This is our third interview of our brand new series of Agile Interviews with agile influencers. Our previous interviews were with Joel Semeniuk and Stephen Forte


For a long time we have been searching for a format that would allow us to provide our TeamPulse blog readers with fresh, unique and different, but still agile content. The Agile Interviews would give you the opportunity to get to know the agile influencers better in both professional and non-professional context. If you have any questions to them, please submit them in the comments section below. There is an agile influencer you think we should interview? Please share them as a comment below.


Would you please introduce yourself?
Hello, I’m Elizabeth Harrin.

Tell us more about the idea behind A Girl's Guide to Project Management.
The blog began when I realised that there weren’t enough women writing and speaking about project management, although there were plenty working very hard at it. Back in 2006, flicking through the trade press and going to conferences meant reading and listening to what men had to say about project management. There’s nothing wrong with that – they were (and still are) often very good. But the project management world was lacking a female perspective. Basically, there wasn’t enough stuff about shoes, chocolate and crafts for my liking.

Today, things are better. Conference organisers tell me that they go to lengths to attract female speakers. Editors have more balanced editorial panels. However, it isn’t their fault that they have to make a special effort: it’s ours. If we want women to have a more active role in promoting project management as a 21st century profession we need to get out there and do something about it.

I don’t speak for all female project managers, of course. And I hope men find something of interest on my blog as well. The topics I write about evolved somewhat over the years and now I find myself writing more and more about communication and project management books. In short, I’m the Girl, and the blog is my Guide To Project Management.

Would you share your top 3 project management and productivity tips?
Here are my tips:

  • Have a plan for your project and for yourself. Don’t expect to stick to it, but have one.
  • Just get on with it. You can focus if you really want to, so prioritise what’s important.
  • Don’t underestimate your stakeholders. They can make or break a project. And you are a stakeholder too, so work out what you want to get from the project and what it can do for you.

What is agile?
A way of getting things done through teamwork.

Coffee or tea?
Tea mostly. Or decaf skinny latte.

Do you scrum?
No.

Any addictions?
American procedural crime dramas – Bones, CSI, Rizzoli & Isles, The Closer, Castle, Body of Proof, Hawaii 5-0, that kind of thing. There are UK procedural crime programmes, but they aren't as good.

Favorite agile principle?
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Tell us more about your new parent project. Would you share some project lessons from parenthood?
Pare down what you need: I took lots of stuff to the first new mothers’ group I attended. When I went along again I put my keys, phone and purse in a pocket, put the baby in a sling and chucked a slimmed-down nappy bag over my shoulder. The more experience you have, the more you make changes to your routine so that you only do what you need to. With experience, you learn to pare down what you need and therefore spend more time on the important stuff. Stay Agile and keep your processes streamlined!

You can’t do it alone: You can’t manage a project by yourself. That’s why we have teams. I know many people do successfully bring up children by themselves, but it’s got to be easier with some helpers around. I accept all the help I can get. Do the same on your projects. Delegate everything you can. Find a mentor or a coach. Talk to your manager or project sponsor if you get stuck. We don’t know it all and we certainly can’t do it all. Don’t be a hero – share the load where you can.

How many projects do you usually work on?
At the moment I’m on maternity leave, so none. But normally I work on one, and supervise other project managers working on other initiatives.

Tell us more about multi-project management and your golden rule for it.
Stay organized. Use dashboards and reporting if you need to manage multiple projects. Use templates so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.

What keeps you organized? And what keeps you focused?
I love lists and I couldn’t work without them. What keeps me focused is knowing that I only have an hour before Jack wakes up so I need to get some writing done right now!

What's your favorite place on earth?
I don’t have a favourite place, but I do like to be on the coast.

What was your worst situation that agile was able to address?
I have never formally used Agile methods on projects – we use an adapted hybrid Agile/waterfall approach that works for us, but it isn’t properly Agile. The biggest problem I’ve faced as a project manager was whether to delay the launch of a software product to around 9,000 staff. We used Agile-y methods like bringing subject matter experts together to create multi-functional teams, blitzing issues with flip chart paper on the wall marked out for problems that had yet to be resolved and moving them across to a different section when they were fixed. Plus we scheduled release dates for new updates and then worked to include as many features as possible so that the delay didn’t stop new features from being introduced. I suppose you could call that a bit like a sprint.

Team or individual sports?
The sofa!

Tell us about your book "Customer-Centric Project Management"? What's coming up next?
This week my new book, Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World, was published. It’s a second edition and it’s been completely revised since the first edition came out in 2006.

We love your idea Otobos - on time, on budget, on scope! What else do we need to know in 2013? What has changed in the world of project management and how PM is evolving?
Project management is evolving from a set of processes to a way of working. That’s evident in the new knowledge area in the PMBOK v5 which includes stakeholders. I think that the soft skills – leadership, teamwork, communication – have been overlooked for far too long. I’ve always been interested in these and while the ‘hard’ skills like scheduling and EVA are important, you can’t do projects without people so I think we’ll continue to see an evolution towards using these skills more effectively to get things done. I also think we’ll see project managers reframe themselves as project leaders and their work as project leadership.


About the Author

Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin is author of 3 books on project management and the award-winning blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management. She is director of The Otobos Group, a project communications consultancy. Elizabeth lives and works in London, UK. You can follow her updates on twitter @pm4girls

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