PMTips: Today we are doing an interview with Peter Taylor, who is a PMO and PM Strategy expert, a trainer, adviser and a Conference and Corporate speaker. He is also a best-selling author, who wrote a number of books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship. Peter has been described as perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today. Peter, welcome and thank you for doing this interview. We are honored to have you with us today.
Peter Taylor: No, I'm delighted to be here today, thank you.
PMTips: What drives you to actively share your expertise and knowledge, teach and inspire others on how to become better at what they do?
Peter Taylor: Well, if I'm honest, I mean its enjoyment to start with. I do enjoy doing it and I enjoy doing it because whilst I am, if you like, sharing my knowledge and expertise and talking to other people, I learn as much from other people. So, a great example: this week actually, I was involved in a project management day of service and that was where a whole bunch of people like me were brought together by an organization to connect with charities in the UK to sit down and talk to them about how our experience could help them with their ongoing challenges of project delivery change, delivery, etc. And that’s a great example of – it was a wonderful day where I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I walked away with insight and more experience, and hopefully I shared some of my experience with the people I was talking to.
So, you know, you can talk about giving back to the community, to the profession, and of course it is like that, but part of it I think is also giving insight and thought to people, because it's something I just didn't have when I started out. I mean it's many years ago I started as a project manager and really I was on my own, there was nothing or nowhere for me to go. And therefore I think, you know, the scale of the project management community worldwide now – there are so many project managers and people involved in projects that there's so much experience to share and it's great to literally do that, to kind of contribute back and help others who are entering the profession.
PMTips: Your mission is to teach as many people as possible to gain success by working smarter and not harder. How can project managers become better at managing their own activities and therefore improve the work-life balance?
Peter Taylor: Yeah, it's kind of the essence of my best-selling book The Lazy Project Manager and it's all about project managers managing themselves whilst managing projects, if that makes sense. So, how can they behave in a way that actually helps them be more effective in the job they're doing. And really it's a matter of stepping back and going, you know, you've got to pause, you've got to think, you've got to stop running. And I see this so many times when I work with project managers, they get they get very passionate about what they're doing, but they get so drawn into the detail that they don't elevate themselves. I mean, part of a project manager’s job is to sit and look at the future, look at where the project is going, elevate themselves to consider that.
And part of the trick – and I talk about this in The Lazy Winner, the second book I did – was you kind of got to ask yourself some good questions. These are questions that I didn't ask myself when I first started out, because I was involved in every meeting, every conversation, every piece of communication, and I lived a crazy life as a project manager, it wasn't productive for me it wasn't great for my work-life balance and it wasn't good for anybody else. But, you’ve got to ask yourself three questions as a project manager.
First of all: do I need to do this and do I want to do this. They’re the first two questions and you’ve got to answer yes to both those – do I need to do this and do I want to do this – because if you don't need to do it then why are you involved. If you don't want to do it – that indicates an attitude of enthusiasm and engagement. The third question is, it's actually: is there someone else who is better suited to do this task, do I actually need to be involved. And I think if you start challenging yourself, pause, think, stop running, consider, give yourself a break to think about this, then you will be better at managing activities of yourself and others and you will improve your work-life balance.
PMTips: You already mentioned your book The Lazy Project Manager. In this book, based on your personal experiences, you give advice to project managers on how they can have a positive impact on the projects they manage by doing less work. What inspired you to write a book that would address the project managers in a way that would help them look at the managing of projects from an entirely different perspective?
Peter Taylor: So, the kind of tagline of The Lazy Project Manager is around a thing called productive laziness. So, this doesn't mean you don't do the work, it doesn't mean you just let everybody else do the work for you. It means you're efficient, you work smarter, not harder – that's the essence. Though, the inspiration came from – at that point I was running a PMO for a large organization and we had over a hundred project managers working in the PMO, and I could see behavior split across this group. So, half of them were, you know, they were reasonably successful. We weren't perfect at project delivery, but we were reasonably successful, and half of them were working on average typical working weeks, 40-50 hours, something like that. Projects are not like that. We know they go up and down in their demands. But on average they were working at kind of 40 to 50 hour week. And now the other half, I noted, were working crazy hours. When I talked to them, when I could look at the time they were recording their work at working 50, 60, 70 hours a week, on a regular basis. And the crazy thing was they were no more successful than the other group.
And that allowed me to look at some kind of behavioral insights as to what they were doing, where were they spending their time and what was their insight. And that mapped onto my own personal experience when I ran a very large project over at nearly a three-year period. And I learnt a lot about myself. At the end of that project I was, you know, being very honest, I was completely stressed out, I was suffering from illness, I had given up weekends and evenings, I'd cancelled a holiday once. It was an unsustainable way of working, and I thought I was being good, I thought I was being professional. My realization was I loved this job, but there's no way I could do that for the next 20 years. So those two things came together really to give me that inspiration, and I had the opportunity to write the book, and I came up with the title of The Lazy Project Manager. As I say, it's not about being lazy and in a bad way, it's about being lazy in a good way – productive laziness.
PMTips: In this book, you say that all projects are thick at one end, much thinner in the middle, and then thick again at the far end. Can you tell us what that means for project managers, particularly in a practical sense?
Peter Taylor: The joke is, it's showing my age now, but it's Monty Python. It's a joke about a dinosaur, and you can go and check it on my website, or you can go and check out anything to do with Monty Python and dinosaurs, you'll find it. But the point about this is the fact that a lot of people look at projects in a way of it's thin at the beginning, it gets big and fat in the middle and thin again at the far end. And yes, that's true from a project overall, but from a project manager’s point of view it's completely the opposite, because all the work happens at the front end and at the back end.
A project manager, to be successful they have to prepare the project, the ground work, they have to have that great connection with the project team, they have to build the project team, they have to build that relationship and working communication model with the project sponsor and the other stakeholders, they have to put the plan in place, they have to look at the risks, they have to look at the communication plan, they have to look at all the other elements that provide the foundation for project success. In the middle, yes, the project is very busy, but in the middle it’s the project team that are doing most of the work. The project manager’s job is to monitor what's going on, be proactive in supporting people, thanking people, contributing, helping out, setting up meetings where needed, setting up celebrations – it's about the people side of things – and then being reactive when there are problems being focused.
And I always talk about project managers who are a hundred percent at capacity during the middle of a project, they have a real problem because when there is an issue or a problem, they're going to have to stop doing something to do with it and that's not a good thing. So, from that point of view the project is thinner in the middle from a project manager’s point of view, but at the back end this is all about the learning experience and often you see projects just come to an end, and there's just so much value there, the project manager needs to get involved in the retrospective activities, the lessons learned, the lesson sharing, the improvements to process and methodology, all that sort of thing. So, that really is that is the concept around the project being thick at one end, thick at the other end, but thin in the middle. It's preparation, it’s delivery, it’s then learning.
PMTips: You are a PMO expert who has built and led five global PMOs across several industries, but also worked as an advisor in PMO and PM strategy for many organizations. Can you tell us about an interesting experience you had or a challenge you faced that left an impact on your understanding of PMO?
Peter Taylor: I think it's something that's grown up across there. I mean, the thing that has really struck me about this – and I talked about it in Leading Successful PMOs – is that no two PMOs are the same. You can go out there in the marketplace – I mean when I wrote my book Leading Successful PMOs, I think there were maybe 10 books about PMOs in that time – you can go and find a hundred books easily. And they will talk a lot about PMO models and PMO structures and frameworks, and that's great and you also see conversations around you know PMO in a box, and PMO off-the-shelf, that kind of thing. These are great head starts, but the thing I've learnt across all the PMOs is no two PMO's are the same. They are unique. And that's one of the insights I got when I looked to and interviewed a lot of PMO leaders, is what made them successful. And it's the fact that the leaders themselves, they have to understand the project world, they have to be great communicators, they have to be great negotiators, they have to understand risk management, they have to be great team builders.
But the number one thing is the fact they have to be unique, they have to be different, they have to be special, because the PMO inside an organization – and I did this, my experience, the first one, I kind of had this shape and I talked about a thing called the balanced PMO and it's the five P's: a PMO has to look at people, it has to look at the process, it has to look at performance, it has to look at promotion and that is like marketing what the PMO is about and what the projects are about and the fifth P is they have to have a good project management information system, all the tools to support the project work. So that's fantastic, you can talk about the various types of PMOs and various models of PMO. But if you take that and you try and deploy in the next organization, or even another part of the organization, the chances are it's not going to work because it has to be unique, it has to be different.
And the last thing in that area was – I also learnt very quickly – that whatever you build today is not going to be suitable tomorrow or the day after, you have to move with the organization. So, my two learning points from all of these kind of PMO builds – and I get involved in PMO consultancy, I get involved in PMO reengineering – is the fact that no two PMOs are exactly the same, that you need this kind of unique leadership style, and it will change. You have to have an open mind about changing what you’re doing to keep pace with the organization.
PMTips: Organizations can benefit greatly by utilizing Project Management Office (PMO), but it is a rather complex process. What are the benefits of setting up a PMO and how can organizations exploit the values from it?
Peter Taylor: I think as far as the benefits are concerned, you just have to go out there and look, I mean there's so much research now on PMO value. There's also a lot of research about PMO risk and PMO failures, and, you know, take that balance. So, I think as far as the benefits are concerned, a good PMO can absolutely improve the project delivery success, the change success in an organization, higher benefits, lower risk, lower costs, all of those sort of things. The challenge often is convincing companies to actually invest in this and keep investing in it. As one example, PMI® have the PMI Pulse of the Profession®, they did a great piece of research a while back now about where they quantified the impact of organizations, around the use of PMOs, use of project sponsors, that kind of thing. So, if you if you find something like that, it's a great mechanism or basis to put in place a justification for PMOs.
And I work with organizations, one of the things I do when I when I consult in this area is well let's talk about what your organization wants as far as transformation, as far as change, as far as projects are concerned, and now let's map that to how best to build a PMOs structure, a PMO roadmap to satisfy and suit there. But again there are some great standards out there. Now, how can organizations exploit the values from the PMO is – it's that connection. You remember I talked about the balanced PMO, well I think that's very much around the kind of performance and promotion, tracking what the PMO is doing, how it's impacting project success, how its saving cost economies of scale, know how it's supporting strategic drive.
And again, PMOs operate at so many levels inside an organization, they can operate quite low down inside a department or they can operate right up the highest level connected to strategy. I think the exploitation of value from PMO is very dependent on where it sits in an organization, so it's one of these things I think you just have to consider your need and what type of PMO you're building. And then there is so much out there that you can research and look at and you know hopefully build a good case.
PMTips: Do you have any advice for organizations that wish to implement PMO?
Peter Taylor: Yeah, get some support – if you haven't done it beforehand, get some support. Because it's so different. If the organization's never had a PMO, they won't have a reference point, there's nothing else, it's not like you suddenly decide to have a new sales department or a new accountancy group or anything like that. This is just new and you know the chances are you're not going to have anybody inside the organization who will understand what a PMO could be or should be. It's possible that they can go and recruit and that's a great way of getting support or you can go out there and get some consultative advice. But I think you need that insight to help architect PMO inside an organization properly, you have to help that to engineer a PMO correctly and you have to have that sort of support to help you build a roadmap that is going to work inside an organization. Because the interesting thing about PMOs is, firstly, when you build one there is a cost, it's not like you're instantaneously going to get value, organizations have to invest in the PMO and they have to believe in the PMO, and over time anybody who is involved in the PMO will know that that will bring about value.
But it’s kind of a leap of faith for an organization, so it's better to get someone who can, some support to help you get to a point of productivity very, very quickly, rather than taking a long time and learning yourself. I mean, I was very lucky, I guess, when I started, because PMOs didn't really exist as a term, so I had no pressure on building a community of practice, like a project management group, if you like, that evolved into a PMO. These days organizations want and demand change rapidly and therefore they need support, i.e. they need a PMO to be productive very quickly.
PMTips: One of the many books you authored is called Strategies for Project Sponsorship. Often the assigned Project Sponsor is someone from the organization who has little knowledge or training in project management practices. How can project sponsors properly execute their duties and give their own contribution to the successful delivery of a project?
Peter Taylor: This is a great question. It's one of my favorite pieces of research I did for a book, for Strategies for Project Sponsorship and it goes like this: you can describe everything about project sponsorship today in three numbers and those three numbers are 85, 83 and 100. Let me explain: so, for the book we researched a large number of organizations around the world, different industries, etc. and we asked them do you have project sponsors, you're doing project change, you're doing projects, do you have project sponsors – and we had a very broad definition of what we meant by that; project sponsor, a senior executive responsible, you know all that kind of thing – and 85% of those organizations who responded to the survey said yes, we have project sponsors. That’s excellent, you know, it's not perfect, you'd expect 100%, but 85% is a pretty good number. The sad thing is, the second question we ask is as organizations what do you do to support your project sponsors, do you do training, do you do development, do you do mentoring, do you coach, do you have a process, do you have anything. And 83% of those organizations said they did absolutely nothing, they just assumed project sponsors could be effective because there were successful people in other ways in the business. And then we asked the third question, do you think it's important to have a project sponsor, a good project sponsor in place, and everybody, 100% , I mean it was actually 99.5 percent responded, but let's say 100% of people said yes, it's important. So, that's the crazy thing: 85% had project sponsors, 100% of people said it was important to have a good project sponsor and 83% of these organizations did nothing at all to help their project sponsors be successful.
I come from the generation of the accidental project manager, you know I fell into this industry, this profession, and I learned along the way. Right now I think we're in a generation of the accidental project sponsor, because people have been asked to become the person ultimately responsible for project success inside organizations, with no training or development. So, how can a project sponsor – and I think there's two answers to this. One is the organization needs to take it seriously and they need to invest in training and development, from project managers to project sponsors, that's the first thing. But as a project sponsor you could do a lot to help yourself, and that was the point of the book Strategies for Project Sponsorship, it was a way of project sponsors looking and going what should I be doing and one of the key things in there is a checklist, “17 things a project sponsor should be doing” and I do a lot of work around the kind of coaching of project sponsors, working with organizations to help them raise up to a point of understanding about what they should be doing and then help them become successful in there.
But we have a long way to go, so I think it's great that any project sponsor looks at themselves and goes I could be better. That would be fantastic and we need a lot more investment from the organizations to help project sponsors be successful.
PMTips: What would your advice be to all the ‘lazy’ project managers out there? How can they extract productive value from their own work more effectively, by doing less instead of doing more?
Peter Taylor: Yes, so to be a lazy project manager, as I say productive laziness, that's what it's all about, working smarter, not harder. The point, I mean the simple one, though this is one of the things in the book, is apply the 80/20 rule. If you think about it, 20% of what you do it delivers 80% of impacts. Not everything is equally important. I talked about the fact that we all have to-do lists, we all have things we need to do and typically we create to-do lists and they're sequential where you keep adding things to the bottom. But if you start at number one and you complete it, does that actually mean you have done something significant. No, you need to look at what you're doing in a way of how important it is and what is the impact of doing it or not doing, it's those two things. Once you've got that you can reprioritize your to-do list in a way that kind of lifts the most important things, the most impactful things to the very top.
So, my advice to project managers, to everybody really, is don't just fall into tomorrow, just think about it, at the start of each day, what is it I should be doing, what's the most important thing I should be doing, what is going to give me the most return on my personal investment of time, what as a project manager can I do that's going to allow my project team to progress, to move forward. It's about that rather than just going in the office, having a cup of coffee, or do some shopping online, book in a meeting room, you know, whatever it may be. You can tick things off on your to-do list, but really you've made no significant progress, whereas if you could just do one thing that was very impactful – wow, that can make a big difference.
So, my advice to people, particularly project managers is just spend five minutes in the car, on the train, on the bus, over that first cup of coffee, last thing at night if you like, whatever works for you, and think: tomorrow what am I going to do that's going to deliver the most impact, what is the 20% that I could achieve that's going to deliver 80% of investment, that's the application as a rule, that's one of the core themes inside The Lazy Project Manager.
PMTips: Well, that was the last question. Peter, thank you for the interview, it was a real pleasure.
Peter Taylor: Yes, my pleasure as well, thank you.
Interview conducted by Ana Mitevska