DPM Podcast

How Will DPMs Influence The Future Of Work? (with Sarah Hoban from Gemini)

By 28/09/2021 January 12th, 2022 No Comments

Galen Low is joined by Sarah Hoban, a project manager, product manager, and strategy consultant with 10+ years of experience leading cross-functional teams of engineers and business analysts to execute high-risk multi-million dollar projects. Listen to learn how DPMs are poised to influence the future of work.

Interview Highlights:

  • Sarah is a project manager, product manager, and strategy consultant with over 13 years of experience leading cross-functional teams of engineers and business analysts to execute high-risk multi-million dollar projects. [1:14]
  • Sarah is passionate about quickly mastering complex technical concepts and conveying them to stakeholders in a language that they can understand so that the product, project, and overall technical strategy stay balanced. [1:27]
  • Sarah just finished up working at a consultancy for over a decade of her career. She’s going to work for a smaller FinTech company, but still as a program manager, joining a PMO. [2:29]
  • Sarah got interested in productivity and new ways of working when she was working on a really difficult project. It was a couple of years ago. It was a global project, and there was a big safety component that was involved with managing teams that were doing work that was sometimes dangerous work in a remote environment. [5:20]
  • Sarah got into productivity and did some research on how to lead teams that are dispersed and how to be more productive in the workplace. The interest sparked by that project has continued through to today. [6:47]

“There’s a lot of latent productivity to be unlocked for those who are willing to take the risk.” — Sarah Hoban

  • A lot of what Sarah learned comes down to motivation and motivating teams, and that’s a place where DPMs have a big role to play. [13:25]

“If you are a DPM and you are doing your job well, you make your job look easy.” — Sarah Hoban

  • To Sarah, DPMs are quietly awesome and it resulted in us being overlooked a little bit in some of the conversations about how organizations approach new ways of working. A lot of what we do as DPMs is like a mini COO for a project, and there is a lot of insight that we have to offer because we’ve been doing this for years and iterating on it. [18:12]
  • The danger of a hybrid working environment is that if you don’t have everybody aligned basically to the same schedule. Whether fully in-person or fully remote, some folks will be left behind. [22:41]

“If you’re going to do a hybrid schedule, align it as much as possible so that people are in the office on the same days.” — Sarah Hoban

  • On Sarah’s old team, they used to do a motivation survey every month and they’d see where the highs and lows were and try to double-click into why. [27:42]
  • Sarah set up optional office hours, and that helped a lot of folks. Some people didn’t want to attend at all, and that was fine. And so people came every week and some people dropped in as they saw fit. [28:10]
  • As a PM, there’s a lot you can do. Sarah is a big fan of setting up automated workflows for routine tasks. It’s figuring out which tasks are right for that kind of thing by doing a little mini analysis of that. Sometimes she does a calendar audit every so often, maybe every month or every quarter as a status update thing. [30:14]

“A lot of times we think brainstorming meetings is a productive meeting, but studies show that it’s actually not very productive to force people into a conversation and then throw out ideas.” — Sarah Hoban

  • Sarah recommended a book called, “A World Without Email by Cal Newport“. It addresses a lot more of the juicy stuff. It’s not just about email. Cal talks about the idea that there’s this productivity that’s like untapped that exists. [43:32]

“A knowledge worker revolution is figuring out a way to do our jobs more effectively so that we’re really using our brains and maximizing the creative part.” — Sarah Hoban

  • Sarah’s advice is to have leadership skills even if you don’t intend to be a people leader. We are leaders in the nature of our role, because we are glue connectors, translators. It’s a lot of interpersonal communication. And she is a firm believer in leading from where you are without necessarily title or authority. [51:05]

Guest Bio:

Sarah Hoban is a project manager, product manager, and strategy consultant with 10+ years of experience leading cross-functional teams of engineers and business analysts to execute high-risk multi-million dollar projects. She excels at diagnosing and prioritizing project problems, quickly mastering complex technical concepts and conveying them to stakeholders, and streamlining operations. Sarah is passionate about productivity, leadership, building community, and her home state of New Jersey.

Photo Of Sarah Hoban

“I think there’s the balance of making sure that you don’t alienate your customer base, but you also don’t alienate your employees either, because both are critical to success.”

— Sarah Hoban

Resources from this episode:

Related articles and podcasts:

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Read the Transcript:

Galen Low

Like it or not, we’re accelerating down a path that is changing the way that we think about work. From hybrid working models to fully asynchronous “meeting-free” approaches, we’re beginning to challenge constructs from the past to unlock a future of work that is more balanced, more equitable, and more sustainable.

But in some ways, this is a path that us DPMs have been walking down for some time now — at least at a project level. We’ve been crafting the processes, protocols, and methodologies that allow our teams to collaborate effectively across time zones and locations for decades.

So if our approach to work is going to be constantly changing, and DPMs are already adept at sculpting and implementing innovative ways of working, doesn’t it stand to reason that DPMs should become the custodians of the future of work?

Well, buckle up because that’s exactly the question we’re going to be diving into in today’s episode.

Thanks for tuning in, my name is Galen Low with the Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can lead our projects with purpose and impact. If you want to hear more about that, head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.

Hey everyone — thanks for hanging out with us on the DPM podcast.

My guest today is a project manager, product manager and strategy consultant with over 13 years of experience leading cross-functional teams of engineers and business analysts to execute high-risk multi-million dollar projects.

She’s passionate about quickly mastering complex technical concepts and conveying them to stakeholders in a language that they can understand so that the product, project, and overall technical strategy stay balanced.

She also loves nerding out about productivity and the future of work, which is exactly what we’re going to be doing today.

So folks, please welcome Sarah Hoban. Hello, Sarah!

Sarah Hoban

Hi Galen. How are you? It’s great to be here today.

Galen Low

It’s nice to have you. How are you doing?

Sarah Hoban

I’m doing great. I, um, I’m in between gigs at the moment. So enjoying the free time and trying not to over project manage myself.

Galen Low

I love that. It’s like as project managers, we just don’t know how to relax.

I know a number of people who’ve switched jobs recently. Um, and, uh, yeah, they’re like, it’s like the first, some of them are like three days off. Some of them are like one week off. And like, for them it’s like an eternity. They’re like, I don’t even know what to do with myself for three days or five days of not working before I start my next gig.

Uh, but congratulations. Um, are you, uh, are you, are you able to talk a little bit about, uh, the new role?

Sarah Hoban

Yeah, I can talk about it. Um, so I just finished up, um, working at a consultancy for over a decade of my career. So this is a big move for me. Um, it’s going to work for a smaller, uh, FinTech company, but still as a program manager, joining a PMO.

So similar type of work, but different environment. Very exciting.

Galen Low

Moving from the consultancy world. Big move.

Sarah Hoban


Galen Low

And also moving closer to your home state of New Jersey, or maybe indeed moving back to New Jersey?

Sarah Hoban

Yes. Back to New Jersey. I’m very passionate about my state. Um, and I’m excited to be moving back closer to friends and family.

Galen Low

Nice. What’s uh, what’s the thing that you’ve been longing for that you’ve been like, oh, I wish I was in, in New Jersey so I could go to this place or see this thing or see these people?

Sarah Hoban

Uh, carbohydrates. So pizza, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches. I’m super excited about all three.

Galen Low

I love it. I love it. That’s awesome. Very, very cool. Uh, awesome.

Well, congrats again, a big move. I mean, over a decade with an organization, uh, you know, you’ve seen a lot of things, you’ve done a lot of growing there and onto the next for you. I think that’s so exciting. Very, very exciting.

Sarah Hoban

Thank you. I’m excited.

Galen Low

Uh let’s uh, let’s dive into it.

Um, let’s talk about the role that digital project managers could possibly play in the creation of future ways of working. Um, so just to kind of tee it up. Recently, we’ve seen the corporate world starting to lay the groundwork for new ways of working. They’re taking the lessons that they’ve learned throughout the pandemic and are merging them with their return to office strategies, and hybrid work policies, and, and, and, and…

So even beyond that, we’re also seeing shifts away from synchronous collaboration to more fully asynchronous collaboration models. So that movement against that dreaded meeting, um, you know, and, and, and sort of raging against that. Um, and so all of these things, they need research, they need planning, they need buy-in, they need implementation, adoption.

And ultimately they need a change in mindset amongst teams of humans that work together. Uh, but in some ways, us digital PMs are already experts at doing exactly these things, at least in a temporary context. So we are given unique challenges with unique requirements and we create unique ways of working for a unique teams so that we can deliver effectively on our goals in spite of the circumstances.

Um, so yeah, that’s, that’s my setup. That’s my spiel. Um, so I do want to get into the article that you wrote for us on thedpm.com on this very topic. But first of all, I wondered if maybe you could tell us a bit about your obsession with productivity and the future of work. Uh, like what got you interested in productivity and new ways of working to begin with?

Sarah Hoban

Yeah, that’s a great question. I wasn’t always, um, focused on this topic area for sure. And I think for me, it came out of working on a really difficult project. Um, it was a couple of years ago. It was, uh, it was a global project, so different time zones were involved. Um, It was an infrastructure project. So there was a big safety component that was involved with managing teams that were doing work that was sometimes dangerous work in a remote environment.

Um, and I was in way over my head. It was the first time I managed a project of that scale and size. Um, although I had managed, you know, similar types of projects before, there were a lot of nuances to it and there was a big learning curve for me and I struggled. And I struggled with setting personal boundaries to be most effective, right?

At getting my work done. And it got to the point where I was working, you know, around the clock. Um, you know, get up in the morning, checking my phone to see, you know, what was new, what was happening, um, working weekends. I didn’t use my team as effectively as I probably should have, um, cause I had not managed, um, you know, uh, quite so large a team before.

Um, and I had some folks on the team who weren’t necessarily high performers, so that was also new for me to deal with. So I think after that, you know, I got to a point where I had delivered what I needed to, got to a milestone, and then I was like, I got to take a pause because I love this project and the work. It’s really challenging and fun. But I can’t continue to operate in this way.

So I kind of took a break and got really into productivity and, and did some research and reading on how, um, how to lead teams that are dispersed and how to be more productive in the workplace. Um, so I think that’s, that was probably a couple of years ago. I think I said like maybe 2017. So I think a lot of that research and work kind of has continued today.

Galen Low

Nice. And I mean, are you actively sort of optimizing and tweaking the way you look at productivity and the way you’re defining ways of working with your team, you know, as you learn more and read more and sort of, you know, experience more?

Sarah Hoban

Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, I think productivity is a journey and I think the misconception that it is some sort of Nirvana and state is what makes people nervous to really implement a lot of changes in the way that they work.

But I think once at least it was for me, but I think once you get to the point of understanding that it’s imperfect and it’s a process, and you’re going to constantly learn and adapt that based on where you are in your personal life, based on what’s available technology wise, and then based on also the people you work with and what they prefer.

I think there’s going to be a constant optimization and kind of give and take of ideas there.

Galen Low

And I really like, I like the framing around the sustainability of a way of working and, you know, the, when you had talked about, and I think a lot of our listeners can relate is that sometimes the pressure we feel as project managers to deliver, you know, it falls on our shoulders and if you don’t disperse it, it can be so heavy that it can throw things into imbalance.

Um, but then you also mentioned things like, you know, time zones and different types of personalities on a team. And, you know, I think, especially as we look out onto the horizon, the future of work, you know, in the next sort of yes, next year, but also the next five years, 10 years, um, there’s a lot of these things that are gonna exacerbate some of the issues that we already have with productivity. Whether it’s like setting boundaries for ourselves or getting folks to work together internationally using the right tools, um, you know, communicating effectively over like cultural differences.

Um, these are things that are going to, we’re going to start realizing that maybe the way we look at work, isn’t actually as sustainable as we thought, once we are able to sort of put the magnifying glass on it and put ourselves in these circumstances where yeah, we have distributed teams. We have some folks who are coming to the office, some folks who are not coming into the office, um, we’ve got, you know, a lot of complexity because let’s face it: because of where we’re at right now, like digital isn’t getting any less complex. If anything, it’s like, you know, it’s, it’s a serious part of every business now. And that’s going to sort of, um, pressurize things and force us really to, to sort of, um, think about the way we work, optimize, you know, learn from one another and continue to define new ways of working.

I really, uh, I really like that. Uh, seeing as you’ve kind of, you know, over the past couple of years, you’ve had your finger on the pulse of, of, of, you know, just the future of work. Um, and I’m just wondering if there’s anything that’s happening today in terms of how organizations are sort of designing their new normal.

Um, is there anything that’s like, has surprised you?

Sarah Hoban

Well, I think two, that’s a great question. I love that question. I think the two things are, I’m going to give the obvious answer that everyone is going to probably respond to with this question, which is obviously the pandemic has accelerated things a lot faster.

Um, obviously unforeseen by all by all or most of us, um, in terms of adopting these new ways of working. But then I think secondarily to that, I think I’m surprised that in the light of that more organizations aren’t taking X, boulder experiments, right? I’m surprised more companies aren’t thinking about six hour workday or, you know, four day work week or, you know, big bets like, or I don’t know, getting rid of Slack or IM, or whatever.

You know, I’m surprised more aren’t like experimenting cause I think there’s a lot of latent productivity to be unlocked for those who are willing to take the risk. There’s there’s reward that’s there and I’m surprised more people aren’t taking that plunge.

Galen Low

I think that’s fair. And I mean, we, you and I earlier we were talking about, you know, folks who are setting precedent for better or for worse right now, all of these decisions, especially with larger, larger organizations, they’re so visible, um, because it’s political, you know, and you want to make the right decision.

And I think the gravity and like the weight of an experiment, it was already heavy, uh, for a lot of enterprises, I think. You know, everyone wants to innovate, nobody wants to get it wrong.

Um, but now these experiments are just like, you know, the, the world is watching. So, you know, you, if you’re a big telecom company and you come out with a four day work week and you know, there’s an outcry for some, for some reason, um, then yeah, it’s just, uh, they’re these heavier more visible experiments, but yeah.

I think you’re right. It’s surprising that, you know, when we’re going to get put in the pressure cooker of having to change very quickly, we changed. And now that we have this gradual restoration in a way, people are maybe a little less willing to like, make those big bets.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next, in particular, in the next year to two years, um, because like you said, I don’t think anybody wants to be the first mover, but I think if you’re a first mover who gets it right, there’s, there’s a lot of good there. Um, but I think there’s the balance of making sure that you don’t alienate your customer base, but that you also don’t alienate your employees either because both are critical to success.

Galen Low

It’s a delicate balance, but also arguably, um, and I think you’ll agree with this, that the opposite is also just as risky. So, you know, there’s leadership teams right now talking about, okay, well, let’s get everyone back into the office, you know, and keep doing things exactly how we were doing it, right?

Like back to normal is also causing people to, you know, leave their job and go to the competition or, you know, having people make hard lifestyle, lifestyle decisions, um, uh, because we’ve grown accustomed to, you know, a certain way of working a certain thing. And actually just going back to what we were doing before, you know, that’s also going to be a risk for organizations.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. And I, and I think that point is, is valid. And, and I think that sort of ties into my evolving kind of research and thinking on productivity, because I think it started out a little bit more tactical, right? And I think now a lot of what I’ve learned is, is really comes down to motivation and motivating your teams. And that’s, I think a place where DPMs have a big role to play, but I also think that that is a topic that because it has emotional components, because it’s not easy work, because it requires, you know, time to build that trust and that relationship. I think, I think failing to do that can be also alienating.

Cause it, it runs the risk of seeming out of touch or, um, like you don’t want to talk about something, but I think for many of us the world has changed irrevocably and people do not, even if they want to, we, there is no going back to the way things were before.

Galen Low

Absolutely. And you raised a good point, you know, swinging it back to digital project management, the role of the digital project manager and the challenging situations that we find ourselves in and that our teams find themselves in.

And yeah, it is this sort of, you know, um, finding the balance, distributing the pressure, um, you know, effectively so that the team can, can do the work so that you don’t burn out. Um, and also just like those experiments, right? We do it almost all the time where we try and be good, um, exemplars, I guess, of, you know, how to adapt ways of working quickly on the fly within this little ecosystem of a project team to make sure that, you know, we are, uh, sort of satisfying the unique requirements of the project, but also satisfying the unique requirements of the team.

Um, and just to level set for our listeners. Um, Sarah, your article that you posted, uh, it paints a picture of how us, you know, mere digital project managers and producers and program managers, and, and, and… uh, like despite not really being invited into the planning conversations for the new ways of working that are on the horizon line, we can still exert our influence by being those examples. The best examples of how, you know, hybrid ways of working can and arguably should be balanced and other ways of tackling productivity and the way we could collaborate as human beings.

So for example, you talk about things like practicing good meeting hygiene to prove that meetings actually can be effective. Uh, you talked about promoting strong asynchronous communication to like democratize the hybrid work experience. You talk about setting clear communication protocols, setting boundaries, and ultimately like unlocking, um, like a knowledge worker revolution.

And I know I just kind of gave away a lot of the punchline there. So actually for those listeners, if you haven’t checked it out yet, you might want to pause this podcast, follow the link to the article in the show notes below and then come back. Cause it’s a, it’s a, it’s a really good read. And then we’re going to just dive deeper.

So for everyone else, or also welcome back, uh, let’s, let’s double click on some of these ideas that we kind of scratched the surface on in the article, but I think there’s, um, there’s like a, just a whole world beneath it.

Um, so I wanted to come back to something I had, I had framed up earlier, which is that, you know, for the most part, at least the folks I’ve talked to, like DPM has warrants, widely invited to the conversations about defining new ways of working, uh, in a sort of what I’m, what I’ve called a post vaccine world.

Uh, what it, what I mean is like this sort of return to work has galvanized these suggestions about, you know, ways of working. Um, and just wondering, why is it that you think visual PMs weren’t really invited to this conversation? I mean, we’re, we’re process nut jobs. I mean, in some ways we, we really thrive on this sort of thing.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. And I’ve wondered that myself and I think that conclusion is, is multifold, right? I think if you are a DPM and you were doing your job well, you make your job look easy. And that is kind of a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because the team is, is running well. And, um, you know, you’re able to make probably your own life a bit more stable, a bit more sane if you instill really good practices and ways of working that prevent you from having to work, you know, nights and weekends to accomplish things.

But I think that goes unnoticed by others where if they don’t see a problem, they assume, you know, everything’s humming along. And then sometimes it’s like in your absence, that’s when the, you know, that that impact is felt, unfortunately. So I think part of that is it comes to like us being able to brand ourselves a little bit more and call some attention to the things that we do that are beneficial for the team.

Um, I’m still sorting through what that looks like, but I think it’s trying to get a little bit more data-driven about what we’re doing. Um, and I can expand on that in a little bit, but I think in general, because that we’re, we’re sort of quietly awesome.

It, it resulted in us being overlooked a little bit at some of those conversations, but I do think a lot of what we do as DPMs, and at least how I see the role of a DPM is kind of like a mini COO for a project. And so to me, there is a lot of insight that we have to offer because we’ve been doing this for years and iterating on it, right?

With different, like you said, different types of projects, groups of people, um, time zones, you know, geographies. Um, different abilities, types of personalities that we’re working with that are brought to the table and figuring out how to optimize for that. I mean, that’s what we’re good at. So I do think we have a lot of insight to offer, and I think there’s ways we can offer our ideas, even if we’re not seated at that table. Metaphorical table.

Galen Low

Uh, and I just have to say, I love that framing. Um, yeah, I think quietly awesome is a, is a great way of putting it. You know, we talk about the, sort of the invisible work that project managers do, um, which sometimes leads to people just not knowing what we do and we’re doing it on this like localized level.

And nobody’s really sort of paying that close of attention because it is like localized and we don’t talk about it. And as a result, you know, it maybe didn’t even occur to anyone to invite project managers to the conversation about how can we define ways of working when we have hybrid work environments, when we’ve got, you know, um, I can different, um, stances on synchronous versus asynchronous collaboration.

Um, people don’t know that that’s maybe what we, you know, maybe they don’t know that that’s what we deal with day in and day out. So I guess that’s, that’s a really good point. Um, and I just think, you know, like as we sort of return to, I guess this return to work, I guess, is what folks are calling it, return to the office.

Um, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re going to be coming into this sort of, I guess, return to in-person, but also a return to like hybrid. Um, and especially something like, for example meetings, um.

What is our responsibility to like in-person and hybrid meetings going forward as like a valid way of, um, a valid way of working as, as, as folks sort of return to the office, um, and start working more in this sort of hybrid context, like what, what can we do to sort of make meetings, yeah, a valid and viable way of working?

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. I think there’s a lot of power that we have over this, right? I think one, I’ll start with the, the fact of, you know, that meetings have a bad reputation. And I think that’s because so many meetings are so poorly run, but we’re experts at running meetings as well, right? Like we’re having a meeting for a reason.

There is an agenda. People understand what their purpose of being invited to the meeting is and what they’re supposed to do beforehand, that the conversation is well structured. Um, you know, maybe the meeting ends a little bit early, so there’s a break before your next meeting, right? It, it I’m glossing over it because I think it’ll probably be basic to a lot of our listeners, but I think for non-PMs, I don’t, I don’t think it is basic because they have often, not, at least in my experience had the privilege of going to a meeting that is well-run, right?

So I think that’s the first part is kind of carrying on with that. I think what’s going to be different is understanding that maybe the tolerance for, um, having like equitable meeting participation like that, that’s going to be a really important thing to focus on. So there’s, um, you know, in my previous role, there were folks on my team who were remote and those that were in person.

So we had a conversation about, okay, why are we going to have a meeting be in person? Like, what is the reason, why is somebody going to have to come in? Whether they live two hours away or half a country away, or a 20 minute subway ride away? Like, what is, what is the reason we are gathering together? Um, and it better be a good one.

And if we’re not gathering together, what tools are we going to use to make sure that everybody participates, right? We’re not going to go back to some people are on the phone and some people are in person, and then you have a meeting after the meeting. No, that, that is not fair any more. And I think that you have to be really cognizant of that so that you, you don’t slip back into kind of those old patterns.

Um, I think the danger of hybrid is that if you don’t have everybody aligned basically to the same schedule, either, you know, fully in-person or fully hybrid, I think that there is a danger that for those groups who are not able to come into the office, whether it’s because of dependent care or disability, or, you know, just location geographically or some other, you know, reasons.

Those folks will be left behind and because we’re humans and we are going to naturally gravitate towards who we see in front of us. Um, and if that, if that, you know, if there’s somebody who’s not there, they’re not as top of mind as somebody who is in many cases. So I think it’s trying to figure out how to craft that so that it’s as equitable as possible.

Um, and so I think I’m a big proponent of maximize. If you’re going to do a hybrid schedule, align it as much as possible so that people are in the office on the same days. I think that’s the best way to do it.

Galen Low

Yeah. It’s definitely like a bit dark art that a lot of folks are trying to master in terms of like figuring out the staggered schedule.

Um, but you know, I, I love that notion of like, you know, being, being a custodian of how equitable the experience is, the collaboration is because, you know, we’re like we’re over well over a year, uh, and a bit into this. And, um, I had forgotten exactly how inequitable a Polycom in a meeting room is, you know, someone at the end of the table sounds like, you know, there are 50,000 miles away.

Um, meanwhile the person like shuffling paper in front of it is the only thing you hear as a, as a remote attendee and trying to interject. I’ve seen, uh, it was actually some, some, uh, some of your, uh, some folks from, uh, your consultancy. One of the things that I admired is there’s an art to like interjecting on a Polycom, it’s kind of like the stuttering start.

You just kind of start talking, well, well, well this, well, this one until everyone is quiet and then you have the floor, but it really takes this, like, you have to like penetrate your way into the conversation when it’s a hybrid meeting. Um, but I really like that. Like, I love the litmus test for like, should this be in person?

Like, let’s actually test it before we start creating, um, you know, a collaboration environment that maybe is a bit, um, uneven. And also, I just love that notion of like, yeah, maybe being the one who’s like. Cool. Great. I’m glad we’re having this like mini conversation after the meeting, but we really need to make sure that the broader team is aware of some of the things that we’re talking about here.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. And I think that your point about iterating is a good one, because I think the other thing that we talked about at least is like, we don’t know how this is going to go. Like when we go back to the office, are we going to have the technology that enables us to show everybody in an equitable manner?

I don’t know. Does you know, and if that is not a viable option, um, you know, do we even need to be in the office? Do we just get together for a team building event over a lunch? And that’s our way of getting together because we can do our work asynchronously. I think it depends on the nature of the work that you’re trying to do.

Um, and you know, as in personally as an extrovert, um, I was really excited to go back to the office and that whole environment, but I think working with my introverted colleagues has kind of put me in their shoes over the past couple of months where I’m like, I feel low energy because I’m not around people.

And I’m like, this is kind of, she was on the other foot type of a situation. So it really taught me some things about how to maximize effect, you know, effective work from different types of people. Um, and I think being more deliberate about, you know, some people are going to contribute better in an asynchronous environment because that just comes more naturally to them.

Um, so I think being cognizant of that too, is, is interesting and has been a learning experience for me.

Galen Low

And it’s a really good point that it’s like in terms of, uh, our sort of impulse or motivation, or at least our drive to, you know, create like, and, uh, sort of democratized work experience like, you know, yes.

Um, it’s gotten us thinking about, uh, you know, how to, uh, factor in different personality types and different needs. Um, but that’s not just like, uh, you know, and that’s not just looking at the next year. That’s not just kind of coming out of the pandemic. That’s like the future of work, you know, like in general, it’s a mindset that, you know, we need to bring to the table for every time we’re designing a new way of working or implementing a methodology or thinking about a process.

Um, and just that, you know, inclusivity like as a mindset, I think, um, is going to be a huge part of how we think about work.

Sarah Hoban

Right. Right. Right. And I think it goes back to the motivation piece, right? You know, it’s really, it comes down to getting people to feel motivated at work so that they can do their best work and whatever that means.

And that is an ongoing question. And, you know, on, on my old team, we used to do a motivation survey every month and we’d kind of see where the highs and lows were and try to double-click into why. And then, you know, is there anything that we can do to make changes or is it just like, yeah, we’re still in a pandemic it’s like kind of rough.

Like, I can’t really control that as your PM, but in other cases it’s, oh, this, this thing that we do is really annoying and I’m like, awesome. I can change that, right? And that makes a huge difference for some people. Like I, um, I set up optional office hours and that helped a lot of folks. Some people didn’t want to attend at all, and that was fine.

And so people came every week and some people dropped in as they saw fit, but that was a good example of something that I probably wouldn’t have tried, cause I didn’t want, you know, you don’t want to err on the side of like too many meetings or making people feel like they have to come, so you kind of do nothing, but, but actually it served a good purpose and people enjoy it.

Galen Low

I mean, that’s a huge lesson that, you know, anyone listening who is in charge of their organization’s sort of return to work, like that’s a big lesson to learn, right? It’s like, get the feedback, iterate on, on things that you can change, you know, understand the things that you can’t change, but at least check in with people where they’re at and is this working or is it not and keep doing it because the landscape won’t always be, you know, static.

Sarah Hoban

And I think that helps you get that seat at the table eventually, right? Because if there’s a, you know, a random comment or a question that comes up from a meeting from someone more senior, and you can offer that nugget, Hey, you know, based on my experience with my team, you know, they, that gives them that insight that you, you know, you have a pulse on this and that you have good ideas that you can offer and be part of that conversation, potentially.

Galen Low

I love that. Sharing the learnings, for sure.

Uh, we, we talked a bit about meetings and, you know, running meetings effectively, um, and some of the considerations of whether a meeting should be in-person or not. Um, but then I wanted to kind of ask the same question around, you know, not having meetings, asynchronous collaboration, you know, um, what is our responsibility as project managers to the asynchronous ways of working, you know, when some of our colleagues are going to be tempted to, like you say, drift back into old habits and like, suddenly everything’s a meeting again, everyone who doesn’t like meetings is low energy again.

Um, you know, how can we sort of promote, or at least find the balance, um, with asynchronous collaboration, like being better at getting work done without having a meeting?

Sarah Hoban

Yeah, and I think that’s going to be hard to do if you’re not somebody who’s in a position where you’re in charge of that. I think as a PM, there’s a lot you can do. Um, I’m a big fan of setting up automated workflows for routine tasks. Um, so I think it’s figuring out like which tasks are right for that kind of doing a little mini analysis of that.

Um, sometimes for me, like, I’ll do a calendar audit every so often, maybe every month or every quarter. And I’m like, what is this meeting that we have? Like, what, why is this here? What was, you know, maybe it started out as a good, as a good reason to get together, but it’s, it’s sort of become a routine. Um, you know, and it’s just a status update thing.

So I think too, it’s also forcing people to do their work, not in meetings. And that can be difficult when your entire day is meetings, because then by all people set a meeting with you so that you will do. So, what I’ve done as a PM is sometimes I’ll set a meeting with someone to, to like talk to them about something and then I’ll get there and I’ll be like, this is a time for you to do work.

I’m actually not going to talk to you. Like I’m going to leave when your calendar is like blocked. And it’s like, and I think people are like, oh crap. Like, they kind of realize like my situation has gotten out of control. So I think it’s almost like you’re coaching your colleagues in a way on getting more productive practices in place, which unfortunately in the era we’re in like organizations should help us do that.

But it’s really kind of left up to the individual as I talked about a little bit in the article. So I think it’s, it’s being strong and helping each other. Um, the other thing I’ll throw out there is a lot of times we’ll think a brainstorming meeting is, is a productive meeting, but studies show that it’s actually not very productive to just force people into a conversation and then throw out ideas.

Um, it can be helpful once you have something started on paper and discuss. So I think, you know, having, um, sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll have a meeting where we’re going to go over kind of findings or results, but I’ll set a block on people’s calendars of like, this is quiet time for you to do pre-work for this meeting, which kind of again, not foolproof, but it tends to force people to be taking the time to prepare and like actually come to the meeting if they’re ready.

Galen Low

I like that notion of like helping people protect their time by helping them block their calendar, for example, like to get work done.

And like the other thing, like, as you’re talking, like, I’m, I’m a meeting junkie. Um, but part of it is because like my verbal communication is imperfect, but my written communication I’m a perfectionist. So for example, like I’m actually very bad at asynchronous collaboration because I want my brief to be like, perfect.

This will take me a long time and I’ll never get around to it because guess what? I’m always in meetings. So actually like the imbalance of meetings and like, I’ve noticed this about folks like throughout the pandemic, but even before that, like, you know, where being back to back is kind of like, I don’t know, it’s almost like a status symbol, whereas actually what it means is actually you’re not getting work done.

Um, and you’re probably not finding the balance, uh, and probably what you’re doing is not sustainable because at some point work needs to get done and it was not getting done during your work day. It’s getting done after work or on the weekends. Um, and then coming back to your story at the beginning, right?

It’s like, okay, we need, we need to do that audit. We need to do that audit of, you know, is this actually a viable way of working or is it just the way things have become? And, and, and if we got beyond that point, um, you know, over the past a little bit, then why should we return back there? You know?

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s where, like, like you said, I think DPMs have a role to play, because maybe if there’s a brief that you’re trying to fill out, maybe we can create a template with like common sections and a brief for an outline, and then you don’t feel like it has to be perfect. Really. We just need like the content from your brain to be out.

And then you, you know, we can refine that afterwards, but like kind of getting that structure and that system set up for people, making sure that they do the pre-work and then facilitating the conversation and then, you know, somebody can kind of close it out. And the part that requires synchronous is like, is minimal or minimized.

Um, especially if you have a team that’s in different time zones and stuff, it’s not going to be possible.

Galen Low

Cause I mean, I think one of the things that like, um, like often gets confused is that, um, asynchronous doesn’t mean that it’s not a dialogue.

People can ask questions, things don’t have to be perfect. You can iterate on it. And the dialogue continues and work continues to get done.

Um, and yeah, I think that whole notion that it like not falling back into the habits of meetings, just because that’s what we did before.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. I think it’s convenience and like, I’ll speak for myself. It’s laziness. It’s a lot easier for me to have a meeting and I’m an extrovert. So I want to talk to you for 30 minutes than it is for me to sit down quietly and like write a paper.

Like I don’t want to do that, but I have to figure out, like, I do need to do that. And that’s, that’s where the interesting hard work happens. And it’s increasingly difficult to carve out time to do interesting, hard, creative work when we’re in back-to-back meetings all day and we’re working from home and there’s a pandemic and there’s all this other stuff going on.

So, I think we also have to give ourselves a bit of a break and be like, what is realistic for us to really do priority wise? Which is, again, not something we always have control over or the center of power, but I think at least as PMs for the teams we manage, it’s like, can you structure the schedule in a way so that like, everything may be due at once, but like, can you make it not be artificially, not all due at once?

Can you somehow separate it out so that people are like, thinking about it in a logical manner without getting overwhelmed and kind of viewing it as like an ongoing thing that they’re building and that they’re crafting? I think that mindset is like totally different. I think when we start to get into asynchronous communication, people automatically think about like, uh, like a Slack channel with like 50 people in it.

That’s like not great for productivity, right? Like it’s much different when we say asynchronous and we’re talking about a shared doc, right? You know, even for today’s show, right? Like you put your outline in there. I add my comments. We can go off of that, right? That works well. Um, and that really, I think is the future of asynchronous.

I do not think it’s like, um, Cal Newport calls it like a hive “hyperactive hivemind”, which I love that expression because it totally describes like everybody jumping in to answer one person’s question or, because it’s instantly satisfying to give that answer instead of working on your hard paper.

So it is, it requires discipline. And I think, um, that is not easy. And that’s why we all have to kind of work together on it to get better.

Galen Low

Honestly, that’s a, that’s a such a huge point. A) we’re talking about context switching, right? Inefficiency of context, switching meetings, or getting pinged on teams or Slack or whatever are equally as distracting.

And it’s distracting us and not letting us do probably our deepest and best work, the work that we’re best suited for, like where our talents lie, where subject matter expertise lies to do the hard work and write the paper. Um, That sort of fervent hive. It doesn’t let that happen.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. And I think there’s also the social part of like, you want to be helpful to people, but I think you have to be really careful about how you, how, and when you communicate on those things and like set quiet hours for yourself, like very deliberately, because if somebody really needed you in an emergency, there are infinity mechanisms for them to contact you that are not Slack. So it will be fine.

Galen Low

I think that’s a good, uh, like it’s a good point and segwaying into, you know, what you talked about in your article about setting clear communication protocols. Um, and you know, we’ve been talking this whole time about iterations, right? And we’re not going to get it right the first time.

Um, we might never get it right. Maybe it’s a journey. Um, and it’s always going to be maybe a little bit fluid. So I’m just wondering what advice you might have for teams where just trying to figuring out, just trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And they’re trying to figure this out in real time, but they want to set clear communication protocols, but at the same time, the landscape’s changing all the time.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. So I think it’s like coming up with what you think the ground rules should be. And I think this can be done by the PM, cause I think they have the best pulse on it for everybody to see. I mean, they can tell what types of meetings are not getting enough participation, um, active or attendee wise. Um, you know, they, they can tell when, um, deadlines are getting missed or responses aren’t coming in from the team based on the communication mechanism that’s used.

So I think another part of that is like a lot of organizations have these unwritten rules about how to communicate that we don’t cautify. Um, so if you’re using instant messenger, you may think I have to respond instantly, but maybe you don’t, um, or an email demands a response within, I don’t know, a certain amount of time, but maybe that’s not the case. Right?

So I think it’s really setting down like these are the basic things that we’re going to do that makes sense for us. And that can be really useful to new people, to joining an organization, to kind of not have to spend the time figuring out those unwritten rules. And also if we’re all in this remote environment, for folks who are used to being in person where you kind of like, you know, pick up by osmosis how things work, it’s, it’s even now, um, incumbent upon us to really be clearly defining what those things are.

Um, so we have a level playing field, so I do think it’s, it’s codified it. And then I think it’s doing like kind of a, some sort of feedback loop or lessons learned. It doesn’t have to be super formal, but just kind of like understanding from folks like what is irritating to them, what is slowing them down?

What’s a pet peeve? Um, and I think if they, if they see that their feedback is then acted upon and adjusted, people will be more forthcoming about what works. And I think sometimes we don’t even realize what doesn’t work, because we’re just used to doing it in a way that’s like complicated for no reason. It’s just the way we do it.

Galen Low

Oh, I like that whole, like, don’t be afraid to tweak it. Like you’re not carving something into stone here necessarily, like it is going to change. Um, and those, those tweaks should happen. I mean, is there maybe an outer limit though? Like where so much tweaking happens that like, people don’t have stability in the way they’re working, cause everything’s changing all the time.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. I think this needs to be like a one-and-done exercise. I think it’s like, here’s like our five bullet points about when we’re using email, instant messenger. I don’t know, phone. I’m just like making this up. Um, when, when we have a workflow for something I don’t know.

Um, and if there’s, and maybe there’s some sort of candidate for when something becomes a workflow, you know, as it becomes more used more often, maybe it’s a candidate to be automated, right? Um, and we keep it at some ideas list. And then when we have time, we add, add that to our list of things to automate.

Um, I think if you try to like, come in and over-engineer this, it’s going to never get done to your point. So I think it’s just put it down, work with it, if there’s something big, wrong with it, revisit it, but otherwise, like charging ahead.

And it sounds minor, but it like permeates everything we do. And if, if you think about if making a way to make email more efficient, even by a small percentage point saves enormous amounts of time in someone’s life every week, which then rebels across your organization, which is why I’m so passionate about this topic.

Because I feel like even though it sounds mundane, I’m like, it has a very big impact and I think it can change a lot of things about not only how we work with the world. So I’m excited.

Galen Low

I really liked that perspective. And I think that’s probably a good segue into like what I’m just calling, like, let’s talk about the jucy stuff.

Uh, so, uh, like one of the things that you talk about in your article and you we’ve talked about in our conversations, um, you’ve been talking about a knowledge worker revolution. Um, can you define that for our listeners? Like what does it mean to you?

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. And this is, um, taken from Cal Newport’s latest book, which if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

It’s called “A World Without Email”. Um, and it, it has a little bit of a, um, click baity title, but it addresses a lot more of the juicy stuff as you put it. It’s not just about email. Um, but he talks about this, you know, the idea that there’s this productivity that’s like untapped that exists. And if you look at all of the data as well, um, around where we are in terms of our, um, productivity for knowledge workers, we’re kind of at the point where in history, years ago, we switched from a six day to a five day work week.

Like we’re at the point now where we’re generating that same productivity so that it would enable us to go to a four day work week. So I think it’s like, things like that, that, um, to me, a knowledge worker revolution is figuring out a way to do our jobs more effectively so that we’re really using our brains and maximizing the creative part.

The part that like can’t be automated by artificial intelligence. Um, the fun, exciting parts of the job and like freeing up the time to focus on that. And a lot of these modifications to ways of working, I think are sort of the way to unlock this potential. And to me, it’s, it would be a revolution. It’s the term Newport uses that I really like, cause it would be a fundamental change of how we do business and could unlock a lot of productivity.

Galen Low

I mean, so what you’re saying is that we could probably get down to a three-day workweek if we put our mind to it.

Sarah Hoban

Eventually, yes. For sure. The fewer day, the better, as long as we’re still productive.

Galen Low

And I think that’s like a, like on a serious note like that, that is the ripple effect that you’re talking about, right?

And it’s like, yeah, we laugh about, you know, being obsessed with productivity, like, wow, what a nerd. But when you talk about, uh, you know, going, oh, like only working three days of the week, I think anybody in their right mind is going to be like, that’s a massive change that I did not necessarily connect with just being more productive and, you know, kind of automating, uh, the things that we can automate so that we can spend more time doing the hard work, but also the creative work, right?

The brain work that only we can do, um, so that we can increase that productivity. Um, and maybe only work three days a week. I, I joke, uh, and I don’t mean to put words into Cal Newport’s mouth, but, uh, you know, that’s, uh, it’s a very exciting, um, prospect in terms of, you know, how deep the rabbit hole, uh, sort of goes.

Uh, and I think the other thing that’s kind of like implicit there, I guess, is this sort of like continuous innovation, right? Like we can’t just stop, uh, like come up with a new way of working in a stop and then suddenly, you know, we’re going to keep getting more productive. In fact, probably what has kept us from being more productive and achieving these sort of gains in the way we live is partly because we just kept working the same way.

Sarah Hoban


Galen Low

And we’ve been kind of like stuck in these modes. Um, but I wonder kind of like tying us all back together in terms of like digital project managers, like, how do you see the role of a project or a program manager, like becoming more embedded in like the way that we innovate and define new ways of working like continuously?

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. And I think we talked about this in, um, an AMA I did with you all recently on product and project. And we talked about how the role of the project manager is shifting more towards strategy development. And I think when we think of a traditional PM, we think of like, okay, is it scope, schedule, budget, right?

Like, are you kind of keeping the wheels wheels on and things running, but I think it’s shifting more to kind of that our value is in that strategy, that big picture thinking, um, the team and people management, um, that can not be automated or, well, I shouldn’t say cannot is going to be very difficult to be automated, right?

We do not have a foreseeable timeframe when that will happen.

Galen Low

Spoken like a true futurist.

Sarah Hoban

Right. I was like, hold on. I should never say never. I think it’s very difficult to replicate that, right? So it’s like, how can we maximize, like what we’re good at as humans and what is traditionally called soft skills, which I hate that term.

But you know, the thing, the things that we, we can do to bring out the best in people to, um, create an environment of psychological safety, to think about when we’re working on a project, like does this priority really makes sense in the context of where the business is going? Because through our interaction, with all these different teams within an organization, we often have really good insight into that.

Um, we have a very interdisciplinary perspective just by the nature of our roles. So I think in the future, as we see things becoming more and more connected, team-wise, people-wise, discipline-wise, there’s a very big role for us to play. And if we’ve got this sense of what our teams are doing and need, and we’ve got a sense of how to work efficiently and effectively, like I see a really big future for us.

And I think it’s exciting. I don’t want to sit there and like update my budget by hand. I would rather some like robot do that for me and I can focus on the stuff that’s really cool. And like on the ground, um, exciting.

Galen Low

I think you’ve raised a good point in terms of, of our perspective. So like we talked about this like localized sort of ecosystem that we work within, you know, a project with a project team, not necessarily like the whole organization, but we also are, you know, we’re, we’re that glue or that sort of bridge between.

So we, we see how all of the puzzle pieces fit and we help connect the dots. And in a way that’s like a perspective that, like, for example, like HR will never have, because they’re kind of more, you know, their perspective is higher up, uh, whereas we’re seeing how work is getting done, and we’re seeing how all of the teams collaborate.

Um, and we are kind of in charge of, uh, like ways of working, like methodology, like process at that level. Um, but then, you know, having that, like you said earlier, right? Finding ways that yes, we can be quietly awesome, but we also should probably share our learnings, our lessons, our knowledge, and, you know, become more of those people who are like, go-to people.

Sarah Hoban

Exactly. Exactly. And I think that for those who are a little bit shyer about, you know, tooting your own horn or kind of ,putting yourself out there, I find that having either your team perspective or, um, the work itself, you know, the ways of working itself to lean upon as a way of kind of calling attention to what you do well, um, is a good way to sort of overcome that hesitation to come to get involved or to, to brand yourself, right?

I think, um, there’s ways to approach it that, um, that, that can come across well and are, are less like cringy.

Galen Low

Right, right. Yeah. I’m more talking about like outcomes, the results.

Sarah Hoban

Yes, exactly. Yeah.

Galen Low

I think you raised a good point about like, you know, skills, um, for, uh, like in the context of, uh, this notion that, you know, project and program managers will, might, maybe, should become that the people who are sort of defining ways of working more, more broadly, uh, like, and maybe that’s a future aspect, but like, what should we start doing today? What advice would you give to somebody who is like, oh, okay, well, if that’s what we’re going to be doing in the future, what kind of skills should I be building now?

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. And I think a lot of that is going to be leadership skills at even if you don’t intend to be a people leader. I think we are leaders in, but nature of our role, because we are glue connectors, translators, whatever you want to call it, it’s a lot of interpersonal communication. Um, and I’m a firm believer in leading from where you are without necessarily title or authority.

So one thing that was really helpful to me was working with a coach to kind of understand like what it was that I wanted to do and, um, how I could be a better leader and motivator for my team and kind of figuring out what that capability looked like. Um, and if you have the opportunity to do that through your current organization, sometimes they will fund it.

So that’s, you know, a way to take advantage of professional stipend that you may have available. Um, or if not, you know, there’s a lot of reading that you can do on your own to kind of build and refine those skills. Um, and I think then the other part of it is getting that perspective of the business and the strategy.

And sometimes there are sort of either collateral duty activities that you can take on, or, um, sometimes getting a good mentor at the organization that gives you insight into some of those questions. Um, or I should say probably a sponsor rather than mentors. They can get you the seat at that metaphorical table to attend some of those conversations and like really be part of those discussions and see how those are communicated by executives.

I think really getting your handle on the business side of things, and then also the, um, you know, the leadership and the connection with your, with your teams and the folks you work with. I think those are going to be huge. Um, I think that there’s also, you know, as we work in an increasingly digital world, um, having that vocabulary at your fingertips is going to be key.

Um, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a new skill because I think for many of us either we’re there, or we’re used to doing that with the projects we lead in terms of coming up to speed on something that’s new or different. So I think it’s continuing to hone that by working on a lot of different projects.

Galen Low

I like that one of the things is actually physically getting at the table, have a mentor or a sponsor who can actually get you at the table in these meetings so that your perspective isn’t as localized, that you can kind of see things from a higher level strategically within the organization that you’re with.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah, I think it’s training yourself to think big picture.

And sometimes it’s not just, I know I’m talking about, oh, you don’t need to be in a meeting to, to hear things. I think it’s, I think it’s really having the opportunity of like, can you give a pitch at the meeting, right? And getting that practice of how you speak to executives and what’s important to them sort of trains your brain to think from being more localized to more big picture.

And so that’s why I say attending those calls.

And then I think it, it is incumbent upon our leaders then to figure out how to communicate it, you know, asynchronously to the whole organization. So that that’s not the sort of the default way information is passed because there’s not going to be that small group of like up and commerce who are going to hear that are trained for that.

So I think it’s going to distribute that, love a little bit. And then I think it has shown me to, oh, like what is going on that I hear by osmosis? Let me share that out with my team, because my engineer will probably want to hear that when he is thinking or she is thinking about how to develop something, right?

So I think it’s also a good lesson for all of us. Top, middle, bottom, wherever you are in your hierarchy, flat, wherever, wherever you lie, um, to, to really be as transparent as possible, at least that’s my philosophy and leadership, and I think it’s important to build trust.

Galen Low

Absolutely. No, I love that. And I want it to kind of spin back to the, this notion we talked about, you know, yes, I would love a robot to update my budget and there are going to be some things that are more difficult to automate using the technology we have available to us.

Um, but you know, all of this and like this, this leadership, um, and you know, the way we lead people from, from wherever we’re at, uh, it gets me thinking about sort of the future of project management. And I just wondered, I mean, this is a big question, but I wondered, you know, in your eyes, what is the future of project management?

I mean, like, what are some of the things that we need to like ready ourselves for? Um, and you know, how, how, how will we be able to transform our role so that we go from like quietly awesome, um, to a place where, you know, our contribution is a little bit more measurable.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. And that’s something I’m still struggling with to be candid.

I mean, I do, I am very bullish on the future of project management. I think that, um, I could be biased because that’s what I do clearly, but I do think that, um, there’s a lot of things to be optimistic for because as we, um, continue to work on increasingly complex jobs with increasingly dispersed and diverse groups of people, the ability to lead teams and the ability to, um, generate results does design processes that are put together well, that makes sense that are replicable is going to be very difficult to do.

And, and we’re uniquely positioned as PMs, I think, to do that. Um, what I’m trying to figure out how to quantify yet, and this is kind of the next thing that’s on my mind is like, how do you quantify the impact that you have on the people that you work with? Um, you know, I think there’s, you can say, okay, this percentage of my team got promoted last year and I was involved in their development.

So like good on me, but like, you can’t really take credit for that. There’s other people involved. Does that really say anything? Um, so I think it’s trying to figure out for me, you know, how do you, how do you take the, um, the feedback that’s hard to quantify about, like, you know, you’re, you’re motivating to me because of these changes you made.

I was able to spend more time with my kids, right? Those types of comments, um, and, and figure out how to sort of broadcast or describe those in a way that’s a bit more quantitative. Um, but I do think that that’s a lot of the things that we have the power to contribute to and influence. Um, and I think our jobs are going to continue to get more challenging, but I also think more rewarding.

Galen Low

I love this notion of measuring like impact to people’s livelihood. I mean, not, I mean, we think of like, again, coming back to like this, this thread of steel that we’ve been talking about, uh, all throughout, which is that productivity seems nerdy and it seems like you’re going to be like, oh, like 18% efficiency gain equals more revenue.

Uh, but actually where, where it goes is actually to like, uh, impact of livelihood and like quality of life and, you know, balance. Um, and these things that, yeah, maybe we’re not yet at a place where organizations, um, are like, that’s not their success metric, but it could be in the future.

And it should be.

Sarah Hoban

If you have somebody who’s highly engaged, motivated, and comfortable in their work, they’re going to do good work and they’re going to stay for a long time.

I mean, you you’ve probably read all these studies. I’m sure all of us listening have, right? Where it’s like over 50% of the workforce is like totally disengaged. And just like sit there in front of their computer for eight hours. That’s terrible. So there’s, there’s a lot of energy there that’s not being used wisely.

So how do you figure out how one, how to channel that, which I think we’re well-positioned to do. And then as people leaders and as process managers. And then two, okay, now that we’ve done that, how do we, how do we sell that? How do we show that? Because that to me is there, there’s an impact on revenue and reputation that businesses are going to be really interested in if we can figure out how to describe that.

Galen Low

I love that. I, uh, I wanted to swing around to something that you had mentioned. You had mentioned to me, and you shared with me an article on Bloomberg about organizations that are looking for a Remote Work Tsar. Someone to kind of figure out how this remote work, uh, thing is going to happen, uh, and then extrapolating that, right?

Like, like somebody who is sort of in charge of this now dynamic ever-changing picture of like the future of work and the ways of working and what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. What’s going to make everybody quit and what’s going to get really good results out of people, even if they’re only working three days a week and we still get the same results, like someone to like own that.

I thought, you know, I thought you’re going to have thoughts on this.

Sarah Hoban

I love this job. Um, it was really interesting to me because, and I think it speaks to the future of program management and project managers in general from a career trajectory, right? Because we’re interdisciplinary, there are so many different things that we can do. We can continue to grow and flourish as program managers and continue to manage projects of increasing size, complexity, you know, difficulty, whatever that is for you challenge-wise.

Um, we can go onto maybe a head of people type of role. We can do more of an operations role, you know, there’s, I think there’s a lot of different elements that, that speak to it.

And this position was really interesting to me because it was the first time I had seen somebody advertising for this, um, in a C-suite capacity. Um, it’s, you know, it’s like, it’s more than HR. It’s more than operations. It’s more than PM, but like all three are wrapped together. Um, and I think it also has a really interesting potential cause it’s like once you figure it out for one organization, like what, what happens next?

And the way that this role, in particular, was pitched was like, okay, this is your entry point to the C-suite. So we’ll find you some other role once you like solve this short-term thing. So I liked that because it reminded me. Um, and I think it’s a good reminder for all of us that like this conversation on return to work and future of work is like ongoing.

Um, it’s exciting. And I think this role was really interesting to me for that reason, cause it does touch on so many different things.

Galen Low

And I come across this a lot where people are like, oh, well, you know, I’m going to top out as a project or program manager, and then I’m going to have to do something else.

Um, or, you know, kind of plan a career change at some point. Um, or I’m going to just keep doing this. Uh, but I think the other sort of, if we connect all the dots that we’ve been talking about, then what you’re saying is, as a program or project manager, you’re developing the skills and perspective that would actually be suitable for a role that’s more about defining future ways of working, which by the way, in this particular opportunity is an entry point into the C-suite.

So suddenly you’ve gotten from program manager to C-level, there’s actually a direct path there if we’re looking at it, um, through this lens of like ways of working and some of the things that we’re quite adept at already.

Sarah Hoban

I think it’s really fascinating. I think there’s so much option, um, so many options and so much potential for us as PMs to really impact our organizations or teams, um, and like you said, businesses. That is a ticket to, to us kind of continuing our careers in a really exciting way.

Galen Low

I love that. This conversation has been so insightful and very rich in terms of like epiphany moments. I think the big one for me has been just this notion that like productivity and how we measure it isn’t really about, you know, um, revenue or business targets. It’s about achieving a quality of life as humans that unlocks our potential to do the work that we do best, which might be the hard work, but the work that’s actually leveraging, um, like what we can do in order just to make life better, different, more balanced.

Um, and I, I really liked that sort of, you know, picture of that’s how that’s how we can measure success for productivity.

Sarah Hoban

Yeah. And then all we have to do is figure out how to tie that back to a revenue metric and corporations will be onboard with it.

Galen Low

Sarah listen, thanks for coming on the show. This was a really good conversation. I love all of the insights and ideas that you’ve bestowed upon us. And I’m really excited to just keep collaborating with you and, and, and finding out more about where your journeys, uh, where your journey is heading, you know, with your new role and everything.

So congrats again. And, uh, and thanks again.

Sarah Hoban

Thank you. It was great to be here and this is super fun. I’m, I am always up for talking about productivity and future of work, um, and PM. Things I love best.

Galen Low

Awesome. And we’re going to do more of it. We’re going to do it again.

Sarah Hoban


Galen Low


So, what do you think? Was it a mistake not consulting with PMs like us as organizations started planning their return to office strategy, or is that simply above our pay grade? Do you think project and program managers can really influence the future of work?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments below. And if you want to hone your skills as a strategic project leader, come and join our tribe. Head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership to get access to a supportive community that shares knowledge, solves complex challenges, and shapes the future of our craft together. From robust templates and monthly training sessions that save you time and energy to the peer support offered through our discussion forum, community events, and mastermind groups.

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Until next time. Thanks for listening.

Galen Low

Galen Low

I am a Client Services Professional and Agile Delivery Specialist with progressive experience driving human-centered digital transformation in government, healthcare, transit, and retail verticals. I manage large, cross-functional teams and executive-level relationships within boutique agencies and large consultancies to drive tangible business outcomes and strategic growth. A few of my specialties: digital strategy, agile web application development, project management, human-centered design, design thinking, innovation & growth, digital government, career coaching, professional development.

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