Carl Pritchard holds a B.A. from the Ohio State University and is a certified PMP® (Project Management Professional) and PMI-RMP® (Risk Management Professional). He is a recognized author, researcher and lecturer who has written five major project management texts, over one-hundred articles on project management topics, multiple white papers and several chapters in other authors’ publications.
As an internationally recognized instructor, he is known to have worked with some of the leading international training organizations, as well as for private clients and the Project Management Institute®. He has been a regular instructor and speaker on the PMI® SeminarsWorld® global training circuit for over 20 years. He presents on a variety of management topics, ranging from project essentials to the complexities of network diagramming and team motivation.
He has recorded presentations for international conferences on DVD, developed on-line training for the Project Management Institute and recorded an extensive audio training program, The Portable PMP® Prep with Bruce Falk. He was also the architect of ESI International’s landmark programs in distance learning.
Carl consults and coaches on project management, presentation skills, risk, e-learning, and course development with a number of organizations. He is the principal and founder of Pritchard Management Associates, an organization that offers one-on-one service and support to both professionals and students. The organization also conducts training sessions for the PMP® Certification Exam.
PMTips: Today we are doing an interview with Carl Pritchard, who is an author, trainer, keynote speaker and a Project Management Professional. He is also a pioneer and visionary in risk management and e-learning.
Carl, welcome and thank you for doing this interview. We are honored to have you with us today.
Carl Pritchard: Ana, the honor is mine.
PMTips: You have a passion for providing top quality project management instructions and your students are not only satisfied by the outcome in terms of being certified, but by the way you transfer knowledge, your skills as a mentor and your highly engaging and entertaining presentation. What inspired you to actively share your knowledge, expertise and teach others on how to become better at what they do?
Carl Pritchard: Actually, the first time I did this I was ordered to. It was a matter of the trainer didn’t show up for a particular event that my company was holding and my boss came into my office and he said “You know this stuff, don’t you?” and I said, “Yeah”. “Great!” he said, “Kevin didn’t make it from Memphis, so you’re going to go train it”. And I said “I’ve never done a day of training in my life” and my boss said “There’s a first day for everything”, and sent me on my merry way. It’s not inspiration as much as it was demand. Beyond that it’s not philanthropy that actually kept me in the profession, it’s more a matter of frustration. I find that going to training events invariably makes me beat my head against the wall, because they shouldn’t be boring. They should be fun, people should be engaged, people should be having a good time. And, it made me sad when I went through a bunch of training events where I was a participant and I took some really boring project management courses and I just knew I could do better. And, after that it’s kind of evolved from there.
PMTips: It is said that you are an extraordinarily effective speaker and the fact that you are a veteran SeminarsWorld® instructor for over two decades is saying enough. This year, you will be hosting several sessions with PMI at their prestigious SeminarsWorld®. Could you tell us a bit about the topics that you will be discussing? What can visitors hope to come away with?
Carl Pritchard: Well, I’ve been the risk guy for the better part of 20 years and we actually spent our two-day class going through the entire risk process for one student in the class and his or her project. And, what makes that fun is that you never know what the project’s going to be. The last class that I did for PMI was actually – the student in the class was from New Brunswick, Canada and his representative project to the entire class did a thorough risk analysis on was to actually build the cannabis manufacturing facility. Yeah, that’s right, the guy is growing dope. Cannabis manufacturing facility in New Brunswick, Canada. And everybody came away with insight on the fact that it doesn’t take a lot of time, doesn’t have to be boring and you can actually get people engaged and get a lot of good insight in the inside of a day. That was the Risk class. The other class that I do is Managing Multiple Projects and that’s more about getting and giving license to individuals and to project teams to set priorities. People don’t set priorities well and they don’t identify what are the priorities of their stakeholders and that’s where we get them by the end of those two day.
PMTips: Very interesting story. You are often praised for incorporating very creative techniques in your keynote addresses and your training sessions, but also for being a very entertaining and energetic teacher. Is your style of addressing a crowd a natural propensity or do you use it because you have found it to be much more effective than “boring” classes, or maybe both?
Carl Pritchard: Actually, I think it’s a little bit of both. One of the reasons that I do this is because [of] my mother, God rest her soul. Mom would have readily told anyone who would listen that I was a born ham and that I just live to be in front of the crowd and people don’t applaud hours of boredom. They applaud surprise and the surprise is that project management can be funny and still dripping in takeaways. That’s a real challenge, trying to connect with people personally and giving them something specific that they need. And people always say that if it’s really going to be funny, that it’s got to be humorous, there has to be grain of truth. And in project management there’s enough grains of truth to be going around and make me a downright hysterical.
PMTips: Considering you are a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) and Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP®), can you tell us how important those certifications are for project managers? What is the value behind obtaining such certifications and how do they influence the development of one’s career?
Carl Pritchard: Actually, it depends. Let’s talk PMP first, because the Project Management Professional is kind of the baseline. It’s the first, if you will, ticket punch that everybody needs in order to just play the game of project management. What’s interesting about that is that a lot of people think “I don’t need the PMP”, and as much as you can argue against the way that the test is structured or a content that’s in there, all that kind of thing, that’s well and good. But the unfortunate thing is, that most people don’t realize, if you don’t have the PMP then people are going to look at you and go “Why not?” It’s not that it makes you some vaunted, better person by any stretch of the imagination, but it is the official starter dose to get you deeply into the profession.
And as for the RMP or the ACP, the PMI-SP, the Scheduling Professional or the Risk Management Professional, all the other ancillary certifications, the trick with those, or the thing with those is it’s true validation, because I have people ask me “What makes you the risk guy?” and the point I make is a friend of mine and he refers to himself as the Risk Doctor. But [this] friend of mine hasn’t actually chased the RMP certification and I asked him why and he said “Because I have the PhD in Risk Management”, but I’m like “Woah! So, I don’t”. So, he is legitimately the Risk Doctor, but I had to be able to prove to my clients – even though I’ve written two college level texts, even though I’ve done all this other stuff – I had to prove to them that I am still legitimate as a professional. And the way in which I did that was to be able to share with them “Oh, I am a certified RMP”. And that’s a very important validation to them that I indeed know how to both talk the talk and walk the walk.
PMTips: You are considered a leading authority on risk and communications management and were the lead author for the risk management chapter of the Fourth Edition of the PMBOK® Guide. How can project managers identify risks with certainty, define an effective risk strategy and apply an appropriate risk response? But also, is there a way to minimize risks?
Carl Pritchard: Well, first, identifying risks with certainty. Risk is by nature uncertain, so that’s kind of a backwards way of tackling that one. But, identifying risk with certainty and all the other steps in the process happen well when it’s done as a team sport. And it is, it’s a team sport. It’s a matter of getting all the people, all the players engaged in the process and all too often we go into an isolation booth, we go into our cube or our work space and just sit and type, and that’s supposed to be the list of risks. Well, that’s lousy, because we really need other people identifying risks, we need other people sharing their history and their past. And it’s funny because a lot of times people are, well, reluctant to share the risks they’ve identified and part of the reason for that is just the true nature of risk.
Most people don’t want to talk about risk is because it’s depressing. They don’t want to talk about risk because they don’t want to be seen as a “Gloomy Gus” or “Debbie Downer”. They don’t want to be that person. So, part of what we should be doing is trying to ensure that we’re giving them the forms and formats to save risk well, that’s one. And if you’re looking for the form and format it’s nothing more than if/then or bad thing may happen causing impact. Any of those are perfectly reasonable as ways to structure a risk statement and they need a little bit of structure because those people don’t even know how to save risk. You ask somebody “What’s the risk of driving to work?” and they go “Traffic!”, “Weather!”, and traffic and weather are not risks. They’re one-word answers. What’s the bad thing that may happen and the impact that they cause – that’s what we need to worry about. For traffic for example, I may get caught in traffic causing me to be delayed getting to work.
Now I know what we’re really sweating about and as far as the rest of the process goes it’s the same thing. I need other people’s input. The best ways to minimize risks are to find others who have either dealt with it before or others who have more creative ideas than we do about how to fix things. And this is why if you don’t treat it as a team sport you’re never going to conquer all the risks.
PMTips: In your book Risk Management: Concepts and Guidance the text addresses project risk management from the project manager’s perspective and acknowledges that any effective risk management practice must look at the potential positive events that may befall a project, as well as the negatives. With that said, can you tell us how risk management can be seen as an opportunity and not as a process of chasing after the bad things that might happen?
Carl Pritchard: Actually I had one client that did this brilliantly. They really did, they taught me a lot. And the way in which they managed their risks was they did what we all do. They came up with good risk statements, they analyzed them: high, medium, low. They broke out the high probability/high impact risks, as well as the moderate probability/high impact risks. They pulled those out and they had to put them together for their classic top list presentation to management. And a lot of people do the top-ten list or whatever. But they did the top list presentation to management and the top list presentation to management consisted of them going through each and every one of those risks. Now, if you’ve ever been to one of those meetings in a conventional organization, they’re really, really depressing because somebody’s in front going “Okay, here’s our top 10 list and this is a bad thing, this is a really bad thing, this is a nasty thing, this is evil and then you die”. It always ends with the “And then you die” part and that’s what makes it really sad, but this company built in the opportunity peace. They were required when they were presenting to management to not only identify the risk events, but also for every single risk event that they presented to management, they had to identify the good news. They had to identify “if this risk comes to pass, what’s the good news?” And that alone changed everything. It really did. It changed a lot, and the way in which it changed everything was that it changed the tone. Because if you say “The client might not get back to us in a timely fashion causing us to be delayed”, but we have identified the opportunity associated with that is that if we are delayed we’re going to have more time to come up with a better solution. We’re going to be able to build that into the later schedule. What it does is, it tends to soften the blow of the negative risk events, the threats. And what it also does is that it gives management a sense that we’re not looking just at the darkness, we’re looking at where can we leverage the bad things that may happen, to turn them into things that we’ll actually be able to use and use to our benefit.
PMTips: Managing a single project can be quite challenging, but there are times when project managers are called upon to manage several projects at once, which is when the real challenge comes to the fore. How can managers approach such a situation and successfully manage their own portfolio of projects?
Carl Pritchard: Priorities. That’s the one-word answer. Well, not just priorities I guess because it’s also leveraging one project into the next. It’s a matter of looking at it: what has Ana done on this project that she can use on the next project, and the project after that, and the project after that. We work across projects and actually say “Oh, I can use this that way, or I can use that this way”. If I recognize that I have opportunities across my projects, I have the ability then to actually go ahead and take advantage of work I’ve done without redoing it, [without] reinventing wheels. I can also leverage my stakeholders across projects if I find out “Oh, I’ve got to do some work for Ana”, I also have the ability then down the road to turn that around and say “Oh, Ana, while we’re working on this can I also pick your brain on that?” Trying to identify those kinds of opportunities across projects is the biggest way in which we should actually try to deal with a portfolio. If we are constantly treating each project as its own separate entity, which we’re basically taught to do because projects are unique – even though that’s the case, we still need the opportunity to basically take pause, look across our projects and say “Where can I, well, rob from Peter to pay Paul?”
PMTips: Your book Project Management: Lessons from the Field is a practical guide for project managers. What is the best practical advice you can give to project managers, particularly in regards to the challenges they face in projects?
Carl Pritchard: I actually have to go deep into my past on this and that is before getting into project management I actually was in the media. I was the news director at WASH Radio in Washington DC and I had the honor of interviewing a lot of celebrities and one of the celebrities I got to interview was a gentleman by the name of Fred Rodgers. In the States he is known as Mr. Rodgers. And Mr. Rodgers was a gentle, quiet soul who dealt with children and had a children’s TV program, and the interesting thing is that the best lesson I ever learned in project management I got from Mr. Rodgers, because I sat down with Fred and I said “So, what do you want to cover today?” and he said “Carl, if you can answer one question for me I think this will go perfectly”. And it’s a project management question and it’s something we should all remember, because professionally speaking it is the most profound question I ever got in my life and I use it every single day.
And this is the question, so if you have a pen or pencil you should write this down. If you’re sitting on your laptop, fine, pull up a notepad, because you want to write this question down, because it matters. The question is, he looked at me and said, “Carl, when we’re done here, 45 minutes from now, yeah, when we’re done here, how do you want the world to look different?” and I said, “What?” and he said, “When we’re done with the interview, how would you like the world to look different?” It is a deep and profound question for all project managers and it is the best advice that I can give anybody, about not just project management, but management in general and life in general, because if you’re looking at it from the perspective of “When we’re done how would you like the world to look different?” think about the next time the client comes up to you and says “Hey, you have not done exactly what I have wanted, bla, bla, bla”, and they’re complaining about everything and you get to look at them and say “I’m sorry, just a second, when we’re done here, how would you like the world to look different?” It’s a service question. It’s an honorable question. It paints us as true professionals and it recognizes the fact that if we ask this question we are not asking about process, we’re not asking about how do you want it done and what color do you want, that kind of thing, none of that. It’s when we’re done here, how do you want the world to look different?
If you’re ever looking for a way to build a better client relationship, if you’re looking for ways to do your projects more effectively, rather than getting wrapped up in the arguments of process, approach, and everything else, you can walk away from the PMBOK® and walk away from PRINCE2®, but you can never walk away from that question. When we’re done, how do you want the world to look different? Get the answer to that question, you can’t lose.
PMTips: What would your advice be to project managers that manage to identify risks within a project? What should their response be and what is the best way to handle a “risky” project?
Carl Pritchard: The best way is likely just keep your eye on the prize. Keep looking at what that end goal [is], how does the world look different when we’re done. If we know that the endgame, what the endgame is, how we’re going to arrive, where we want to arrive. If we have clarity on that, we win. And the client wins, and the people around us win, our customers win. Plus, it’s the whole a lot of people are jumping on the agile bandwagon right now and if you’re going into the agile world, look at what they’re doing. They focus on the endgame, not on how they’re going to get there. Take a few steps, one sprint, go that way. Ah, that went okay, but it’s not quite where we want it to go and they shift direction. If you’re looking for the best way to manage and identify risk within a project, basically I would suggest to you that if you keep your focus on the endgame you will have a lot easier time dealing with the risks that you bump into along the way.
PMTips: Well, that was the last question. Carl, thank you for the interview. It was a real pleasure.
Carl Pritchard: Ana, thank you.
Interview conducted by Ana Mitevska