This is a very special interview where I have the honor to interview Jeff Furman PMP who has a dual background as an IT Project Manager and Corporate Trainer, and is the author of “The Project Management Answer Book” (©2011, Management Concepts).
As a PM he has led many successful IT projects for Fortune 500 companies in the NYC area, specializing in: new product evaluation and implementation, development tool support, and managing a mission-critical IT change management system used by more than 1,000 application developers 24x7. He currently teaches several project management classes for NYU in Manhattan, as well as PMP Prep for NetCom Learning and on-base for the US Army.
You can contact Jeff directly at @PMAnswerBook or at www.Jeff-Furman.com
How did you become a project manager? Did u plan for it?
Not exactly! My journey was what is referred to nowadays as an “Accidental PM!”
For several years, I had been the primary in-house IT technical trainer for a large brokerage in New York City. In this role, I was creating and teaching quick-start courses on the development tools the IT coders were using to create the apps that ran the business.
What happened is I started getting called-upon more and more to provide technical support for the tools I was teaching the developers.
Eventually the need emerged for a full-time Technical PM to handle various new projects that were popping up, most importantly the roll-out of an IT Change Management System for the Developers. And so I was asked to manage the project of customizing the IT Change Management system, getting the department to use it, and then supporting the system.
I hadn't planned for it, but I had become very hands-on with the many software products that made up the company’s unique environment. And so I was tapped for this role, partly for my technical knowledge, partly for my communication and influencing skills, and also because I had already developed such a strong rapport with hundreds of the developers as their trainer.
I read that you are working with the U.S. army and training them in project management- how is that going? How different is it from training corporate professionals?
Teaching PMP for the Army has been one of the best successes I’ve ever had, and one of the most gratifying projects. So far, I’ve taught 12 weeks on-site at Army bases, traveling to Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas. It’s been very satisfying, because they are such motivated students.
One big difference between training Army vs. Corporate is that the senior leaders in the Army fully commit to take part in the training along with their people, no matter how busy they are. This sets a great leadership example for their people, because they attend every session, participate and share their knowledge freely, and especially because the senior leaders are usually the first to take their PMP tests after the training!
This motivates the PMs they are leading to push themselves hard and to pass their exams also.
Many people don’t realize that PMs in the Army manage a lot of the same kind of projects as PMs in private industry, especially IT projects.
But imagine doing your projects in a war-zone, literally! (compared to us here in NYC holding status meetings in our air-conditioned “war rooms”)
And the soldiers tell me about all kinds of unusual constraints they need to deal with. One Army PM told me about a project he led where he was required to gain approval on all key decisions from a rep in every single country that is part of NATO – talk about politics!
And an extra plus about teaching for the Army is the feeling of “giving back.” I very much like knowing that my classes have helped make many of the soldiers more productive on their projects, and also more promotable. When they get their CAPM or PMP, it helps them advance within the Army (I just got a thank-you note from one of my students who got his PMP and was promoted soon after, both in rank and responsibility).
And I enjoy knowing that the certifications will also make the soldiers and officers more marketable when they return to civilian life. Several of my Army students have let me know that their PMP cert attained from my class helped them land PM jobs later in private industry, after they retired from the service.
What's the secret of your success?
In my PM work, I have always tried to stand up for what I believed was right. I’ve had to take unpopular positions at times. But I very often prevailed, partly because I am good at making a case, but mainly because I was trying to do what I believed was truly in the best interest of BOTH my customers and my company (something I go into in detail in the Ethics chapter in my book, part of what I call the “Triple Constraint for Ethics.”) So even when I’ve gone up against senior managers, they could see I was trying to go for the best long-term solution, which made them willing to listen.
Also, my strong communication skills (writing, speaking, and teaching) have helped me as a manager in many ways. When my teams would work with new software products, I would occasionally write an article about our findings and it would be published in one of the IT industry magazines. This helped bring good exposure, and helped all our careers. And a couple of times I involved my team-members in co-writing the articles, which they liked a lot, and which helped in team-building.
My experience as a trainer helped me learn to work well with people of many different titles, levels, and backgrounds. Corporate training gave me experience in a lot of PM skill areas: Requirements gathering,Influencing skills, Consensus-building, Goal-setting, Team-building, CustSat, Quality management, Scope management & Time-management.
Another part of my success was again the word “accidental” - The training company where I first applied to teach PMP likes to put their potential trainers through a rigorous Train-the-Trainer / Presentation Skills class. The class improves the potential trainer’s skills, but it’s also an opportunity for the company to evaluate each candidate’s training abilities. I took advantage of this course as an opportunity, and earned a certification from it: CompTIA’s CTT+ (Certified Technical Trainer).
This enabled me to start teaching the Train-the-Trainer class as well as PMP for this company. And I've been able to apply many of the skills covered in the Presentation Skills class toward making my PMP classes as engaging and interactive as possible (not just blasting through a lot of PowerPoint slides).
Today's generation has so much help that they get over the web, how do you think they should prepare in trying to become a project manager?
As valuable as the many web resources are, and I use them a great deal myself, I think it’s important for certain topics to tap into the “deep dive” that a) classes, b) hands-on experience, and c) books can provide.
For example, before you would lend someone your car, you wouldn't want them to learn to drive by an online simulation only! And in training departments in the business world, activity-based training methods such as “Action Learning” are very popular nowadays.
For complex ideas, I think a book is still often best. For example, in “The Goal,” by Eliyahu Goldratt, he presented original and powerful ideas about project management in an entertaining and very accessible novel. He used metaphor and a dramatic story-line to introduce his PM theories (Critical Chain Theory and Theory of Constraints. This made the book fun to read, and easy to absorb and remember.
And many people still prefer live classes over online, partly for the classroom experience and the networking opportunities they provide.
That said, here are two recommended web resources I think your followers might benefit greatly from:
1) PMI offers an online “New Practitioners” CoP (Community of Practice)
which is free for members and is in a similar spirit as “Stepping Into PM”
2) And there are several CAPM related LinkedIn groups where a lot of
good information-sharing and networking take place. They are easy to
find: just go into LinkedIn Select “Groups,” and then key in “CAPM”
in the search box, and join whichever groups catch your eye.
Three qualities any newbie venturing into project management should have.
- Long Term Results-Oriented- Project success is tied to profit, but long-term profit is what counts. You want successes that your clients will want to share with their colleagues, and ideally bring your company repeat business, new business and referrals (versus “here today, gone tomorrow”)
- Strong Ethics- People like to work with managers who make ethical decisions and perform with professionalism. If a stakeholder perceives someone on a project as “ethically-challenged” (even if they are otherwise good) it is almost impossible to change their mind or ever win them back.
- Life-Long Learner – There are so many new methods and tools emerging all the time that it’s key to be willing to keep learning and embracing change. Today’s most successful PMs keep up with blogs and podcasts, attend PM seminars, read books in their field, participate and network in social media groups, attain new certifications, and share their knowledge with their teams.
Tell us something about your project management book and where can we find it?
Many readers tell me that my book, “The Project Management Answer Book,” made the PMBOK very easy and accessible for them, and helped them a great deal with their PMP and CAPM exams because of its short and clear Q&A format. It contains all the best test tips and study aids
from the thousands of hours I taught PMP before I wrote it.
And it’s a double book, because it’s a PMP book but also a “hands-on” practitioner’s guide, with many templates of key PM documents and best practices, plus Top 10 Lists to help PMs in many areas.
And Soma, since your blog is very international, my book is popular with international readers - my Facebook fan page has “Likes” from PMs in 12 different countries so far! It’s available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle at www.PMAnswerBook.com or PMI members can use their membership discount to buy it from PMI Marketplace.
Thank you so much Jeff!
(Pic Courtesy: Jeff Furman)
To read more about project management and know how to get into the domain, read my book Stepping into Project Management (Welcome to the #PMOT World). To connect with experienced Project Manager's from all over the world, get mentored or shadow for a day see the SIPM Community.