Richard Newton wears many hats. Included amongst these are his work as a consultant, author, blogger, change leader, company director, and program manager. His most well known project management book is The Project Manager: Mastering the Art of Delivery. He is also the author of the best-selling Dream It, Do It, Live It which applies project management principles to achieving personal dreams.
A couple of years ago I started looking for a way to help more people gain an understanding of project management. Not everyone wants to buy one of my books, and seminars have a limited number of places. A contact in the publishing industry had the great idea of connecting me up with Totem Learning. Totem Learning are a leading, award winning developer of simulations and serious games, (see www.totemlearning.com). It was a great relationship to build, and some months later the result of our join work was Unlock: Project Management.
I was in a conversation a few days ago, and I was reminded about an old phrase my grandfather used to say: look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. (I’m sure there is an equivalent phrase for other currencies).
I thought about this phrase sometime after listening to a speaker talking about the way they ran projects. They were strongly espousing a view that we should worry more about delivery and less about deliverables.
I want to talk about some words – specific words, but in order to do this I’m going to start with a big generalisation.
The important thing about words is that they have meanings. Because words have meanings we are able to communicate about all sorts of objects, ideas, concepts and whatever other entities, things or stuff we want to talk about.
What makes successful project managers?
I have been interested in the way the best project managers think and behave for a long time. Back in 2005 I wrote the first edition of my first book The Project Manager, Mastering the Art of Delivery. The genesis of this book was an observation made from roles I had running large teams of project managers. The observation? There is limited correlation between how well qualified someone is as a project manager, and how good they are at project management.
As its coming into the summer break for many of my regular readers, I thought I would write on something different.
What seems like a very long time ago, I studied for degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Economics. I have never worked as an engineer or an economist. Much of what I learnt has been discarded to the dim recesses of my mind. But this does not mean studying was in vain. The approaches from each discipline still influence my way of thinking. I think this is more useful than any specific facts or ideas from studying a subject.
I seem to have come full circle with my writing. For those of you unfamiliar with my works, which is the vast majority of the world, I am a fairly minor author. So far, my published books are mostly business and management books. I am well known in my niche, but not much beyond. To give an idea of scale - good sales for me are over 20,000 copies of a book. Bad sales are a few thousand copies.
I have been involved in projects and programmes for a long time. Long enough that I sometimes think I can smell the state of a programme when I am first engaged on it. By smell of course, I really mean pick up certain small aspects of behaviour that give me a feeling of confidence or concern.
I have just sent back the corrected proofs for the second edition of my book Project Management Step-by-Step. This is one of my best sellers, and even though it is 10 years old – quite an age for a professional book – it still sells a few thousand copies a year. Perhaps not the huge sales of a best-selling novel, but for a niche writer like myself, pretty respectable for a book of that age.
Imagine you are working on a project and it is going to finish late. It is a scenario that many of us will be familiar with. Is the project a failure? That depends. There are many situations in which a project is late. There are many situations in which a project – or at least a properly defined and well run project looks late, but isn’t. This happens when we confuse aspirations with plans.