Does project management ever feel confusing or annoying to you? Whether you’re a project manager or not, your answer is probably YES for a number of reasons.
In their new book, award-winning project professional Susie Palmer-Trew and best-selling author Peter Taylor (The Lazy Project Manager) cut through all the cruft and get to the core of what project management is really about. Project Management: It’s All Bollocks! is a quick, irreverent read that’s full of to-the-point guidance on everything from aligning yourself to your role and managing stakeholders to handling change and so much more.
In this episode of Time Limit, Peter and Susie discuss their new book and dig in on:
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Susie Palmer-Trew is an award winning project professional and Director, Change and Improvement at The Open University, enabling others to get shit done in a world tied up in red tape. She is the co-creator of Open to Change, avid risk taker and professional trouble maker.
Peter Taylor is author of the Amazon number 1 best-selling project management book, The Lazy Project Manager, and professional speaker, having given 350 lectures around the world in over 25 countries. He has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.
Brett Harned: Hey, welcome back to Time Limit. I'm sorry there's been a little bit of a gap in our programming. With the pandemic, which basically has everyone working from home, it's been a little bit more difficult to get folks scheduled because remote project management isn't easy. And getting used to working from home can be a challenge as well. So I hope that you're doing okay. We work remotely at TeamGantt, so my setup is pretty much the same. I just have to make sure my kids and my dog stay quiet while I record. That said, sometimes getting a clean recording can be tough, even in normal times, especially when there are three people on the interview. So on this interview, you might hear some background noise, but I think the content of the interview itself will make you ignore those random sounds of paper moving and doors closing.
Brett Harned: So in this episode, I was really excited to welcome Susie Palmer-Trew and Peter Taylor to the show. Susie is an award winning project professional and the Director of Change and Improvement at The Open University. You may recognize Peter's name, he's the author of the Amazon number one bestselling project management book, The Lazy Project Manager. He's also a professional speaker and has given 350 lectures around the world in 25 countries. I've had the pleasure of meeting, and introducing Peter as the opening keynote speaker at the Digital PM Summit 2019. In that talk, he got a room full of Digital PMs to sing along to Let It Go. It was poignant considering there were 325 project managers in a room at Disney Springs, kind of funny. Anyway, Susie and Peter joined me to talk about their new book, Project Management: It's All Bollocks! I think you'll like a lot of what they've got to say in the interview about the wide world of project management and how PMs can truly own the future of the role. I hope you enjoy it.
Brett Harned: Susie and Peter, thank you so much for joining me for this episode of Time Limit. And thanks so much for sending me a copy of your book, which is called Project Management: It's All Bollocks! The Complete Exposure of the World Of, and the Value Of, Project Management. That's a mouthful. It's a super short book, but I really enjoyed it. So thanks for being here with me and thanks for joining.
Susie Palmer: Our pleasure, thanks for having us.
Peter Taylor: Our pleasure.
Brett Harned: So I'm really excited to talk about the book that you coauthored. Like I mentioned, it's a short read. It's also a really irreverent read. It's very funny and it's actually really helpful. So I was thinking before we dig into the content of the book itself and talk about project management, I just have to know how you two got connected because in the book description, it says you vaguely know each other and you barely like each other. So is it true? How did you kind of get together? And how did you come up with the idea for the book?
Peter Taylor: Oh, it was a holiday romance actually. That's how it all started. Susie would disagree at this point, strongly. No, do you mind if I take this one, Suze?
Susie Palmer: No, go for it.
Peter Taylor: I love this story. So I was in, we were both actually at a conference in Athens, in Greece. And we met, I was opening keynote. I did my thing. And at some point later on, Suze made some comment about some aspects of project management and she came up with the phrase, "Well, it's all bollocks, isn't it?" I loved it. She was so irreverent and so challenging that after we departed this epic meeting in Athens, when these two great minds came together, I thought, "I'll play with this one." And I reached out to her with a suggestion of a very humorous ... It is pretty much in the back of the book is a description of how we came to meet up, et cetera.
Peter Taylor: And how we engage with each other, and challenge each other and take the Mickey out of each other as well. And I was delighted that Suze came back and said, "Yeah, okay, let's do it." And so from that, we connected at that conference, and the book came from that conference. And then the rest is now history, and publishing of it in a very attractive pink cover that we want everybody to read.
Brett Harned: Love it. It's great. So I want to dig into project management. And in the book, you say the world of PM is annoying and confusing. Can one of you expand on that a little bit? Because I don't disagree with you at all. I think as someone who is in project management in a small niche of digital project management, I've found it, the wide world of PM, to be annoying and confusing because there's no one way of doing things. There are lots of different camps, so to speak. And I'm just, where are you coming from with that kind of description?
Susie Palmer: Should I take this one?
Brett Harned: Absolutely.
Susie Palmer: I sort of think [inaudible] you started to answer the question yourself because there is no one way of doing something. There is no ultimate leader. There is no single group. When we look to do our jobs, there's no single lighthouse saying, "Everybody this way." And what you come across is conflict in ideas, and conflicts in ambition, and conflicts in groups that ultimately go to war. And I use war loosely because obviously nobody's harmed in project management, but it's not helpful. And it's not helpful to those that are new to it, the business, to the profession is not new to those who are choosing to work with project managers. It does nothing for our reputation. And we end up in this spiral of just getting annoyed, frustrated, and confused with each other, with our profession, and then with the people that we're working with.
Susie Palmer: So a big part of it was around creating some space to calm that annoyance and confusion, and just to try and show some different ways to pinpoint some directions, to give a bit of clarity for people to be curious again about a profession that both Peter and I love.
Brett Harned: So would you attribute all of that to part of the reason why it's so difficult for some folks to be a PM?
Peter Taylor: Yeah, I think I would. I think people just find it confusing and still project management surprises people. Suddenly people will become a leader of some sort of project, or change and it surprises them because they never anticipated doing this. And there's just no clarity, as Susie said, there's no single points of reference says, "Oh, I'm going to do this. I'm going to be in charge of some sort of project to this point in time. So here I go, here's my ABC guide to be a project manager." It just doesn't exist. And one of the things that I talk about is this that we are in this world where there are multilayers inside organizations and there are projects as projects. Now this is where these are big, hairy, scary changes that are led by a full time project manager, but there's ever increasing middle point there.
Peter Taylor: And something as a group we wanted to reach out to you with this book, which is, these are people who are delivering change as part of their day to day job. And this phrase that I use which is projects as usual because all of that sits on top of business as usual because that's what your organization does. But these kind of strata exist. And therefore even to start a conversation about, "Well, as a project manager, what am I? What am I supposed to be doing? Am I supposed to be dedicated project manager, am I supposed to be leading change as part of my day to day job, what does that actually mean? How do I work with everybody, and what is my process? What is my method?" All of those things make it a very complex world. Even in one organization, you can find a number of different ways of doing something, of doing this project delivery process.
Peter Taylor: And so I think it is just generally challenging. And we wanted to in this book, but at least provide some sort of simple reference point for anybody who is involved in projects is that, let's cut all the crap out. And this is the heart of what we're talking about here. And now take that, understand it, apply it, and then wrap what else you need around it to be successful in growing an organization.
Susie Palmer: And chill out a bit.
Brett Harned: Chill out a bit. Absolutely. I agree with you. It doesn't have to be so difficult. I think sometimes we make it really difficult on ourselves. I also really like the personal approach that you take in the book around the role of the PM. So in the quick guide at the end of the book, you basically say that understanding yourself and the role that you play in delivery is really important. And I personally have found that's a really big issue for project managers because they're often in a job where they feel isolated and sometimes even devalued. And that's based on the organization that they're in, or the team that they're working with. And to me, that's, bollocks. But how do you guide someone to get to an understanding where they believe that they play an important role in delivery? And they have a firm understanding of the role that they're in when things are just always an uphill battle.
Susie Palmer: I think for me, it's very much about knowing yourself and knowing yourself early on, and this is in part who we wrote the book for. So especially for me, I wrote the book for me when I was 20, not me when I was 35. To help me find that path to understand who I am. Because if you know what your values are, and if you know what believe in, you know what gets you out of bed, and you know what pisses yourself off. Your ability to position yourself into a role whether that be a pure project role, or one that spans out into change, or projects as usual territory. You'll be able to find that groove and have that impact, and deliver value in a way that goes with you. So you won't always be fighting against the grain. You will be doing something that sings in the way that you do it.
Susie Palmer: And I think that's a really hard thing to establish, but the earlier you understand what you are, and what you identify as the easier it will be. Many people that we work with don't necessarily identify first as a project manager. That's not the first thing on my list. We're parents, we're partners, we're women, we're friends, we're advocates, we're adventurers. And if you can find that part of you, and then let the project management section follow. You'll project manage within your identity, and in harmony with your identity. And naturally our position is that therefore this stuff should be a lot easier and a lot more fun.
Brett Harned: I agree with you. I love that. I think the worst PMs are the ones who are trying so hard to follow what a book says. And not just be themselves and just connect with a team, understand the challenge that they're in, and reach out to those people for the help that they need. The good PM's are the ones who are good at all those things, and can just be comfortable in their own skin, and in their own role. And relax a little bit, like you said, Susie. So one of the questions while we're talking about what PM should be. One of the questions I get fairly often from project managers is whether certification is worth it. I'm sure both of you get that question too. And I'm just curious, how do you address that question, or how do you guide people into certification?
Peter Taylor: Well, I think in my view on certification is if you want to then fine, go ahead and do it. The number of PMOs who will be always supported are project managers who are becoming certified wherever suitable for them. Different parts of the world require different certification to be recognized by clients, et cetera. But the point I always made to them is it's not about you becoming certified that is really important to me anyway. It's about you applying your time to become certified because whilst we might say, "Well, we pay for your membership for that organization. We pay for your exam at this organization to become certified." But at the end of the day, it's your time you need to put in to actually demonstrate you can actually achieve the certification. And that is a much greater mark I think of attitude of project managers.
Peter Taylor: That's the way I always looked at it. As far as people concerned, I've worked with great project managers who aren't certified, I've worked with some good project managers that are certified. And I've worked with some crap project managers, both ways around. In itself it is not necessarily a proof point, I don't believe. Some people can find it quite simple to adapt to the process, to achieve certification. You'll see there are quite a few people out there on LinkedIn, et cetera, with an unbelievable number of certifications above their name. But does that make them brilliant at what they do, questionable. So if it works for you, that's fine, but I don't think it's what makes a good project manager.
Brett Harned: I agree. And I think combined with what Susie said earlier, having that foundation of a certification, or at least some level of education is by all means helpful. But actually being comfortable in the role, and doing is as good as you can do in the role is probably more important. Because you always adapt to your surroundings, or at least I feel like as a PM, I do.
Susie Palmer: Definitely. Part of the book's, I'll give away an entire paragraph now. So I, when I started out in project management, my interest start's from an academic perspective. So I actually began with a master's in project management, which is arguably a bit of an unnecessary academic decision. But then I couldn't get a job because nobody understood what that meant, and no one could see how I could apply it. So then in a moment of desperation, I basically bought PRINCE2. All the certifications are available, crept out an exam and expected to instantly become a project manager. And I didn't, and to a certain extent, I probably got worse because I got more attitude and more confidence. But absolutely, all the gear, no idea was the position I ended in. And it's only scroll forward five, 10 years. And that's when you start to see the value of those accreditations when I can bring them in and use them now as part of a broad skillset, rather than just being completely reliant on single certificates. I think you have to choose wisely.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. I want to tie this into the seven cracking ideas in the book. So I really liked in the book, how you say that project life is not painting by numbers. And sometimes I feel like there are some project managers out there who want that. And I alluded to that earlier to me that's really problematic because I do think project management is a lot of common sense. And you say that too, in the beginning of the chapter. And I think that the seven cracking ideas to make project management better are really, to me, those were the real meat of the book. And I don't want to give those all away, but I'm curious about how the two of you came up with an agreed on those seven ideas, because I think that was a lot of information to distill in a short amount of space.
Brett Harned: And I think you did a really great job with it. So can you just talk a little bit about the inspiration for those ideas and then maybe what your process was to work through them? Because I know it's not easy to come up with that kind of thing.
Peter Taylor: Sue do we have to pretend that we did a lot of the hard work, and put it into this book for months and months of discussion.
Susie Palmer: Yeah. You tell that side of the story.
Peter Taylor: Okay, fine. Yeah. Absolutely. Actually, we came up with them very quickly if I remember rightly. After Athens, et cetera, we pretty much worked remotely. And we had sessions where we just talked to each other about a topic recorded it, transcribed it, et cetera, which is always it was good fun. Particularly, with Susie having a young baby in the background, occasionally, which made some of the transcriptions very entertaining. But if I remember right, I think we pretty much went straight in with the seven idea... We wrote about seven, or eight, or nine, or something like that. And they distilled down into one logical ones from that from our point of view.
Peter Taylor: I don't remember a huge discussion around that. We seem to just agree, and then explored what that those agreements were and what sat below it. And a lot of the writing was done on a shared basis and then bring in, each person would bring what they'd done to the other person for interaction, discussion challenge, et cetera. But I have to say this wasn't an onerous writing experience, despite all the teasing, I might do with Susie. It was a fairly straightforward thing at least that's my memory, but I'm quite old and Suze might remember it differently.
Susie Palmer: No, I think it's true. Ultimately the cracking ideas stemmed from all of our conversations where we'd hit something like, "Yes, that's a good one." We enjoyed talking about something, or it's sparked into a discussion, or it went down an avenue... And it was like we have something here. So we basically made a list of all of the, "Ooh, That's a good thing." And then started to bring them together. And I think by the time we got to the end, I can't remember how many we had, but we did that view of is there anything missing from our list? And I think the only thing that we added on that almost not didn't come naturally, but was an add on to the final is probably our last one, which is not necessarily an advisory point.
Susie Palmer: It's an invitation, it's a requirement in an accident and expectation on the profession to go and be a part of its future. And I think that's probably the only one where we choreographed it to help land our message rather than in a natural part of a lot of chatter.
Peter Taylor: You're right. It is the heart of the book. The front end of the book is just us getting some things off my chest. Because we were really quite grumpy, and it's called, The bloody annoying world of project management. And there were many that many things that annoyed. So once we got out of the way, we felt a whole lot better, and allowed us to move on to, Second cracking ideas. And then we extended that a little bit about how to get some stuff done, and stay cool, and like that. But it's the seven cracking ideas it's definitely the heart of the book. And the stuff that we think all project managers should understand, and contemplate on. Because I think our view is that it will make them a better project manager, a result of understanding that. And we tried to be quite practical as well. Not just talk about concepts, but offer up some advice as well.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. That's why I liked the book and the reason why I thought it would be difficult to pull those things together. Is that anytime I think about project management, and what people should know, or do kind of what you outlined. I end up supersizing every item. Every item is connected to another. And I think you did such a great job of distilling what's needed in each one. Any chance I could ask both of you, which is maybe your favorite, or maybe is most impactful to you or has been most impactful to you as a PM?
Peter Taylor: Ladies first.
Susie Palmer: I knew you were going to do that. Promises this is not a cop out. I really love all of the cracking ideas. So to say, one of them is my favorite is unfair on what would be the remaining six. There are a couple that really, really resonate me in terms of some of the stories I got to tell as part of it. So I think for me, my favorite inspiration, which is a response to a cracking idea where we bring them to life. Is referred to as the one at the interview where I tell a very personal story about something going horrendously wrong, but being one of the best lessons I've probably learned in my career today.
Susie Palmer: And then a cracking idea in its totality will probably, I would stick with number seven, which is shape the future. Which is a call to action to all of our peers, colleagues, friends, PMs to stand up, be counted and to directly contribute towards the profession that we're all trying to grow and love.
Peter Taylor: From my point of view it keeps changing because this is a question we've been asked a few times. And it is one of those things. It goes back to what Sue said, which is actually, they're all great. We love them all because every time I'm asked a question, it's right, I changed my mind. But today I'm being drawn towards the one, which is failure is an option. It's really accepting that perfection is pointless and achievable. So just accept you will make some failures, and you can recover from those, and you can learn from those. But I don't think seven, there's not that many. I think people just love them all absolutely.
Brett Harned: I think they should too. They should practice them all, or learn from them all at least. I think for me, the one that resonated the most for me was, Engage the willing, work with the able and deal with the rest later. The idea of talking about how people ruin projects. That is really what it comes down to is that people ruin everything really. But when you're in a project setting and things go wrong, it can be a domino effect starting with one person. So I really appreciated that. Susie, I want to come back to what you've mentioned a couple of times about the future of PM, because I really appreciated that too. And, and really how you're telling project managers to own project management. So I'm curious to hear from both of you, where do you see the world of project management heading in the next five, 10, 15 years?
Susie Palmer: Oh, you can go first Peter.
Peter Taylor: Thank you for that. You're so kind. Where do I see it heading, I think it's going to be an interesting mix. I think it's going to be a lot more of the same, as we move forward, stagger forward, blunder forward, whatever. I do see a growth as I described already in this growth in the middle point of projects, as usual stuff, people doing changes as part of their day to day job. How do we help them? I also see huge opportunity come in from the world of AI, supporting project managers, getting rid of some of the tedious, boring stuff that they don't really like doing. And they don't do it very well as a result. But putting them back in a position where they can use or those people's skills they're supposed to have, which is we talked about projects being about people.
Peter Taylor: So I think empowering projects managers to spend more time on the people, because really, if I cast my mind back to me the decades ago, when I started in pushing management, that's all I really had. I had no idea what being a project manager was all about. I merely, reached or used what little skills I had as far as working with people, and communicate to them. And somehow survived in that period of time of that central project management. So I just see that as a potential future, a lot more people involved in change, most of them will not be core project managers. I don't believe in the future there still will be project managers do feel that this AI empowerment is going to be a huge benefit to project managers in the future.
Brett Harned: Agreed.
Susie Palmer: I think for me, ultimately, it's not dissimilar. We spent a lot of time talking about this stuff. I think in the main, I would really like to see is the gap between project management and change management, closing, narrowing, being more of partners with each other. Because there's a massive power in the scope of what change management can do when it's put together with project management. So less differentiation, more partnership and more confidence in that partnership. I expect a [inaudible] from an experience point of view, that project management, the skill will become more generalist. And more people will be able to access it, and more people will understand it, and acknowledge it. And it will become almost less of a thing, or more of an expectation, which will then create space for people to become really fiery experts around certain aspects of project management.
Susie Palmer: So you can bring in the big guns to help really resolve some complexity, or some something that's beyond a natural capability. So I think that combination of expert and generalist capability growth will be a brilliant thing to see. And if our actual delivery can be informed by pieces of setbacks of AI territory, what data analytics, and evidence to really ground our delivering something that's really solid and confident. I think that would be a phenomenal thing to see.
Brett Harned: Yeah. I agree with you. I think there are things that you both said that are really interesting. I love the idea of the generalist PM. I think at the heart and this is just what I feel personally, and I've put out there is that as humans, we all have skills to be project managers. There are things that we do in our day to day lives that are project management. So I like the idea of more people recognizing that. And then also I think what if PM's were to become more strategic, and fill in more roles within a company that aren't just about keeping a schedule, and a budget together. I really like where you're going with that. And I think one of the things that is going to help to move us forward is growth and community. And Peter, I know you recently launched a new community called The PM tribe. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that?
Peter Taylor: Yeah, of course. We're thinking it's fairly time with everything that's going on is a virtual community. It's led by myself and five others. People like Rick Morris, John Stenbeck, Alana Hill, Elizabeth Harrin, Colin D. Ellis so some fairly well known names from around the world. And the principle is it's an open community, so it's not about training, or certification, or anything like that. It's a join once, pay once, you're here for lifetime access type approach. And what we think is different is that each of the faculty leads, we run a weekly call within specialists groups. So my group is around working smarter, not harder, the productivity, the essence behind a lady project manager. And we have an open conversation.
Peter Taylor: People can dial in, and join in, and comment and challenge and discuss weekly, or we also record of course. But we see as a very dynamic community that is very much in the moment, and it's not replacing anything else that's out there. It's just supplementing something. And the strength really it is as of now it is in the moment. It's what you want to talk about next week will be actually what's happening right now. And it's that fast pace moving. It's The PM tribe, the thepmtribe.com is the place to go to find it.
Brett Harned: Yeah. And we'll put a link to that in our show notes. Thanks for touching on that. Thanks for allowing me and the community. So we end every podcast episode with a question that is really in keeping with the theme of this show title, which is Time Limit. So I'm wondering if each of you might offer a tip or two for project managers who are always feeling stretched for time and resources. What are the types of things that you recommend folks do that basically they need to do in order to do a great job, but that might also save them a little bit of time to maybe free up time to focus on the people, or whatever is more important in the moment.
Susie Palmer: Should I go me go, you go.
Brett Harned: Go, go, go, go.
Susie Palmer: So I think for me, one of them is probably a bit of a mindset. So at the start of a project, or a role, however you want to do your work. Understand early on what good enough looks like because your version of good enough is never going to be the same as somebody else's. So if you understand what it is you're shooting for your ability to hit it the first time round, or at least the second time round is exponentially increased. If you go in there shooting in the dark, you will always be a bit on the back foot. You'll never quite nail it. And therefore you'll burn time, and you'll burn effort, and you'll burn energy and enthusiasm. So understand what good enough is and only deliver good enough, nobody needs protection. It's not a pair of jeans.
Susie Palmer: And then I think the second one for me, and I've probably said it a few times already just chill out a bit. If we all come down and take a step back on a big, deep breath before we opened our mouths. What we said will be more helpful. What we said will be calmer, and what would said we will be taking a bit further. So no worries you're trying to do, and calm down about it because you're going to be okay.
Peter Taylor: Yeah. I think from my point of view, it's around the areas of if you think about the demand on your time then prioritize and prioritize properly. I talk about the 80/20 rule where at least 20% of what you do delivers 80% return on your personal investment. So start to prioritize things properly, and don't get overwhelmed by everything because not absolutely everything needs to be done. What needs to be done is what's those things that are in that 20% that are important and impactful. And they're the ones you need to throw your efforts at and get working on. And if you do that you actually feel a lot better about yourself moving forward. And you feel a bit more energized to think to crack on with the rest of the things you think you have to do. But again, don't aim for everything, don't aim for perfection, don't aim for a 100% or beyond. Achieve what can be achieved in a realistic manner, and consider what is really important to the project as you start to plan your time, and the rest of your projects team time as well.
Brett Harned: Excellent. Thank you both so much. And thank you so much for joining me, and also thanks for bringing such a fresh irreverent voice to project management. Peter, I know that you've been doing this for a while, but I really do appreciate it. And I think it's sorely needed. And Susie you've said it so many times, just chill out, have fun with the job, do a good job, work hard. But also know that it doesn't always have to be so serious. So I really do appreciate that. And I thank you both for that in the book and for the book as well, but also just for joining me and talking to today. Thanks so much.
Susie Palmer: Thank you for having us.
Peter Taylor: Yeah. Likewise.
Brett Harned: Have a great rest of your day. All right, folks, that's the end of the episode. I definitely recommend you check out the book, and The PM tribe community links to those are in our show notes on the website. Also, if you have a few minutes and are so inclined, we'd love a positive review on the podcast, wherever you listen. Doing that will help us to get more listeners and to attract more guests. And if you're interested in joining us to talk about your own work, reach out. We'll be back soon with another episode, and an interview with an author of another new book that I think you're really going to like. But I'm going to leave it at that. Thanks so much for joining me, and have a great rest of your day.