Words of Wisdom For The Project Manager


This week we had the pleasure of speaking with Elizabeth Harrin about some of the pain points project managers face and how to fix them.

Elizabeth Harrin, MA, FAPM, MBCS is Director of The Otobos Group, a project communications consultancy specialising in copywriting for project management firms. She is the author of Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World, Social Media for Project Managers and Customer-Centric Project Management. She also writes the award-winning blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management. You can find Elizabeth online at www.otobosgroup.com or on Twitter @pm4girls.

As a project manager, what is the biggest problem you face in meetings?

I think the biggest problem is trying to keep the meeting on track while still taking accurate notes. You can get round this by having someone else take the minutes, but it really does need to be someone you trust and who knows about the project. I’ve tried it by ‘borrowing’ an admin assistant and without knowing the background to the project they didn’t know what was important to write down. Consequently, some important points were missed.

How do you get coworkers to adopt productivity best practices?

I don’t think you can force it – they have to be encouraged to see the value in using productivity techniques. I also don’t believe that one approach works for everyone. One of my previous managers, for example, swore by his to do list on his iPad. But I’ve also worked with people who prefer to use a notebook to store their actions in. Personally, I prefer paper but because I work from a variety of different locations and on different initiatives for different clients I tend to end up with lots of bits of it and not one consolidated notebook. I do also have a to do list on my iPad for when I’m traveling.

How has project management changed over the past decade?

That’s a big question! There are a number of things that have jumped out at me:

  • The introduction of social media tools in the workplace. We’ve moved beyond Friends Reunited-style networking to systems that help us work better professionally, both with external networks and colleagues on the same project.
  • Allied to that, the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). I’ve had a tablet for a number of years and it has made a difference to how I work. Plus there are literally dozens of apps all proclaiming to help you get things done better/faster/cheaper. It does take a while to find a few you personally like.
  • More emphasis on people. And less on following rigid processes. Thankfully. The introduction of a section on stakeholder management in the new PMBOK is an example of this, although we’ve seen the shift to better models of team and stakeholder engagement develop over the past few years.
  • More emphasis on leadership. There’s a move towards knowing why you are doing what you are doing. Previously, there was a belief that project managers implemented other people’s strategies and we were responsible for hitting deadlines and keeping track of the money. Today, we’re seeing project managers take on a role where they can challenge senior managers about why projects are being done and advise about premature project closure when required. This is a massive move towards project leadership instead of simply implementing processes.

What books, podcasts or speakers have influenced you the most?

Anthony Mersino’s Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers is a long term favourite (he’s just brought out a second edition, as well). I listened to Cornelius Fichtner’s podcast long before I ever met him, and his dedication to good quality, affordable training materials has inspired me to branch out into designing my own e-coursethis year. I also like the writing of Scott Berkun, although not all his books are about project management. The last speaker I heard who truly forced me to think differently was James Kane, who talked about the science of loyalty.

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