Beyond The Lazy Project Manager: Our Peter Taylor Interview

Peter Taylor is an authority on project management and the PMO Project management expert

He writes and speaks globally on productivity and work-life balance, and is the author of the best-selling books and The Lazy Project Manager (Infinite Ideas, 2010) and The Lazy Winner (Infinite Ideas, 2011).

We sat down with Peter to talk about his latest book on project health, and to learn some of his useful tips for new project managers and senior project leaders.

What have you been up to recently?

I’ve been spending time advising and guiding project managers and PMO leaders on ways to improve project success and individual project skills.

PM expert Peter Taylor on project efficiency

You’re an independent consultant, speaker and author now, and your latest book has just come out. Why did you want to write a book about project health checks?

I have long been an advocate of project health checks, and perhaps less of an advocate for personal health checks, but that just makes me normal! I felt this was an area where there was less focus in project management books – or at least no one book had covered the range of project “health” tools and process throughout the project lifecycle.

You know I believe that it doesn’t matter where you are in the project lifecycle, even if you are nursing a wicked hangover from the post-project go-live celebratory party, there is always benefit and opportunity to do some sort of “health” check and learn something of value. Perhaps not for this project but certainly for the next one, and the one after that, and so on.

Get Fit with the Lazy Project Manager is a look at the reason, the value, the process and the opportunities to assess the health of everyone’s projects in order to sleep easier at night, safe in the knowledge of inevitable project success – and I am using the word “inevitable” with the common meaning of “more likely than before,” you understand.

What did you learn from writing it?

Every project teaches you something and writing a book is no different, from my very first book, The Lazy Project Manager, through to this latest one, I uncover new ideas and thoughts each and every time.

With regards to my new book, I think the main thing I learned is that, in talking to quite a few companies around the world, very few consider the value of the connected flow of health activities from project conception to project closure. Many think of health as a point in time matter, and this is of course good that they think of it all, but really is it much more than that.

Okay, so if businesses don’t think of health as a lifecycle-long thing, tell me what I should know about health checks. What are the benefits?

Now I think we have to start with some terminology clarification before we get to “what a health check is.” There is often a lot of confusion with regards to the three, incorrectly interchangeably used terms – Audit, Health check and Post-mortem. I was even astonished to hear someone once talk about going Agile with their companies post-mortems – really!

Agile means quick and well-coordinated in movement; marked by an ability to think quickly; mentally acute or aware combined with post-mortem; occurring after death (maybe this is why zombies are getting so much faster these days – they havcheck health throughout projecte gone Agile).

For clarity and intelligent application here are the dictionary definitions:

  • Health check: A thorough physical examination; includes a variety of tests depending on the age and sex and health of the person
  • Audit: An official examination and verification of accounts and records, especially of financial accounts, a report or statement reflecting an audit; a final statement of account or the inspection or examination of a building or other facility to evaluate or improve its appropriateness, safety, efficiency, or the like
  • Post-mortem: Occurring or done after death, of or relating to a medical examination of a dead body (also autopsy). Discussion of an event after it has occurred

For further clarity and greater intelligent application think of it like this: when was the last time a person survived multiple autopsies?

As for the difference between “health check” and “audit” then another way to look at the difference is this:

Health check – all about the person therefore very high on the humanity scale

Audit – far more about the process or the facts, numbers and inanimate objects, therefore very low on the humanity scale

Can we get back to the question, please?

Okay! A health check provides an opportunity to uncover what is going well and identify the issues, concerns and challenges encountered in the execution of this project. It affords the project steering committee, project manager, project sponsor, end users and project team an interim view of what has gone well and what needs to be improved within the project to successfully complete it. It offers and learning experience as well as an opportunity to do better.

Thanks. Prior to your consulting work you lead a large PMO. What tips do you have for leaders working in a similar role?

I have three tips that I always share:

Don’t be the project police – this is a small part of the role of the PMO but if all you do is chase down PMs then you won’t have an enjoyable time and you certainly won’t have PMO in place for long as the PM community will resist.

Be the right sort of firefighter – if you think about it you know that firefighters, despite the image of rushing in fearlessly into burning buildings to rescue small kittens actually spend most of their time trying to prevent fires rather than putting them out. The PMO needs to do the same, stop firefighting and start fire-preventing.

And finally be unique – a PMO needs to be what it needs to be
for the organization it supports.

Start risk management before project begins

Nothing about risk management? That’s a big part of any project manager’s job.

Key to risk management is, I believe, in starting it before the project event begins.

No project is equal (and no project manager is equal either). And no project is without risk. It is about change and change has risks attached to it. Therefore I always recommend that organizations profile their projects and identify, among other things, the risk attached to each project.

Once that is done then it is a matter of managing that risk and that is best done by a) the organization being honest and open about the risk it is about to undertake and b) by allocating the most appropriate project manager (and project sponsor) to manage that risk for the organization. It sounds simple but so many organizations don’t do this – they blindly think all projects are the same and that project managers are as well – remember, availability does not equal suitability.

That’s certainly true. I expect you speak to many project managers in your role. What’s the one question you get asked most from project managers?

Actually it is: “How did you get to write a book?” (The Lazy Project Manager was my first book.) My reply is that I treated it a little like a project. Found out what I needed to do, identified the effort I wanted to put in to find a publisher, had a couple of milestones to check that I wasn’t wasting my time and then got on with it. To be fair, I was “lucky” in that I stumbled on the title of the book and people seemed to like it and wanted to hear more. I talk a lot more about this on one of my podcasts The Lazy Project Manager in iTunes if readers want to learn more about how I write a book and the number of ways I have now been published.

I wasn’t expecting that! Thanks for sharing your ideas – do you have any final tips for our readers?

Well, since I am known as The Lazy Project Manager [on my blog] then I have to add that all project managers should learn to work smarter and not harder, efficient application of efforts delivers greater success than pure uncontrolled activity.

To find more project wisdom, visit the Free Resources section, full of articles, templates, books and advice on how to manage projects.

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