Episode 3 Transcript

Defusing Talent Pressure Points to Find Harmony Between Project Managers and Resource Managers w/ Peter Taylor

  • Intro

  • About "The Lazy Project Manager" and working smarter not harder

  • The relationship between project managers and resource managers and how rapid digitization is strengthening that tension and creating opportunity

  • The role authenticity plays in retention and "The War on Talent"

  • The importance of a global view of resources and visibility into where there is strain

  • The top pressure points in services organizations with regards to people


Brent: Welcome again to The Professional Services Pursuit podcast. This is a podcast that features expert advice and insights on the professional services industry. I'm Brent Trimble and my guest today is Peter Taylor. Peter is probably best known as an author of a provocative book called The Lazy Project Manager. Peter, great to have you on the show.

Peter: Yeah, it's great to be here and yeah, insult your profession and get on, that was the idea behind the book.

Brent: Absolutely. There’s nothing like that for a page-turner. And I understand you're transmitting to us from across the pond today?

Peter: Yeah, I'm in the UK. Absolutely.

Brent: So yeah, let's hear about The Lazy Project Manager, maybe the premise, then how you came about the idea. Let’s dive into that a bit.

About "The Lazy Project Manager" and working smarter not harder

Peter: Happy to do that. The book has been around for over 10 years now and it's still one of the best-selling project management books out there. The origin of it came from when I was relatively young compared to now, project manager and like all the project managers, I was keen to learn more and understand more and I read lots of books. Which if I'm totally honest and I have been for many years now, those books were dull and boring and theoretical. It was like nobody ever did anything wrong in project management, which clearly wasn't true. I started doing some sort of speaking and I was advised that yeah, get a book out there, it's a great business card, it's a great opportunity to speak against. But the background related to Lazy Project Manager was I was running a PMO and I had just over a hundred project managers working for me across Europe and I noticed something. I noticed about half of them, relatively speaking, were being reasonably effective, but working on average, typical working weeks. Our project has gone down, we know that, but on average, they were working 40, 45 hours a week. But the other half were working in my mind, crazy hours, you know, 50, 60, 70 or more, but they were no more, or no less successful.

So I started driving into the behavioral differences and that came on top of my manager, who had worked for a couple of companies at that point, he called me the laziest person he'd ever met. And I was really upset to begin with, but actually, he meant it as a compliment. Then the two things just came together and the Lazy Project Manager was born. It's all about “working smarter, not harder” when you're trying to manage projects, so that's what it's all about. And people seem to like it because it's full of very honest stories, it’s short, it has got a lot of fun in it and yeah, I've been delighted with the reception of it.

Brent: I love that, I love that idea and it's sort of based on efficiency, not just a pure tonnage and effort. And ultimately right in the project management realm, particularly when we're delivering solutions for clients or software or product, really measured on success and not necessarily effort.

Peter: Yeah, absolutely. It's something that I've seen a lot in your younger, less experienced project managers. They throw themselves at it passionately and so wonderfully, but they get down and dirty. They get in the weeds and they forget to elevate and remember their responsibility is to guide the project to more success. And so that's kind of what it's about, it’s about finding the most appropriate way, working smarter not harder, the most productive lazy way of working is the way I describe it.

Brent: That's outstanding, I love it. I love the idea of having a book as a business card. That'll maybe inspire me, maybe I’ll put some of my dad jokes into a corpus and see if we can maybe self-publish it or something. That'd be kind of fun. Well funny to me, which is the point of dad jokes, right?

Peter: Yeah, I think there's an author in everybody. Absolutely. I've encouraged many people to write et cetera. In fact, a quick side note on this one was during 2020, when the project manager was struggling and didn't know what to do, we had projects being canceled and postponed, et cetera. I set a challenge through LinkedIn and I love to be connected to people on LinkedIn, but we wrote a book in 21 days and I reached out to project managers around the world and say, give me 500 words about a brilliant thing you're doing right now to overcome the challenges. And it’s a book called The Projectless Manager and we did it from start to finish and got it published on Kindle and in print-on-demand in 21 days and it was just amazing. 55 contributors from 55 countries who made this happen. It’s fantastic.

The relationship between project managers and resource managers and how rapid digitization is strengthening that tension and creating opportunity

Brent: That's outstanding. Today in this episode, one of the areas we want to dive into and gain some insight from you and part of your expertise is this notion of the relationship between project management and resource management. And that's always been a really interesting dynamic, right? I mean, you have some firms that split them as really distinct practices and some try to kind of measure them, but there's always that tension between what needs to be done and then who's available to do it. And then on top of that, we have of course it's overused and oversaturated, but I can't think of a better term at the moment, just the enormous war on talent. Now in the knowledge economy and technology, where a lot of probably our colleagues reside, in the practice of project management. You know, good product service strategy, PMOs and project managers have been in demand for quite some time. And now we have the rebound out of the pandemic-driven economy, which has really just accelerated this war on talent because now a bi-coastal city can poach talent really in the US from anywhere. And I'm sure you're experiencing that in the UK and globally. But talk to us a little bit about that relationship, that tension of PM, resource management and now kind of a grenade thrown into the mix around just this really acute war on talent.

Peter: Yeah, let's start with some basics. They are different, yet they are the same and they are supposed to work in harmony and collaboration, but there's a natural tension created by the very nature of what they're being asked to do. Project managers kind of operate on a project where they manage a single project, they might manage a couple of projects. My peak, when I was in this kind of industry and practicing as a project manager, I could have four or five projects on the go at any given time. But it was all about working with the project team to deliver what my clients wanted at the end of the day and to bring success to my clients and the company I was working for. Now the resource managers, they operate on a company level, their job is being responsible for allocating appropriate resources to multiple projects. And it's about optimizing those resources for the greater benefit of the organization and utilization and profit margin, or those kinds of things.

So there's an instance, if you like tension because project managers like to have flexibility, they like to have the people that they know and trust. They'd like to rework with people, they like to have the capability to call up resources with short notice, they like to have that kind of contingency built into their results. The resource managers are doing the complete opposite. They're saying well you know, if Mary's finishing on Thursday afternoon at 3:00 PM, then Mary will start on the next piece of work at 4:00 PM maybe and carry on through. Whereas the project manager will go well, it might be me, or it might be Joe and that's the tension. And I think it's always been there, it's not an unhealthy one. Most organizations I work with find ways to collaborate. In fact, when I ran PMO, we've often operated if you like the kind of consideration of the priority often. You know, there's a problem here, which project gets the priority and guides the project managers and resource managers. But as you rightly said, there is this war on talent which has really accelerated.

If you look back, there's a lot written about the war on talent and has been for quite some time. It's almost like we're in the current battle in the war on talent, but it has just skyrocketed after 2020. And it's happened because people have realized perhaps more their worth. They totally understand they can be completely flexible. You know, someone that was perhaps working in a regional area, say in North America, that was their location, some they actually can do this around the world. We've all been pushed rapidly towards that kind of virtual world. So I think the tension has grown and the challenge has grown. And from my point of view, because I'm head of a PMO and this is my world, I think we have to all get a little bit more grown-up about this and understand what people want right now. And understand not that the pressures on people I don't think, it's the opportunity that all the resources are being offered right now. They see it a whole lot more. And so I think this is the accelerator I say and I think that's something that's being recognized around the world right now.

Brent: It's really acute I think in some of the disciplines we’re discussing like you know, PM resource management. I reside just in the outskirts of New York City, so for generations it's been a commuting town. Folks walk to the train, heading to Penn Station, Grand Central, or whatever the case may be. March to the office, put in your 10 to 14 hour day, come home, rinse, repeat, but there's this notion I think, on the one side, folks are sort of missing some collaboration. I think I just saw a survey, it was the Wall Street Journal or Fortune, where someone said about a third of folks want to go back to the office, maybe not full-time, but at least part-time. And then there's probably a real spectrum of gradient in there where folks say, you know what, some in-person collaboration is needed and it’s going to be great. I know personally, anecdotally, I miss that and I look forward to doing that at least part-time.

Peter: Collaboration is the key to me Historically, project managers and resource managers have co-opted, but collaboration is a completely different level of trust. I think one of the key things right now is around the fact that we need to de-silo this, the project managers and the resource managers have got to become partners much, much closer. And exactly as you said Brent, this is the challenge right now of how do we do this? And this is what’s clearly going to be a hybrid world with people's views of how they want to work. I've seen this when I look at my team and talk to other people as well. Now what we're seeing right now, as we sit on the cusp of going back to work is that the structure of this is what you do, you go into the office, you go into a client site. And this is how we work, it’s just broken, we've seen a different world, but not everybody is rushing to it. And the best I've heard it described is if you could imagine a square with the four corners, people will move to one of these four corners. At the top there, think about people who are excited about working solo and virtual, whereas other people are craving to get back into a physical team. And then the other two corners, people love this kind of flexibility and freedom and being loose for the organization and yet other people are craving structure. So how do you deal with this? Anybody could head into any one of those four directions and yet they're all part of your overall team.

The role authenticity plays in retention and "The War on Talent"

Brent: No, absolutely. And I think anecdotally just surveying colleagues, the folks probably who fit in well into the thesis of your book around the notion of lazy equaling efficiency and working smarter. Now these are folks who are really biased toward efficiency, so the prospect of not killing time in a commute and so forth and understanding that they're masterful at collaboration with technology tools. They don't need that in-person probably as much, they're completely fine and profoundly in demand right now. In the services industry, the pure services industry, fee-for-service has been under siege for some time with a reduction in client fees, but expanding all the time, expectations of deliverables. Whether it's management consulting or pure-play consulting, certainly marketing services and agencies. But the folks on the creative side or strategy, or design-oriented creative, certainly do miss maybe at least a mix of collaboration because they don't have to be particularly as efficient. The creative process is something that can occur at any time. It can occur on the commute, it can occur in the shower, that kind of thing. How do you think firms can probably approach this, knowing that the new normal is going to be the norm for quite some time? But this tension between both disciplines and then swinging overhead, is this anvil of the war on talent. How do you think they can tackle things like maybe retention or attracting the right candidates and then keeping them?

Peter: Yeah, I mean at the heart of it is retention and because of the situation, there's a natural focus on the acquisition of talent as well, but really the heart of it is retention. Because if you don't lose anybody, you don't need anybody apart from through pure growth. I think if you look at what people want out of this and I think this comes back to exactly what I said, people want a lot more and what they want is a lot different than they had beforehand. There's always going to be the people who are out there who would just turn up and charge you a day rate or something like that and do their job. And it's not about the environment or the company or the culture, et cetera, but for those people who want to be part of an organization, it's really interesting. I was reading something about the fact that the biggest attraction for people right now is the company they're going to work for is different in some way and that difference fits in what they want. It was an interesting read because it was talking about if you just pass out to HR and say design a culture for the organization, design a package for employees, et cetera, then it's a bit like a supercomputer, they will design the same thing. It's like cars where they eventually all look very similar. So the winners out there are going to be organizational staff understanding that they could offer something different to attract the people that they want. I think the other thing is, going back to what I said about they've got to fight this kind of siloed situation, particularly between the professional community, particularly between the resource management community and many organizations.

In my own ones I've worked for in the past, we have resource management, we have a resourcing community and we have a project management community and they do engage, but actually they got to understand each other's world. And I think that's one of the great things, which is to bring them together and even potentially to kind of rotate staff through those groups on the career path. I'd love it if a junior project manager understood the resource management side of things and the resource manager had some basic project management. Because when you step into other people's shoes, you rapidly understand the different worlds. So I think organizations can try to do a lot around that, but the heart of it all is they've got to offer growth opportunities, they've got to offer career opportunities. They're going to have to focus on internal promotions much more. Organizations I think have struggled in the past and again it’s been exacerbated in the current situation of needing certain skills that we haven't got time to wait for internally. We don't think we got it here internally, so let's go into the market. Well that drives the war on talent and it’s like well hey, I can turn up here and I can get a 10, 20% pay raise and I can join this company for a couple of years, maybe less and I can move on. We've got to get past that, organizations have got to get past that. They've got to really nurture the talent they've got internally and not just expect to buy it in because buy-in doesn't buy loyalty and loyalty is the hardest. Isn’t it? If I got a group of employees, wherever they sit in the business, if they are loyal to that organization, they're going to stay and it will definitely reduce that kind of a challenge around talent.

Brent: Kind of building from within. Certainly augmenting, but not taking that mercenary approach that you can just kind of go out and find everyone.

Peter: Well, I reflected recently with someone and I like this analogy. I'm pretty certain it applies to all sports, but we were talking about English football, soccer.

Brent: What's that? Could you fill me in? Just kidding, just being humorous.

Peter: I'll explain to you later on the game we invented. We could go down that road for a while. But we were reflecting on you see the big names of the big teams and you see the big purchases and they do, you know Ronaldo just recently or just joined Manchester United. Actually the great teams at their heart, have created an incredible academy of young talent and that's really where the great teams come from. Yes, managers work with specialist skills, they bring key people in, but fundamentally, they get that core loyalty. I'm pretty certain that a lot of teams around the world are the same. It starts with the youngsters, it starts with the academy and it creates that loyalty.

Brent: Yeah, players that come up through the organization were sort of cultivated and drafted out of the college here would be the analogy in the US for sure and then put into a place to succeed once they were ready. That's really the cornerstone of a great team. Around this notion which we touched on a little bit at the top, at Mavenlink we encounter service organizations of all kinds and many have a centralized resource management practice and many don't. Or it’s really the PMs using some type of scrum methodology and then of course, technology to see who's available to do what and it's kind of decentralized. You know obviously that can come with challenges and in our council it is typically that once an organization reaches a certain size, they should invest in resource management as a practice.

But for those that don't and PMOs you've encountered, who decentralize this, what are some ways in a current state for instance, to get the most out of that type of scenario without a lot of disarray?

The importance of a global view of resources and visibility into where there is strain

Peter: Well, I think there's a challenge, you're right. Companies will reach a certain size when...this is a no-brainer, you have to invest in something to manage it. It cannot be done manually, not without a ridiculous number of people. And even then, in my world, I need a global view of the resources. I constantly need to understand where these strains are, I need to look at the pipeline and see what's coming in. You know, if you work in the term I use, if you try to operate in an infinite capacity model, it will break because people will do their very best, but you're going to burn them out. You're going to upset them, you're going to create problems, you're going to fail in retention. So you need technology to help you balance that out and find the right resources at the right time, in the right place for the right project and for all that. In a lower level, it kind of works absolutely because you typically have a more local resource manager who understands the people they're working with. And at a very, very granular level, they know that you don't mind traveling so far. You don't mind working late on a Thursday or Friday, you don't mind doing a bit of work. All of that is a brilliant insight.

Brent: Right, very organic.

Peter: Yes, but it only goes so far. And if you try and even patch groups together, it stops working because people go, no I don't want to do that, I don't want to go there, et cetera. And again, it's almost like we've leapfrogged to a new world in the sense that those locational barriers to a greater extent don’t exist anymore because now I can put together a project team that has got resources from around. There are challenges in a different area of how you get them to work effectively because they never meet each other, but as a resource group, it’s incredible optimization. Definitely, at that level you need something, you need some kind of resource management technology to help you do that. And to just track the people that you're managing there.

Brent: That and probably a good source of data, as well as it can be tracked around the talent attributes that you noted. You know, willingness to travel, all the way down through skills and expertise and probably success on past projects, right? I mean who doesn't want to try to predict success when they compose a team right?

Peter: Oh gosh yes, absolutely. And it goes back to that kind of retention thing because if you manage to do this and you keep your resources happy, you keep giving them new challenges and new opportunities and career growth. Yes, I know organizations have a talent acquisition group these days and they can reach out, but you know what? Most of the people that I know have come into organizations through recommendations from people internally. The organization I recently joined, that was through a recommendation internally. That or any of the other stuff. Yes, I can say that I understand this company, I can look at its presence in the marketplace, I can understand its reputation, et cetera. But if I got somebody on the inside I’m going this is a great place to join.

Brent: Right, absolutely.

Peter: Again, it carries such a weight. The organizations need to deal with that because that will help in this whole war on talent that we keep talking about.

The top pressure points in services organizations with regards to people

Brent: Right, yeah because fundamentally we're in people-focus businesses. Whether you're running a PMO in a product company and you're running a PMO in a services company, you're fundamentally at the nexus of talent. Which leads me to this question. You recently led a webinar and you took, I think a poll in the session interactive poll, asking attendees to rank pressure points regarding talent, regarding people in their organizations. And themes like recruiting, change management, upheaval, retention, but maybe give us a snapshot of the type of question, the type of organization and some of those responses.

Peter: Yeah it was fascinating. The insights were not overly surprising and based on the conversation I'd already had with a number of companies, but yeah we asked again, what was your number one pressure point in your organization with regards to people? We were very focused on the people side of things. And yeah, right at the top there, they came back with two things, one is retention and we kind of talked about that. It's how do we keep the people we've got? Because they're good people, we don't want to lose them. But interestingly, the other one, which I think again is one of the causes of people moving on is coping with change. It wasn't really about the fact that they said, well we can't change or we don't want to change that, it wasn't that, I think everybody recognizes now that organizations change and they change rapidly. But the coping with change in the underlying information we saw, was all around so much change constantly hitting us almost daily or weekly possibly. It was all delivered to us on a kind of now this has changed, this has changed as well. Because an organization now is often going under a lot of transformation in many areas and many people are creating change and trying to understand the change. But the people who are busy working on projects and working with clients and all of that, they were getting bombarded by you know, today this has changed and tomorrow you need to do something different. They often need to do something different. And it struck me that right at number one was coping with change and right behind it was the whole retention and below that, slightly low was recruitment. So now here's another story around this war on talent.

Yeah, absolutely, companies have to change, you've got to keep moving. That is the world we're in, but you've got to manage that change well so you don’t bury your people under that and that seemed to be a very strong point. Then the third area really was around technology and that was about giving us the technology to help us do the job and to deal with all this change that's ongoing. At the heart of which we want to deliver great projects, we want to make our clients happy and we want to have a great culture and a great company and I'm profitable and all the rest of it. But the heart of that survey response at least was this change is killing us. All of this change is killing us, it has to be delivered in a different way.

Brent: Right, that's a good point. And you've touched on the theme of retention a few times, but maybe as we begin to work toward a conclusion here in our discussion, from your experience and then anecdotes of discussing people-oriented questions like this, what are your insights around the notion of retention from the vantage point of a PM, PMO service type of leader?

Peter: It is the fact that you cannot ever forget this is about people, projects are about people. And it's one of those weird things because if anybody from the outside looks at our world, what they will say is an abundance of training, development, methods, frameworks, guidelines and process that is anything but about people. Because let’s be honest, that's easy, it's easy to write a methodology, it’s easy to write a guideline, it’s easy to write a process. It's not easy to work and manage people and to lead them as a team. That's the hard part. So it's not surprising that so much is out there. What I refer to as the mechanics of the project, it's there in abundance, absolutely, but at the end of the day, everything that we've talked about, everything from that kind of tension between resource managers and project managers, everything to do with the war on talent, everything about that project success comes down to people and it's thinking people first. And people ask me what does PMO stands for? And I always say well the P definitely stands for people because that's what makes a great PMO. That's what makes a great project management community. It’s when you got brilliant people working in collaboration with each other and delivering great success to the clients out there.

So the number one tip is just don't forget this is people. We use the title resource manager for example, but it's about people and we use the title project manager, but it's about people It's almost like we've got the wrong titles for stuff in a sense. But at the heart of it is if you've got motivated people who've been brought together under the brilliant skillset of a great leader, who are allocated to the right job through the resource management side of things. And who are passionate about what they're doing and have a clear vision of what they're trying to achieve. We're not team gels, it's one of the great things, it's one of the things that kept me in project management all these years. Because I've seen teams overcome incredible challenges and deliver amazing results because they just trusted each other and they believed in the outcome. So at the end of the day, this is about people and don’t forget that.

Brent: No, that's great, that’s a great conclusion as we kind of wrap up here and appreciate all the insights. First of all the notion and the thesis around the book and encourage users to check it out and then certainly the insights on these really remarkable games called soccer and football.

Peter: As long as you don't ask me to explain the rules of cricket then we'll be fine.

Brent: That's also a great sport. But no, thank you so much, thanks to our listeners out there. Any follow-up questions around this episode, maybe questions for Peter, myself, suggestions for topics in the services industry. Whether it's management consulting, all the way through marketing services, everything in between. Our guests can certainly reach out to podcast@ mavenlink.com and I am assured that that email address gets very prompt attention. So again, this has been an episode of the Professional Services Pursuit, thank you for listening and until next time.