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Episode 243: Achieve better Project Performance through Personal Organization (free)

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This episode is sponsored by The Agile PrepCast for The PMI-ACP Exam:
The Agile PrepCast for the PMI-ACP Exam

Episode 243: Achieve better Project Performance through Personal Organization (free)If you want to know what the “best” way is for you to manage cost, time, resources or quality on your project, then you can open the PMBOK Guide or turn to any of a dozen project management methodologies out there and they will guide you. But what about the best for you as a project manager to be productive and organized? Where can that be found? Personally I don’t recall a single PM methodology or framework that addresses your or my work style and gives us the tools to improve.

To discuss one possible approach we welcome Brian Fee (www.linkedin.com/in/brianfee37) to the program, who says that having a personal set strategy for collecting, processing, organizing and reviewing information has helped him as a project manager. He believes that it is a worthwhile exercise for other project managers to consider their own strategy for staying organized.

This is because there is an assumed level of competence that project managers are expected to just have in terms of personal productivity; and it never seems to be directly taught or addressed in the educational process. We are expected to be able to handle a tremendous onslaught of incoming  information effectively and also be able to perform processes and manage projects. Brian believes that many PMs (and other professionals, too) feel a great deal of stress juggling the information they receive through email, voice mail, hallway conversations, or meetings.

This interview is about is his personal experience and many of his recommendations that will help inspire you and you set on the right track to improving your own personal productivity.

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

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #243. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Nice to have you with us.

If you want to know what the “best” way is for you to manage say cost, time, resources or quality on your project, then you can open the PMBOK® Guide or you can turn to any of a dozen project management methodologies out there and they will guide you. But what about the best way for you as a project manager to be productive and organized? Where can that be found?

Personally I don’t recall a single project management methodology or framework that addresses your or my work style and gives us the tools to improve.

To discuss one possible approach we welcome Brian Fee to the program, who says that having a personal set strategy for collecting, processing, organizing and reviewing information has helped him as a project manager. He believes that it is a worthwhile exercise for other project managers as well to consider their own strategy for staying organized. This is because there is an assumed level of competency that we project managers are expected to just have in terms of personal productivity; and it never seems to be directly taught or addressed in the educational process. We are expected to be able to handle a tremendous onslaught of incoming information effectively and also be able to perform processes and manage projects. Brian believes that many project managers and other professionals too feel a great deal of stress juggling the information that they receive through email, voice mail, hallway conversations, or meetings.

This is his personal experience and many of his recommendations that will help inspire you and set you off on the right track to improving your own personal productivity.

So close your email program, turn off your cell phone and enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Brian Fee of Brian Project Services.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Brian! Welcome to The Project Management Podcast™!

Brian Fee: Hi, Cornelius. Thank you for having me!

Cornelius Fichtner: Let us begin our interview with the end in mind because we’re going to be talking about personal productivity and personal organization. Let’s see how the approach for productivity and personal organization that we’re going to discuss will help our listeners. First of all, how it will help them personally?

Brian Fee: Well, I think that at the heart of the method that I like, it really does help them personally by giving project managers a level of predictability and stress-free productivity. That’s really the selling point of the method that I like to use. It’s the art of stress-free productivity. So I guess the project manager the ability to perform tasks in a repeatable, predictable manner without a lot of stress and I think that’s the main benefit of this method of productivity.

Cornelius Fichtner: And how will that help them on their projects?

Brian Fee: I consider it especially helpful in playing project integration management processes. We have so much information that we have to take in on a daily basis and it comes from emails. It comes from phone calls, voice mails. It comes in the hallway on the way to the water cooler, from stakeholders who have some new information that they want to give to you. This method of productivity involves being able to be in control of all of your inputs especially when gathering requirements and managing change, being able to have a productivity method that’s personal and repeatable is a great benefit and it’s kind of, I call it the ‘glue’ that kind of holds together the application of processes within a project.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright. So that’s what we want our listeners to be able to do. That’s where we want to get them. But now, let’s go back to the very beginning and see how this all started for you. What was your work style like in the old days before you used this approach and how did that affect your productivity?

Brian Fee: Well in the old days, I noticed that I had to collect a lot of information and process a lot of information but I don’t know if I ever did it the same way twice. Someone would tell me a piece of information or give me a phone number and I would grab the pen that was nearest and the pad that was closest and I would write them down and I put them in one place, one time and then the next time, I’d grab a different pen and a different piece of paper and do something completely different with it. I found that I was doing a lot of the work related to being organized in my head. I was remembering in my head that I had to do something. I found that I was doing everything about 3 times as much energy as it really took to perform tasks and it was at that point where I recognized that things could be streamlined.

Cornelius Fichtner: And how did that affect your ability to manage projects?

Brian Fee: Again I was spending more effort than was required. It diminished the ability to do things and it took away from the opportunity to be able to think about the really challenging aspects of projects, to really be insightful about the finding risks and to do some of the more complicated tasks in relation to managing a project.

Cornelius Fichtner: And was there any particular moment when you had an epiphany that you said: “Okay, something has to change”?

Brian Fee: You know, it had to be the stress that was related to doing work. It made me realize I needed a change. I work for a medical device manufacturer and our entire business changed one afternoon when we found that our product had to be completely redesigned in order to meet Medicare reimbursement code. Suddenly, my life just changed and there were many projects that just started and it was all hands-on deck. These projects were very important or else there was no company anymore. And so, I didn’t have the time to take 3 times as long to do everything. Everything had to be done at razor sharp and very quickly. And so, it was at that time, I needed as much help as I could get and being as economical as possible in the work that I did. And so, it was then that I realized that something needed to change.

Cornelius Fichtner: And what did you do to change things?

Brian Fee: Well, I started to follow some of the habits of people I admired. There were a few a people along the way that I noticed that they were stone-cold professionals. I would say that the CEO at the company I was working at at the time. I noticed that he anytime you told him anything, he always he always took a note about it and always look the same.

Many time he gave you feedback on a document, he was always using the same sort of editorial notes and he seems, I love the term about being a stone-cold professional. So I started to follow those habits and then I started doing some research about other habits, about other things that people who are smarter than I am were doing. I looked for other voices and I just made the decision to take ownership of my own productivity.

Cornelius Fichtner: And then at some point you came across Getting Things Done, right? How did you get to know Getting Things Done, the methodology, the approach?

Brian Fee: Well, Getting Things Done has a kind of a cult following. I think the people that are into it really enjoy being into it and how did I first find out about it? I believe that it was when I found something on the internet called the Hipster PDA. I was speaking with one of the graphic designers at the place that I was working. We talked about the Hipster PDA. It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek joke that the Hipster PDA was just a series of about 25 index cards held together by a binder clip and it was kind of the anti-smartphone. Instead of carrying around you your Blackberry, this is before iPhones. Instead of carrying around your Blackberry, your Palm, you carry around the Hipster PDA.

The Hipster PDA was the creation of, there’s a website called 43 Folders that’s run by a fellow named Merlin Mann. He’s really clever and funny and he’s a big GTD proponent and it was when I saw the Hipster PDA and I saw the 43 Folders site and I saw him and his users and his readers’ comments about GTD is when I really got in to that process. They got me hooked.

Cornelius Fichtner: While GTD, getting things done, worked for you, we want to make it clear here: The interview while we will be talking about it going forward. It’s not really about getting things done. It’s more about the approach that you have chosen and that you recommend other project managers choose as well. What other approaches similar to getting things done could people be using?

Brian Fee: Well absolutely! I agree that for me the genesis of this conversation is that I believe it’s wise for a project manager to have their own repeatable method for being productive. For me, it happens to be GTD and that’s kind of a hip method and I believe there’s other people that like it. But that’s not the only one that is out there. But it is the one that I use. So I had to do a little bit of research. So I did some Google and I see what else is out there.

The first one that I think many of the people that are listening will come to mind is Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. That book, you could almost say that’s responsible for the boom and office productivity. But those are habits of highly effective people and it’s not necessarily a methodology but that’s certainly another input to look at for your own personal method. Some of them might be familiar to you and your listeners as well.

The other one is the Pomodoro method. It’s a timing mechanism that allows people to benefit. It gives them a structure of performing their work in short 25‑minute segments during the day. It’s almost like someone who is in training to be a runner with you. You work for 25 minutes straight, take 5 minutes break. Work for another 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break. I think Pomodoro is Italian for “tomato”. It’s like those are little sections, your day is 8 tomatoes long and that method is a way that some people have used to be productive.

There’s another one out there that’s called the Action method. That one is geared very much towards creative people. It offers many of the same promises of getting things done. When I read about that method is that they focus on performing action rather than simply organizing a bunch of to-do lists. The idea that they focus on action was one that is very attractive to me.

But again, I think that the most important thing for a project manager to keep in mind is that they have a strategy for taking in information and a personal approach for how they manage all these tasks that they need to perform.

Cornelius Fichtner: As you were mentioning all these other methodologies and approaches, I just remembered I hadn’t thought of this in many years: About 10, 12 years ago when I was working in Europe, I used a system called Time System. I believe it’s out in Denmark and it was a means, at that time then, it was mostly on paper and pencil and they gave you a nice little binder with it and it was a really good way of keeping track of everything and very well organized. So pretty much in the physical world, that’s what I used at that time. I’m sure Time System has evolved in the mean time and it’s now probably 100% electronic if it’s still around. Anyway, so yes, this is more about productivity and personal organization than it is about the methodology itself.

Now, let’s move on. We’ve heard how bad you were so to speak in the beginning in regards to your own personal organization productivity. How are you dealing with your day-to-day tasks today?

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

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