Interview with Jan van Egmond
1)Why did you decide to write a book – "Project Management Secrets"?
They say when you want to understand crime, you’ve got to follow the money. When you follow the cash streams, you’ll find who committed the crime, why and who was involved.
I’m a certified project manager, passionate about our profession with decades of experience like millions of others. I’m researching project organizations since 2012 to find better ways to stay in control and that are easier to learn and easier to use. I call myself project management hacker.
I discovered that if you want to understand projects, you’ve got to follow the “4 basic needs”. When you follow these 4 basic needs, you find the flaws in the system, why so many people make the same faults and what to do about it. That insight helped me to design new solutions that project organizations struggle with. Like, how to align projects and capacity for fifty projects or more. This is one of the toughest project management challenges now.
This is the secret I’m eager to share.
In reviewing this interview before publication someone asked, Jan talks about these 4 basic needs, but he doesn’t say what these are. People ask me that question all the time when I give presentations. But when I tell what those 4 basic needs are, they always respond with something like “Oh! I do that already.”
Why do expert ask me what the basic needs are to complete projects successfully and to stay out of problems? And when I say, they respond, “I knew that already”? Then why do so many projects run in trouble if everybody knows this already?
2) Why don’t more people understand how to do projects?
A lot of people know how to do projects. Few people understand they must devote themselves to fulfilling the 4 basic needs, to complete projects and to stay out of problems.
3) How can project management education help?
Offering more education isn’t going to force a project management breakthrough, if the 4 basic needs to complete projects, aren’t properly understood.
The PMBoK covers 49 processes. It is almost 1000 pages thick. I find the 4 basic needs cover to cover when I flip through it. But there is no process dedicated to fulfilling the basic needs. Project managers do fulfil the basic needs. In the end most projects get completed, some more successful than others. The secret is not what those 4 basic needs are, like the secret of crime isn’t in the currency that a contract killer gets paid with.
The secret is that fulfilling these 4 basic needs is not on top of our minds. People are not devoted to fulfilling the 4 basic needs.
4) What is the biggest threat for projects and why?
I discovered that the following three threats cause most harm to projects.
- Project organizations start projects regardless of whether people have time or not.
- Project management frameworks are too complex to learn and don’t provide guarantees. Many project managers find it too difficult to learn and too difficult to use.
- Projects create a lot of confusion, conflicts and stress. People just can’t think clearly to complete their tasks when they are stressed.
5) How can stakeholder management improve?
Collaboration. Collaboration. Collaboration.
Collaboration is the second of the 4 basic needs.
Collaboration is the success factor for project organizations. That requires that people have time, which is the first of the 4 basic needs. The secret of collaboration is that you’ve got to do it.
Collaboration. Collaboration. Collaboration.
6) You say, project organizations follow the same blueprint. How come? And what is this?
No two project organizations are the same, but they do have a lot in common.
They struggle all with the same problems.
The same universal laws apply to all project organizations. Since projects involve a lot of brain power, they are subordinated to the biology of the human brain.
Project organizations share the same characteristics. Projects are typically big and complex. You can’t do them alone and they are changing all the time.
Project organizations have similar processes, without which project organization won’t even exist. All project organizations must start new projects. They all need to complete projects. And project members must complete their tasks. I had to make project management this simple, before I could answer the question, what is going wrong with fulfilling the basic needs.
The reason is, they share the same blue print. It is called the pyramid of fulfilment or the pyramid of problems and failure, depending on the perspective. Fulfilment for all project organizations is in completing projects successfully.
7) What advice do you have for PMO managers?
My advice for PMO Managers is to thoroughly understand the 4 basic needs. Recognize the complaints and symptoms when they are not fulfilled. Always take care that people have time to get their job done.
8) How can we educate that reporting on each minute people work is not project management?
Management teams seem to find these reports important to give them a feeling of control. I have a few questions to them.
How do these reports support people in completing all their tasks, when projects get started regardless of people have time or not?
How does that help collaboration?
How do time sheets help to fulfil the basic needs?
How can we setup an education system to fulfil the basic needs when there are no formal processes for?
9) Which type of projects seem to do better than others?
Projects for which the 4 basic needs are fulfilled do better than projects for which the basic needs are not fulfilled. That is what basic needs are about.
10) What are the responsibilities of the PM compared to Sponsor
The sponsor carries the full responsibility to guarantee that people have enough time to get their job done. People with time is the most fundamental basic need of the 4.
If a project manager calls in his help, the sponsor must provide full support to the project manager without reservation.
The project sponsor must ask the project manager how he can support him to better fulfil the basic needs before discussing anything else. It is just like asking, what can I do to help you to make the project successful. But in a way that the project manager better understand what to answer.
The project manager is responsible for fulfilling the other 3 of the 4 basic needs and constantly monitor whether people have time to get their job done.
11) So, finally, tell us, what are those 4 basic needs?
Projects are big and complex. You can’t do it alone. And they are changing all the time.
So, this is the hierarchy of the 4 basic needs for projects to complete projects successfully.
Projects need people with time to get the work done. Without people with time, nothing gets done.
People need to collaborate to align their work and to overcome obstacles and resolve problems. Without collaboration, efforts are useless because they are not aligned.
People need to be given clarity on what to do and how to do it. The only way for project to create that clarity is through documented plans. Collaboration without plans is useless because it is going nowhere.
Projects need adaptability to stay on track despite change, deviations and surprises. Plans without adaptability are useless because they are no longer in the right direction.
I realize right now, I forgot one. These 4 basic needs need to be on top of your mind all the time.
Thanks for asking all these great questions. I enjoyed answering them.
Jan van Egmond