- Project Management vs Project Leadership: 5 Differences That Set Them Apart
- 10 Questions A New Project Manager Must Ask Before Starting A Project
- Project Management Life Cycle: The Complete Guide
- 12 Techniques For Resolving Conflicts In the Workplace
- Write A Project Plan That You’re Proud Of (+ Project Plan Examples)
- How To Run A Great Project Discovery Workshop – Ask The Right Questions
- The Digital Project Manager’s Podcast – Apple Podcasts
- Join our project manager Slack team
- Become a DPM Member
- Noticing Joy: Leading With Human-Centered Project Management
Ben Aston: “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things,” said Peter Drucker famously in The Effective Executive. Now, as project managers, it’s kind of obvious that it’s our job to do things right, to deliver and manage projects. That’s in our job title. But should we also be concerned about leading our projects, about the strategy, about doing the right things? And if we’re not leading them well, who is? Keep listening to today’s podcast to discover what it means for project managers to lead your projects rather than just manage them and how you can combine project management with project leadership.
Thanks for tuning in. I’m Ben Aston, founder of The Digital Project Manager. Welcome to The DPM Podcast. We are on a mission to help project managers succeed, to help people who manage projects deliver better. We’re here to help you take your project game to the next level. Check out thedigitalprojectmanager.com to learn about the training and resources we offer through membership. This podcast is brought to you by Clarizen, the leader in enterprise project and portfolio management software. Visit clarizen.com to learn more.
So, today I’m joined by Rebecca Germond. Rebecca is a program director at Critical Mass. I actually hired her four years ago in my days at FCV and now she has moved across the pond to the UK where she is a program director. Now, Rebecca, I’m actually curious, what is a program director at Critical Mass and how does that role differ from a project manager?
Rebecca Germond: Awesome. Great question. Hi, Ben. Thanks for having me. So, yeah. So, a program director is a little bit quite different than a traditional PM. Generally, as a program director, we are managing multiple PMs and multiple projects. So, we have quite a few large clients that have anywhere upwards of 30+ retained staff. So, it’s important to have someone that’s overseeing all operations on all of the simultaneous projects that are going on because some of these clients have 10, 15, 20 projects at any given time. These people are all doing their own things and the program director just makes sure that things are happening according to plan.
Ben Aston: Cool. So, yeah. So, the project managers are the ones who are managing the day to day of the project. You’re taking this 50,000-foot view of everything that’s going on in the projects. I love it when people [inaudible 00:02:43] heights when referring to different levels of how high you are. Is it 10,000 feet, 50,000 feet? You just have to choose a big number.
Anyway, [crosstalk 00:02:54] I’m curious as to what tools you use to manage this big picture view of the different projects and what’s going on in the health of those, because I’m guessing you’re prioritizing resources, or maybe if you’ve got retained staff, you’re not having to reprioritize too much. But how do you manage this big picture view of the different projects?
Rebecca Germond: Yeah. Great question. So, it is a ton of spreadsheets, believe it or not. We do have some good tools and we have the traditional stuff that most agencies have when it comes to booking resources and booking time and managing timesheets and all of that kind of thing. But overall, when you have such a large program or body of work, you’re also managing quite large budgets and making sure that whatever the PMs are submitting to you for their actuals are being recorded and that thing. So, the best way to do that is an Excel.
We also have, we are starting to roll out a tool called Mavenlink to help us with more all in one system where we’re tracking time, we’re able to actually forecast, and we’re able to do all of our time and project management and timelines within one system. It’s still a work in progress and for such a large organization, I think we have upwards of more than 900 people here.
So, it’s hard to do that and pull the plug on what we’re using now and just start a new platform. So, we’re doing a pilot program for a couple of those key clients before we can just move right into it. But that’s one of them. Then of course, just Slack and the regular day-to-day stuff Jira. We do a lot of managing our own PMs within Jira as well, less so than just a typical ticket that maybe a developer would take. We’re able to assign stuff to each other, which is nice.
Ben Aston: Nice. So, I’m curious as to this pilot program that you’re talking about. So, you’re moving to start using Mavenlink, which is a project portfolio management tool. It has, yeah, resourcing in it. It’s got loads of functionality that enables you to combine lots of different tools into one tool. So, you talked about how you were going to start doing a couple of pilot projects to begin that transition process. How did you choose those projects and then what’s the process after choosing the pilot projects to roll it out across all projects everywhere?
Rebecca Germond: Yeah. Great question. So, again, this is above me and above the producers or above any of the other program directors. The decision was made, I believe, based on, our current system wasn’t meeting the needs and we’re not feeling it was an all-in-one system. The way that they chose which client was going to be doing the pilot or which project and program was going to be doing the pilot was based on a couple of things, like the fact that the client was relatively new, so it didn’t have a ton of historical data that we had to import it [inaudible 00:06:03].
The team is all hubbed within one office helps a lot. Working here in London, we’ve got people in every office that are working on it. Lots of different time zones make things hard. Some of the challenges, though, when you’re trying to do a pilot program and still have all of the normal data that you’re still trying to track in, we’re using Tenrox, for example, is we were asking people of that pilot to do timesheets twice.
Asking people to do timesheets once is a pain. So, that [inaudible 00:06:38] the obstacles that we’ve overcome. But it seemed to be pretty good. There are a few features that we’ve noticed it’s missing. So, we’ve had to put in some finance stuff and requests to Mavenlink before we can actually roll it out globally and do the system port-over. But once they’ve fixed those or created those new features, which is I think March 31st timeframe, we’re hoping to roll it out all by then. So, we’re pretty excited.
Ben Aston: Good luck with that. [crosstalk 00:07:10] Yeah. Maven is a great tool. It’s not a cheap tool.
Rebecca Germond: No.
Ben Aston: But it’s a cool tool. But we have stacks of tools on thedigitalprojectmanager.com. So, If you are thinking about maybe consolidating your tools, search for PPM tools or project portfolio management tools and you’ll see some of the other options that are available to you. But apart from a new toolkit, what else is new for you this year in 2020?
Rebecca Germond: So far, I moved here within the last six months, so I’ve been in London for six months. That’s a pretty big move. So, really looking forward to just traveling around Europe when I have the time, which seems to be a lot because they have a standard five weeks vacation over here, which is nice. I’m working on some new and exciting projects in a different capacity than I had as a … My previous role was Director of Client Service.
So, I did oversee a lot of PMs and work at a higher level with the clients. But I think these projects are a lot more robust and there’s a lot more history and some exciting stuff for me to learn. So, I’m really looking forward to that, as well as some business development initiatives over the next couple of months too.
Ben Aston: Yeah. Obviously, you’ve made the transition from Vancouver to London. There are stacks of people actually who are going from London to Vancouver, but how would you, for someone who’s thinking about changing countries and, yeah, going to work in a different city, what other things, what would you advise someone who’s thinking about that, or what are some of the key learnings that you’ve had as you’ve transitioned from one country to another?
Rebecca Germond: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s great. I think this is pretty maybe London specific, but definitely do your research on the market that you’re moving into. Here within London, the freelance digital project manager market is so huge and there’s a job every minute, I swear, opening. So, it’s not hard to find something. Be aware of what to ask for, what your value is, where you want your career to go in six months, 12 months, two years, five years.
The fact that they have all of these freelance project manager roles means that you can charge a lot. You can do a day rate, which is so lovely. But for me, it wasn’t exactly something that I wanted to do. I feel like there’s an end to that. You can only be at a senior digital project manager for so long, or maybe that’s what you want to do.
But for me, I constantly want to grow and evolve and see what the next step is and what the next place to climb on the ladder is. I saw that being a freelance digital project manager may mean that you get stuck into some habits and you’re only that for quite some time. So, I wanted to grow. So, I did a little bit of research there before I moved over.
Ben Aston: Just in terms of that working style or expectations, do you find it different in Van-, well, yeah, in Vancouver compared to London?
Rebecca Germond: Yeah. Definitely. Vancouver to London is so different. Toronto to London, not so much. I feel like Toronto, when I started my career there, I worked there for six years, I’m from Toronto originally, a very similar pace to London, lots of go, go, go, lots of stuff always happening, clients very demanding. I think Vancouver, I loved it, but it’s a very West Coast lifestyle. No one’s really in a rush. It is a nice pace for some people. But for me, I like the go, go, go. I like the high energy and the intensity of a bigger city. So, it’s very different and it was a little bit of an adjustment period, for sure.
Ben Aston: Yeah. Yeah. We obviously have a different or opposite experience in that I moved from London to Vancouver and, yeah, I share that kind of insight in terms of if you’re looking for a more laid back lifestyle, surprisingly, West Coast gives you that. People come into work early but then leave early as well, whereas, in London, it’s quite normal to be still at the office at half 6:00 and then maybe go to the pub. Whereas in Vancouver, that’s not how things happen at all. People are off to the mountains, off to the beach. It’s just very, very different, and there’s less hustle, right?
Rebecca Germond: Totally.
Ben Aston: People are trying to get somewhere in London. On the West Coast, it seems everyone’s a bit more chill.
Rebecca Germond: Yeah. It’s [inaudible 00:12:03] because when you hired me, I remember my first two months after moving from Toronto to Vancouver. I remember just being like, “Ben, I need more. I need more. I need more. I need more,” because I just didn’t feel like I-
Ben Aston: Was working.
Rebecca Germond: … was rushing around [inaudible 00:12:16]. So, I got used to it eventually, though, which was nice.
Ben Aston: Yeah. Good stuff. So, one thing I wanted to ask you is in terms of PM trends, now obviously, London’s a bigger city than Vancouver and you maybe see things evolving or changing. Is there anything that you, in terms of the PM role, the PMs that you’re managing, anything that you see changing, or how you see the role of project management changing in 2020 and in the next decade? How do you think things are going to change and evolve, in terms of our role?
Obviously, there’s lots of, we talked about Mavenlink, there’s new tools out there, some of which have artificial intelligence built-in. Anything, any changes within the role or trends that you see emerging in 2020 that you think will impact us in the decade ahead?
Rebecca Germond: Huh. That’s a great question. I think that although there are some things that can be really well done with AI, I still think that project management is such an emotional and relationship fundamental type of career or type of role. I honestly think that there’s so many things that you can do with these new tools and they compliment our skillset so well. But you need that human touch to a project manager or to project management in general.
I think a lot of that comes out within this article as well is that you can’t do it with machines. You can’t. You have to build a rapport with your teams. You need to look people in the eye sometimes. Even if you’re a remote PM, having that kind of banter over Slack or Skype, it all helps and it all helps foster your relationships with your team and your growth and your project success and health. So, I’m not sure. They help, but I’m not sure that they’re really going to change everything too much.
What I would say for me that I’ve noticed a lot within the last year or so, particularly when I’ve been working with quite large companies that are delivering tech or other third party agencies that help us along in our projects, I do find that a lot of people who have been traditionally trained in maybe PMP, which I’ve done the program, they think of everything in quite a linear numbers and spreadsheets and timelines type of fashion. What we often forget as PMs is reality and planning for reality.
What does a real-life project look like? We can plan things the best that we would like to and we can make the best project plan and give it to our clients. But what’s reality going to say? Sometimes, a sprint, we just can’t keep it to two weeks. There needs to be things that we need to fit in and we need to plan for that. So, what does reality look for? I think I’m having a little bit more real-life project planning is something that I hope that PMs take into account moving into the future.
Ben Aston: Definitely. One of the things you mentioned earlier was one of the, I guess, motivations for moving to London was to get back in the hustle and push yourself, particularly with taking on a permanent role rather than a contract freelance role. So, what are you trying to get better at personally and where do you get your inspiration from to do that?
Rebecca Germond: Huh. What I’m trying to get better at personally is not necessarily in project management, although it does go hand in hand. I’m really trying to get more patient with the people that I work with because I just feel like, and I’ve said this I think 15 times over the last two months, I don’t respond well to being asked the same question three times. I’m not a patient person. So, how do I think a little bit more closely about my own reaction to people and have a little bit more emotional intelligence about how I handle situations, and also understand that people are living their own lives.
Maybe they asked me three questions three times because I didn’t answer it the right way or what they were hoping for the first time and they didn’t get the information they needed. So, just taking a little bit of a step back and pausing and thinking before I act as really something that I’m going to be working on just in the workplace life in general.
Ben Aston: Yeah. No, that’s good. In terms of your inspiration, so obviously, that inspiration for becoming more empathetic, becoming more emotionally intelligent as a project manager, which by the way, I think you are good. Just to affirm you there.
Rebecca Germond: You’re too kind.
Ben Aston: You’re good. But I think that’s a nice goal to have. I think we can always do better at that. But in terms of where you find your inspiration from to become a better project manager to improve skills, what resources do you use and where’d you get that inspiration from?
Rebecca Germond: I think to be honest, all of the times in my career when I look back and I think of how I’ve modeled myself as a PM or how I’ve modeled myself as a manager or a leader, it’s modeling by example of someone else that’s done something really well and that I responded to really well, and I wanted to take on that trait. So, it’s shaped who I am as a PM, manager, whatever, based on the people around me. So, if one person has made a big impact on me or inspired me to be a certain way, how can I take that trait that they have or that value that they have and add it to my personal PM toolbox, if that makes?
Ben Aston: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. So, and I think that is so good learning from other people. Positioning yourself in an agency and in an environment where you’ve got someone you can look up to and someone you can learn from, that’s a really good way to learn good things and bad things as well from people. [inaudible 00:19:07] just be conscious. Is this good or not? But yes, thank you, Rebecca, for affirming me through that. I think that’s what you were trying to say. Right?
Rebecca Germond: [inaudible 00:19:17]. Yeah. [inaudible 00:19:18].
Ben Aston: Cool. Well, let’s get back to your post and this topic of leadership vs. management. As Stephen Covey says, “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline. It’s carrying it out.” So, in other words, leadership is about doing the right things, is deciding the best course of action to take. What are the things we should be doing to get us where we want to go? What direction or course of action should we take? Where do we want to be in the end?
Then the act of management follows this act of leadership. Once we’ve got this best course or direction, management is doing things right. It’s picking up the ball. It’s looking at the objectives established by leadership and saying, “Okay, here’s the best way to get there.” So, leaderships, well, leaders have got to use these management skills and managers have got to use some leadership skills. But understanding the differences I think can help us be a lot more productive.
So, let’s talk about your posts and his whole debate around leadership vs. management. As where we started, I was saying, well, project managers, management is in our job title. Leadership isn’t in our job title, but what I want to suggest is it should be. So, let’s talk about from a project management perspective, what do you see the management bit of it being?
Rebecca Germond: Yeah. Definitely, the management part comes into I think our day-to-day and those things that inherently as a PM you need to be skillful at. So, making sure that you manage a budget, making sure that you manage a timeline, making sure that you understand and manage the scope, requirements. I think all of those things are just the basic skillset of how you can be a successful PM and those things that you have to worry about day to day. There are so many other things. But how does a leader handle those I think, or set the pace for a project, are a lot different than those day to day things?
So, to be very clear. I don’t think leadership and management are mutually exclusive at all. I don’t think one is better than the other. I think some people are just really good at being managers and project managers and they have a very well-oiled machine of how they get a project done, and that’s awesome. But how can you push the boundaries? How can you find different ways to get your projects done? How can you find different ways to get your team excited about the work? Those are all things that maybe a leader thinks about vs. that well oiled machine and getting the cogs moving, I think.
Ben Aston: Yeah. I think one thing that you talked about in your post is this idea about executing vs. improving. So, in management, we execute and in leadership, we’re focused more on improving something. Another way of looking at this is counting value, which is a kind of management activity vs. creating value, which is more of a leadership activity. We’re trying to establish how are we going to create value and then what’s the direction we need to go in order to create value?
I think this is interesting because, what I propose is as a project manager, that in terms of the trends that we see emerging with artificial intelligence and automation, actually counting value is, and that management related task, is something that potentially could be automated at some point theoretically. But what’s more strategic is the more leadership aspect of this, which is, okay, well, how do we create value? How do we improve things? What’s the direction that we should take?
Then as a project manager, having a strategic hat on, which is like, okay, well, it’s my role to deliver as much value as I can, rather than just being assigned a project thinking, okay, it’s just my job to execute it. But what’s your take on that executing vs. improving and the role of the PM? Because I think typically, the role of a PM has been relegated to an administrator, a project administrator, organize meetings, assign resources, check the budget, and maybe create the budget, but not so value focused. So, what’s your take on the strategic creating value hat and how viable do you think it is for a PM to actually put that hat on when there’s other creative directors, whatever directors who typically wear that value hat?
Rebecca Germond: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. It comes down to, for me anyway, a lot of different agencies have different models of how they work on projects or with clients and a lot of people have a traditional producer vs. account manager role. I think for me, regardless of if you aren’t wearing that client hat, you have to be very quiet client-focused as a project manager and always be thinking as the client, even though maybe you’re not the person that’s liaising with them every day.
I think having that lens on things adds value. How can we be more efficient in our delivery and we can come in under budget? Or how can we add X, Y, Z feature to this platform that we’re working on and being able to identify what those value adds are is something that a leader might be able to do or someone who is more of an improver vs. an executer, which isn’t something that can be just, I guess, done by AI or done by a tool. That type of stuff isn’t inherent to those types of things.
Ben Aston: Yeah. I think, in your post, you talk about, you made this comparison between management and leadership and you talk about management is executing, leadership is improving. Management is often focused on being meticulous and paying attention to the details, whereas leadership is more around mentoring teams. Then management will be aiming for success while leadership will be challenging success. Management will be task-focused while leadership will be about delegating. Management will be about doing, whereas leadership is around motivating.
I think one other way of us to look at this is thinking about leading people vs. managing work. I think one of the things that we can think about as we’re striving to become more strategic, striving to be more of a leader within our role as a project manager is thinking about project management as ability to influence people, to motivate people, to enable people to contribute towards the organization or the client’s business success and thinking about that influence and inspiration, not just power and control.
Because power and control in a matrix organization, as project managers, we actually rarely do have power and control anyway. So, actually, if we put on the leadership hat instead, it gives us an additional ability to deliver our projects in a more visionary kind of way, which I think can be more motivating to our teams anyway.
Rebecca Germond: Totally.
Ben Aston: Then another way of thinking about this as well is circles of influence vs. circles of power. So, managers create circles of power, whereas leadership, we’re thinking about, okay, well, how can we create a circle of influence? One post I was reading on Harvard Business Review was talking about, well, think about counting the number of people who are outside of our reporting hierarchy that comes to you for advice. I think this is, as project managers, this is something that we can think about. If we’re doing this well, the more people that are coming to you for advice is the more likely that you’re being perceived as a leader.
So, it could be that those are people from your project team or from other teams. But we want to be someone who’s strategic, who’s providing insight to people, who has a circle of influence, and we get that from the skills that we have, from the insights that we gather, from the way that we lead projects, which gives people confidence in the way that we are planning and executing our projects. So, I think if we are able to wear this more strategic leadership project management hat, we’re going to advance in our career in terms of leading other people, but also, we’re going to deliver better projects as well.
Now, I know for you, Rebecca, you’ve got a couple of, I guess, more strategic leadership kind of certifications. You’ve got your high five team building and you’ve got a coaching certificate. I don’t know if either of those were any, actually, you think they’re useful, but what they indicate to me is, hey, those are more strategic things. So, how would you as a PM, you’re obviously a program director now, so you’re not necessarily directly managing projects, but you’ve obviously developed your strategic leadership skills. What would you advise to someone who’s thinking, hey, I want to get more strategic, I want to be a project lead and not just a manager? How would you suggest they do that?
Rebecca Germond: Yeah, that’s great. Just to be super honest, those certifications came in back in my days of a swim coach. Although [crosstalk 00:29:47]-
Ben Aston: Hey, they’re relevant.
Rebecca Germond: Same, same, right?
Ben Aston: Yeah.
Rebecca Germond: That’s a really good point. Recently actually within our organization, we wrapped up just before Christmas, the management team went through a few month-long pilot of the London office of a leadership program and a third party came in and she was amazing. She was telling us more about being a little bit more emotional intelligence, understanding more about yourself and who you are as a leader and less of those Myers-Briggs tests where it’s like this is why you’re this person. Just more open-minded and meditation focused. I think a lot of that has really helped for sure.
But I think just going back to these tools and how you can grow. What’s made me a strategic leader again is something I mentioned way earlier is just observing the people that inspire me and trying to mentally make note of those traits and what they did to inspire me or what they did to make me look up to them as a leader and just try and take those on. So, clearly, something clicked for me, and hopefully that influence that they had, if I can shadow or try and copycat that, perhaps it can have an influence on someone else and they look up to me that way.
That’s not to say that I don’t have my own skills or my own type of personality. It’s just, I’m not going to lie, I’ve definitely valued the people around me and I’ve had some incredible mentors and they obviously were doing something right to have an impact on me. I would like to be able to make sure that any of the PMs that walk through the door in my next job or currently look back on my time managing them and thinking that I at least inspired them to do one thing right.
Ben Aston: No, that’s good. I think, you joked about and discounted your swim coach training, but one thing that I think, that is totally valid and it might be that you have opportunities to practice leadership outside of your typical professional context. I would say take those on.
If you’re interested in practicing leadership with maybe there being less serious consequences if you get it wrong, becoming a swim coach or doing some volunteering somewhere and taking ownership of something and then being strategically-minded about the way that you do that, I think that is a great opportunity as well to develop your leadership skills outside of that professional context, but that will then help you later as you become more confident and used to leading people, motivating them, enabling them, influencing them while you might not have power and authority over them.
But you’re casting a vision and you’re getting people to follow you. So, don’t discount being a swim coach or being a leader of something else. I think it’s all valid. I think where I want to wrap up today is just as we’re thinking about being a project leader, I think we can be a project manager and we can be a project leader, and I think both of those things are important. We need to manage the details of the projects, but we also need to create a vision for our team to follow. I think the more that we can create value rather than just counting value, if we can be strategic about creating value, about doing the right project, doing the right thing, and doing it in the right way as well.
Often as project managers, we have a great amount of autonomy actually around the direction that we lead the team in and we need to get the team on board with how we run their projects. But if we can create value by the way that we do things, through the process, through doing things more iteratively, through involving user feedback, actually, we’re going to create much more value at the end of the project. But for you Rebecca, as you’re thinking about, hey, someone listening in the car, half listening, what would you recommend for someone who’s, wants to become more strategic, who wants to develop their leadership skills?
What’s perhaps the thing … You’ve talked about looking at other people, seeing how they do it, learning from them. But in terms of thinking about creating value in a project, what would be your one tip for someone who wants to create more value in their projects? Where should they start? What’s one thing they can do to help be this guardian of value?
Rebecca Germond: That’s a great question. I think that oftentimes, and I even mentioned this earlier, adding value is something that we do by looking forward to opportunities for our clients and keeping them happy and that kind of … But what’s often overlooked is the culture within your team and making sure your team feels valued and they’re not just bodies on a project getting things done by a deadline. How can you make people feel valued at work? How can you make the work more enjoyable for people?
I feel like all of those things really relate to the success of a project and just being a project manager that understands people and understand a little bit of empathy of humans and that kind of thing. Just have a little bit of a self-awareness of yourself as a project manager makes projects more successful, which in turn adds value tenfold and makes clients want to work with you again and makes your team want to work with you again, and makes your peers want to work with you or understand why you’re so good and why your projects are always kickass and perhaps makes your boss think that you’re good and want to give you opportunities on more projects.
So, I think just having a well oiled, healthy team first adds value to all different aspects of the project and of the business, and it’s not necessarily just about satisfying the client’s needs. It’s definitely making sure that your team is happy too.
Ben Aston: Yeah. Yeah, that’s awesome advice. I think the better our team is in terms of retaining our clients, continually delivering value, the more that we can develop them, the better they’re going to be, the happier they’re going to be, and it’s all going to be a virtuous cycle. So, Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great [crosstalk 00:36:47].
Rebecca Germond: Thank you.
Ben Aston: I wonder what you think. What are your hacks, tips, and tricks for leading projects, as well as managing them? What works for you and what doesn’t work? If you’ve got any fail stories or wins, please tell us in the comments below. If you want to learn more and get ahead in your work, come and join our tribe with DPM membership. Head to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership to get access to our Slack team, templates, workshops, office hours, masterminds, eBooks, and more. If you liked what you heard today, please subscribe. Stay in touch at thedigitalprojectmanager.com. But until next time, thanks for listening.