprisingly, 'project management' - or more specifically spreading the value and pleasure of project management to as wide an audience as possible.

These days I have the ability to do this through my books, through my speaking and workshops, and through the power of the social networks that all of us can connect to and learn from.

I just wish that there were so many ways to gain wisdom and advice when I started out - books, blogs, websites, podcasts, and an easy connection to a whole world of project managers through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook etc. Young PMs should really take advantage of this.

How did you come to project management?

Like many project managers of my generation I suspect, by accident. I worked on a team implementing a software system, which I found enjoyable, and then became a manufacturing consultant in a software house. By means of not messing up any project I worked on I eventually became a 'project manager'.

It was actually 5 years after I had that title that I ever went on a PM training course and 10 years before I took any form of certification. I am pleased these days that we have a generation of business managers coming through that are trained in project management as a core skill.

How do you define project management?

That is an interesting one and is something of a challenge to all of us. I mean how can you simply explain project management to people outside of project management? It is not easy.

I asked this question in a LinkedIn discussion some time ago in a question entitled 'Explain project management to an Alien'. We all know the terms of definition for project management but, to get outsiders to understand what we do, how would you simply describe project management to someone who has no idea what it is?

Now it may just be me - but I am pretty sure it isn't - people outside of project management don't get project management. My family has no idea what I really do and here's a test, ask any project manager you know to answer one simple question. They must answer quickly, no thinking time; just respond! OK. Look them in the eye and ask them, "What does a project manager do?" I bet half of them will mumble something along the lines of "they manage projects." Not very helpful.

So back to the 'alien encounter' question I feel that we need to get a few things out of the way here. Naturally, as expected, people responded with comments ranging from "If an alien arrived here from outer space then they probably know more about project management than we do" - a fair point - to a comment written in 'Klingon' - and of course the classic "I thought that project managers were aliens" - very good and 'no' but the sponsors could well be.

The full article can be found here Alien Project Management

And my favorite definition? Well it was "Getting something new and exciting done with a group of people!"

Who should be concerned about project management?

Pretty much anyone these days, I mean we are all project managers in some way - organizing a holiday or family event for example - and so the basic PM skills are of use to every person.

But in a business sense then I believe that all managers and executives of the future should have an understanding of project management as part of their core skill set. Projects are a growing part of every business and projects are an intrinsic part of business strategy delivery - therefore a good manager needs to understand 'projects' and what makes a project different from 'business as usual'.

How can it be useful to a small business? What piece of advice can you share?

Just as in large organizations, project management capability is important and valuable, but more likely to not be considered or prioritized. But of course it should be since a change in a small business can have a much more significant impact (positive or negative) on that business - the outcome becomes far more binary that in a larger organisation. Add to that a large organisation is far more likely to have a mature project capability then the risk of failure is significantly reduced.

So in a small business it is critical that at least the basic project management skills are learned and applied - it will pay dividends.

In your experience, what are the most common concerns?

Cost is always at the top of the list. How can costs be controlled and managed? This is a typical dilemma in that project management is often perceived as an overhead and an added cost and yet the very purpose of project management is to reduce the risk of cost overruns and deliver the value and benefits of the project that has been commissioned.

Risk is there as well; change, and projects are all about change, is good and businesses need change to deliver strategic improvements but there is always a risk in adopting change. Most people are afraid of change and risk is often a way in which that fear is represented.

Linked to cost and linked to risk there is the 'resource' issue - does the organization have the right skills available to lead (PM) and to deliver (subject matter experts) the required deliverable?

Virtual project teams are a rising issue as the scope of the projects these days expands in their stakeholder reach and costs (once again) are put under pressure thereby limiting 'face time' for project team members. Here the advent of web technology is one way to compensate for this.

Expectation management is another concern - or it should be for any project manager. Communicating skills are number one for all project managers and part of this is dealing with all of those stakeholders that your project involves and impacts and making sure that their expectations of what your project is all about (and will deliver) are under controlled and in line with reality. Get that wrong and you (and your project) will be in big trouble.

What should a business be looking at when searching for project management software?

When I ran a PMO in a recent organization we focused on the 5 P's - People, Process, Performance, Promotion and 'PMIS' (Project Management Information System). Apart from using the basic office tools. the system side was put to the back as we lead with the People and Process and then the Performance and Promotion. Eventually, when we had been up and running for over two years we then felt we were ready to define the solution needed to support the project management community and therefore specified, researched and deployed the application that we selected.

The point here being that software selection too early on - when you may not yet know exactly what you want/need - is the wrong approach in my view.

What are your favorite project management solutions and why?

I don't have favorites I just use what is in place typically… It is not about the solution so much as about the people.

Where do you find the best information about project management?

I go back to the many ways there are to gain wisdom and advice on project management these days - books, blogs, websites, podcasts, webinars, workshops and an easy connection to whole world of project managers through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook etc.

I also attend as many project management conferences as possible - local and national - and here you get to listen to and meet a lot of great project managers willing to share their experience.

And, if you are a new or 'green bean' project manager, try and find yourself an experienced project manager that will act as a mentor or coach. This is a truly invaluable way to learn how to be a good project manager.

Thanks for the insights Peter and I would also advise readers to check your project management resources packed blog The Lazy Project Manager

You can also check this infographic about Popular Online Project Management Tools if you need help making a decision about which online project management software is a good fit for your business.