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Project Management for Beginners and Experts

Episode 137: Right-Brain Project Management

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Episode 137: Right-Brain Project ManagementHere is a quiz for you: What do projects and your brain have in common? Well... they are both very unique from other projects and brains, they use soft skills and hard skills to work and they all have a definite beginning and a definite end.

I recently came across the book "Right Brain Project Management" and was intrigued. It is written by Dr. Michael Aucoin (www.leadingedgemgmt.com and www.right-brain-leadership.com). He calls it "A Complementary Approach" and it is intended to help us project managers learn to use the right side of our brain better.

When I originally heard the title of the book I thought to myself... "Yeah Right". But then I found that Michael Aucoin was making a lot of sense and I found that I had instinctively implemented many of his suggested approaches. That was more than an excellent reason to bring Michael onto the program. In our interview you'll learn about why we should use the right side of our brain in project management, how it helps our projects to be more successful and how we can use the tools of Emotion, Pattern discovery, Non-verbal communication and Intuition towards the same end.

PM Podcast Episode 137 Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: This is The Project Management Podcast™. We bring project management topics to beginners and experts. Find us on the web at www.thepmpodcast.com or send your emails to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to episode number 137. I am Cornelius Fichtner.

This is The Project Management Podcast for the 8th of January, 2010, nice to have you with us.

Here’s a quiz for you. What do projects and your brain have in common? Well, they are both very unique from other projects and other brains, they use soft skills and hard skills to work and they all have a definite beginning and a definite end.

I recently came across the book "Right Brain Project Management" and I was intrigued. It is written by Dr. Michael Aucoin (from www.leadingedgemgmt.com). He calls it "A Complementary Approach" and it is intended to help us project managers learn to use the right side of our brain better.

When I originally go to read the book I thought to myself "Yeah, right". But then I found that Michael was making a lot of sense and I found that I had instinctively implemented many of his suggested approaches on my projects. That was more than an excellent reason to bring Michael onto the program.

In our interview, you'll learn about why we should use the right side of our brain in project management, how it helps our projects to be more successful and how we can use the tools of Emotion, Pattern discovery, Non-verbal communication and Intuition towards the same end.

And as you may have guessed because Michael is here to talk about the concepts of his book, we are of course giving away two copies to our listeners. As always, one copy is reserved for our premium listeners and anyone who purchased the premium subscription is already entered into the drawing. And if you listen to the show on the free podcast then all you'd have to do is to send an email. Please use "brain" as the subject line in your email. Make sure you send the email to me before January 18th 2010 and then go ahead and send it to our new email address which is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – yes, you heard me right we are changing our email address to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

And that leads me seamlessly to the next topic, and that’s our new website. On January 15th we are going to retire our old website at www.thepmpodcast.com and switch over to project-management-podcast.com. But because that is just way too much to type in you can simply type pm-podcast.com into your browser and it will get you there. I'll put up a special episode about the new website once it is finished and officially launched.

And now... the interview.

Dr. Michael Aucoin is an internationally recognized leader in innovative approaches to the challenges of the high velocity workplace. He provides training and consulting in project management and engineering management, drawing upon his extensive experience in diverse technology projects.

Projects he has worked on have been recognized with the R&D 100 Award and the Outstanding Engineering Achievement Award. Dr. Aucoin has been a member of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Engineering Management Society and also served as their Vice President of Education. He has also served as a member of the B-241 Mishap Investigation Board with the NASA Johnson Space Center.

Enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview. Today with Michael Aucoin, PE, PMP, President of Leading Edge Management and author of “Right-Brain Project Management”.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Michael and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™.

Michael Aucoin: Thank you Cornelius and what an honor to be here with you today.

Cornelius Fichtner: Ah! It is an honor to talk to you. Thank you!

You wrote the book “Right Brain Project Management: A Complementary Approach.” I have it right here. It’s a nice book. It’s about 300 pages thick. It is a paperback. But I guess before we can open this book up, we should just take a look at our brain in general. So please remind us. What are the major differences here between the right side of the brain and the left side of the brain?

Michael Aucoin: Sure. We humans have an absolutely amazing brain. It’s estimated that there are more connections in the human brain than there are atoms in the universe and the brain has two very different but complementary processing styles. We absolutely need both of them to function in this world. We have come to call these the right brain and the left brain.

Let me contrast these in three different ways. First, the right brain creates or discovers knowledge while the left brain applies knowledge using rules. If I’m out hiking in the woods, say that I’m on a march trail using a guidebook with instructions then I’m using the left brain predominantly. If I find myself all of a sudden on the back country with no trail, no guidebook, no map then I have to observe. I have to look for clues about direction and I have to explore, then that’s an example of using the right brain.

The second contrast would be that the right brain feels using emotion and intuition while the left brain thinks using rationality, using logic so the classic example of the left-brain person might be Mr. Spock from Star Trek.

To think about examples of what a right-brain personality might be, you have to think about the gamut of human emotions. You might think of Oprah for example and at the same time, you also need to think about a football player or a soccer player after they scored touchdown or a goal think about them celebrating because that’s also a display of emotion as well.

The third contrast would be that the right brain uses concepts and implied information while the left brain uses very concrete information, facts. So the right brain uses things like metaphors and analogies and even those double entendres that people like to use so much.

For example, if I were to say, Cornelius, it’s raining cats and dogs outside. My right brain would understand that to be a concept that I'm trying to convey but it‘s heavily pouring down rain outside.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah, and I would have to tell you that you’re absolutely right because it is raining cats and dogs at the moment.

[Laughter]

Michael Aucoin: So my left brain is thinking what’s going on, is there animals falling from the sky? So that’s just some examples.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay. In project management, we often talk about hard tools and soft tools. Do these by any chance then mapped to the left side and the right side? Like the hard tools would be left brain and the soft tools right brain?

Michael Aucoin: Certainly, the hard tools definitely meant to the left brain and that is the use of analysis using rules. So when we talk about things like tasks, durations, budget, earned value, we’re using the left brain and you can throw dependencies in there as well too.

The soft tools do map to the right brain. We talk about soft skills, people skills, emotional intelligence that sort of thing. But there is an important point to be made here is that there is a crossover and very heavy interaction between the right brain and the left brain so there’s a crossover in the applications of these hard and soft tools.

For example, if I am struggling as a project manager with some complicated resource leveling issue, I need to draw upon the right brain and its creative problem solving abilities even though I’m dealing with some seemingly left brain things like tasks and so on.

On the other hand, if I'm addressing some complicated people issues, now we all know that people can be idiots and chronic and unpredictable. I'm sure you’re not Cornelius but…

Cornelius Fichtner: Oh no, not at all.

Michael Aucoin: I certainly am. Nevertheless, there are some general left brain rules that apply to interactions with people and so the left brain and the right brain are like the best partnership that you could probably think of. It’s a wonderful marriage between the two. They work well together.

Cornelius Fichtner: What in the end made you decide that you wanted to write a book about using the right side of your brain for project management?

Michael Aucoin: A number of years ago, I had become somewhat jaded about project management in general.

Cornelius Fichtner: [Laughs] I think that happens to everybody at some point sooner or later.

Michael Aucoin: Why are you laughing?

[Laughter]

Cornelius Fichtner: I’ve been there.

Michael Aucoin: I had reached this point from personal experience from talking with other project managers and also looking at some of the really pathetic surveys that come out from time to time.

Cornelius Fichtner: [Laughs] Yes.

Michael Aucoin:  That show how poorly project management performance goes in general some times.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yes.

Michael Aucoin:  It really hit a turning point for me. I was teaching a short course. This was a project management fundamental short course standard material and one of the participants came out to me on break and he said “You know Mike, what your teaching sounds really good in theory but it just doesn’t work in real life.” And when he said that, it was really like a punch to the gut and he was a smart guy, experienced project manager, but I heard him say was really true. But I’ve heard it from a number of other people. It made me want to do something about it.

One of the things that struck me was a contrast. We have the experience of professional project managers seeming to struggle with project management but I can look around the world and see billions of people going about their everyday lives who were in a sense project managers themselves doing their own projects even if they didn’t know they were projects with no training in project management at all. A lot of their projects went quite well actually and it seemed to me that there’s something hardwired into the human brain, something in our DNA that helps us to learn how to manage projects. Perhaps there was something there that could be used for us who are professionals.

Even in the previous podcasts, you held up Britney Spears as a model project manager so I thought maybe there’s something for everybody in project management.

Cornelius Fichtner: So you find then that the right side of our brain is it that’s what gives us the almost inbred, inborn ability to manage projects?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

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