Peter Taylor is known in the project management world as the “Lazy Project Manager.” His book of the same title offers great insights on productivity, and challenges the notion that putting in the long hours is the only way to accomplish more.
I am always looking for ways to do more while working less, so his material really caught my attention. Mr. Taylor was kind enough to answer some of my questions about how he got started in Project Management, his advice for newbies, and a bit on his theory on how to be productively lazy.
Cesar: How did you get started in project management?
Peter: Like many of my generation I was the ‘accidental’ project manager. I worked in an organisation that was deploying a business application and I was volunteered to get involved. From this point I took more of a lead in the next application that was selected and deployed and eventually ended up being the ‘project manager’ on another deployment cycle. I then joined a software house as a ‘project manager’ but it was in fact another 5 years before I ever received any training in what I should have been doing. I guess I was successful up to that point through learning quickly on the job and in applying the right level of focus on the ‘people’ side of the work.
Actually I am envious of the fantastic opportunities these days that would-be project managers have. Many companies have good development frameworks for PMs and these days support often comes in the form of a PMO (Project Management Office) and project management practices. Add to that the amazing network of bloggers, podcasters, writers and speakers that can be found on the worldwide web then there is so, so much more that ‘green bean’ PMs can connect to and learn from. (Check out a list on my own website www.thelazyprojectmanager.com for some great sources of inspiration).
Cesar: What do you suggest to those looking to get started, the ‘green beans’ as you call them?
Peter: Projects are, by their very nature, tricky beasts and for a ‘newbie’ to learn the practical skills of project management they should ensure that they enter the PM world in a controlled way. Hopefully being handed a new project to lead and being told to ‘get on with it’ (as I was when I became a PM) is long gone.
The ideal would be for ‘green beans’ to experience project reality by taking up a small part in another project manager’s project, and watching and learning and getting involved in a small way.
In addition, if there are project reviews, health checks, and retrospectives taking place (and I really hope that there are) then this is another great entry experience for the young ones to see and learn.
Another safe(r) environment might be internal projects – rather than external customer facing ones.
Key is to make the environment of learning a safe one.
In addition if a ‘newbie’ can secure a mentor from out there in project management land who will be there to listen to them from time to time and gently point them in the right direction when they need help – such a person will be invaluable to the ‘green beans’ in the early days of being a project manager.
Key is to have a connection to experience in the form of a friendly guiding voice.
Thirdly, they should definitely make the effort to look outside their own organization and connect to some truly wonderful project managers and experts out there on the www. As I have said there is a huge amount of advice and guidance through local project management groups, through conferences and meetings, through the online discussions and blogs, and lots more. (It may be in this area the ‘green’ ones might have the upper hand on us ‘grey’ ones since all this social connectivity is second nature to them).
Key is to build the best possible network for now and the future and to use it wisely.
Cesar: You advocate the approach of ‘Productive laziness’ in your book The Lazy Project Manager, can you explain what you mean by that term?
Peter: ‘Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.’ Robert Heinlein
By advocating being a ‘lazy’ project manager I do not intend that we should all do absolutely nothing. I am not saying we should all sit around drinking coffee, reading a good book and engaging in idle gossip whilst watching the project hours go by and the non-delivered project milestones disappear over the horizon. That would obviously be plain stupid and would result in an extremely short career in project management, in fact probably a very short career full stop!
Lazy does not mean Stupid. No I really mean that we should all adopt a more focused approach to project management and to exercise our efforts where it really matters, rather than rushing around like busy, busy bees involving ourselves in unimportant, non-critical activities that others can better address, or indeed that do not need addressing at all in some cases.
The Lazy Project Manager explores the science behind ‘productive laziness’ (yes there is some) and the intelligence behind ‘productive laziness’ (and yes there is some of that as well). It attempts to share with the reader some of my own experiences that have led to my style of project management where, it is often observed, that I appear to be less stressed, less busy and yet more productive.
‘Productive Laziness’ is the term that I use to express this approach and it is a style of working that is beneficial to an individual, through a better work/life balance, and to the project(s) that they are leading.
Cesar: When someone is starting out in project management no one will usually tell them to ‘be lazy’. How can ‘newbies’ be lazy and yet be good at their work and impress their team?
Peter: Indeed, when starting out in a job or role for the first time there is often a belief (both from the individual and sometimes also the manager) that being extremely busy and putting in long hours can be productive. This is rarely the case over any length of time.
Now I am not suggesting that on day one you declare that you are off at 5pm regardless of what is going on, no I am just saying that by just being in the office or on site (in the clear visibility of management) does not equate to doing your job to the best of your abilities or on a productive manner.
No one will ever tell you to be lazy but they equally won’t tell you to be busy. The expectation is that you will get the job done to a good level of quality and within the expected time/cost frame. If you can achieve this, and still leave time for other matters that will raise your profile and increase your personal skills and knowledge, then all the better I say.
Cesar: Give me three ways every project manager can be ‘productively lazy’?
Peter: Well where better to start than to focus the art of ‘productive laziness’ in the area of communication within the project.
The would be ‘lazy’ project manager will think very, very carefully about what they need to communicate and how they need to communicate it and why they are communicating what they are communicating.
The general guidance is that some 70-90% of a project manager’s time will be spent in communicating. That is 70-90% of your time!
So, if you play the productive lazy game at all, and you only apply it in one area of project management it makes blinding sense to do it here, in communication. This is by far the biggest activity and offers the greatest opportunity of time in the comfy chair.
Imagine if you would able to save some of that 70-90% of your time, how much more relaxed would you be?
Beyond this then consider how you are using your project team. Are they being truly utilised in the sense of applying their combined knowledge and skills? Could you use them more, delegate more, trust them more, and benefit from their experience more? I bet you could. Try it.
Finally, something I have always advocated if having fun. Whilst this does not necessarily allow you to be more ’productively lazy’ it does bring a very positive feeling to any project and thus should encourage the wider team to more ‘lazy’ (in a good way of course).
‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by’ Douglas Adams (Author of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’)
You have to laugh; well I think you have to laugh.
Without a little bit of fun in every project then the project world can be a dark and depressing place.
Setting a professional but fun structure for your project can really be beneficial for when the problems start to rise up to challenge your plan of perfectness. And problems will inevitably arise.
Ending with a laugh and a wave
A man in a hot air balloon was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a little bit more and shouted:
“Excuse me madam, can you help? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am’.
The man replied: ‘You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above alkali desert scrub habitat, 2.7 miles west of the Colorado River near one of the remnant populations and spawning grounds of the razorback sucker’.
‘You must be a biologist’ said the balloonist.
‘I am’ replied the woman. ‘How did you know?’
‘Well’ answered the balloonist ‘everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help so far’.
The woman below responded ‘You must be a project manager’.
‘I am’ replied the balloonist ‘but how did you know?’
‘Well, said the woman ‘you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise to someone that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is, you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow it’s now my fault!’
Peter is a dynamic and commercially astute professional who has achieved notable success in Project Management.
His background is in project management across three major business areas over the last 26 years, MRP/ERP systems with various software houses and culminating in his current role with Infor, Business Intelligence (BI) with Cognos, and product lifecycle management (PLM) with Siemens. He has spent the last 7 years leading PMOs and developing project managers and is now focusing on project based services development with Infor.
He is also an accomplished communicator and leader and is a professional speaker as well as the author of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ (Infinite Ideas) and ‘Leading Successful PMOs’ (Gower) and ‘The Lazy Winner’ (Gower).
More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.