When you think of project management what pops to mind? Overpacked gantt charts? 500 “urgent” emails flooding your inbox? Brett Harned knows another way to move you towards efficient processes and happy coworkers. He’s put his wisdom into a new book Project Management for Humans. I interviewed Brett to get to know the human behind the book.
Meet the Author
What did your childhood bedroom look like?
I kept it neat and organized. Even my “messes” were tidy. Like this huge stack of CDs I’d reorganize depending on my mood: alpha by artist, by genre, by favorite, or most played. I pinned things to a cork board rather than the walls.
When did you first catch the bug for project management?
Razorfish recruited me for a role as a PM. When they first reached out I didn’t know what that was! I’d been an account director with some project management responsibilities, but it wasn’t a formal role. As they explained what it was to me, I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s totally up my alley.”
What does everyone need to know about project management?
Everyone manages their own work in some way. Some people are good at it. Others? Not so much. If you want to be a good teammate, freelancer, business owner, you have to pick up some skills that will help you move things along and complete projects successfully.
Some folks have told you they’ve never worked with great project managers. Why do you think this is?
In digital, the role is new and undefined. We’ve always dealt with deadlines and budgets, but no one owned them. Now we’re see more PMs on teams, no standards of practice exist yet. This makes it tough for anyone to be truly good at the job. I want to change that! I wrote this book to help us take a step forward to design the role of PM for the digital industry.
Have you ever had a project management fail? What happened? What did you learn?
Where to start? I’ve failed a lot, and learned much each time. Once I managed a website redesign project where the UX team had designed some amazing forward-thinking functionality. It tied to the client’s strategy and took them in the right direction. The client loved it and all appeared well.
Until I showed the wireframes to my developers and they told me the functionality was completely out of scope.
I’d failed to double check with the developers before seeing the client. Now, it fell on me to fix it. I was nervous to deliver the bad news back to the client. So I engaged the help of my team and my I to prepare for the conversation. We walked through possible scenarios. If the client gets upset, what do I do? If he doesn’t like the options I’ll present, then what?
I got the client on the phone and broke the news. I apologized and suggested other options that might work. He was definitely disappointed, but the project ended up doing really well. Most experienced people understand that scope creep happens. The best way to address it is head on—and come with alternate solutions.
What gets in the way of successful project management?
Fear. If you’re too nervous or scared to have a needed conversation, or force an issueyou’ll fail. If you ignore minor issues, they’ll get worse. Be confident in your own problem solving skills and invite your team in to tackle issues as soon as you can.
What’s the biggest benefit of successful project management?
Good project management makes everything else easy. Work happens more smoothly when you you provide a level of organization and transparency. And communicate in a timely with the people on the project. If a PM runs interference on communications to let the team focus on the work, the team ends up feeling happier and being more productive.
If members of my team are hopelessly disorganized and resistant to changing their ways how can I help them?
Remember that not every solution will work for every team member. Be flexible with the way you manage and communicate people. If people are completely resistant, explain to them why organization is important. After they get that, work with them on a solution that makes them comfortable.
What do you recommend folks read from the book to motivate themselves to dig in?
The first chapter in the book covers what project management is, and how it applies to everyone. It’s not just about having a PM on a team; it’s about understanding how project management practices can help you get work done. I also think that the personal stories in the book help to relate very basic, non-work interactions to the principles and practices of PM.
What other profession would you like to try if you could?
Maybe I’d start a small business like a restaurant, or work outdoors. No matter what I did, I’d be able to use my experience as a PM and consultant to help me.
Knowing what you know now, what advice you’d give to your younger self?
Be you. Follow happiness. (Thankfully, I feel as though I’ve done this for the most part)
Those who know me well will laugh, but I actually started out as a project manager. It was the late 80’s. I was in grad school when group projects first became the rage. But professors didn’t bother to teach us how to manage the projects they assigned us. So my teammates and I would scramble around like ants without a trail to follow. We’d duplicate each other’s work, fall behind schedule, point fingers at each other. Eventually I’d volunteer for the dreaded responsibility of tracking our projects. Except I wasn’t equipped for the role so things turned from bad to worse. I could’ve used some guidance back then. Like Brett Harned’s project management book, Project Management for Humans–that just came out today!
Maybe like me, you fell by accident into project management. Or you work with project managers and yet, things feel close to coming unglued. Project Management for Humans teaches you how to recoup your time, resources and sanity. It’s a short, practical and enjoyable playbook you’ll want to read and keep handy to help you resolve problems before they mushroom into crises.
Even if you’re a professional project manager, Brett’s project management book can help you too. It goes beyond teaching traditional systems. You’ll learn how to tackle the interpersonal challenges that can often derail a project in unexpected ways.
I’ve been a project manager for most of my professional life. Yes, I gladly deal with numbers, scope documents, spreadsheets, and the things that make many people go cross-eyed. To many people, the work (and the role) feels really robotic. But it’s not. There’s a human side to project management, because people make projects happen, and people solve the problems (or prevent them from happening).
I am absolutely thrilled about this project, because it will help people who unintentionally get stuck in a variety of common project problems. Project Management for Humans is designed to provide project management guidance through stories, practical tips, shortcuts, and templates for full-time project managers as well as people who assume the PM role in their design, development, UX, and content strategy roles. I’ll address everything from creating solid project estimates to creating great project plans, and tackling the most difficult communications. My hope is to make it a fun read and a helpful reference.
I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but I am so ready to do this!