In this instalment of my irregular column chatting to expert project managers, I caught up with Chris Cook. Chris is the author of a new book, The Entrepreneurial Project Manager. It talks about how you can improve your skills to take a cutting-edge approach to project management, as an entrepreneur does in their own business.
How does that work? We’ll get on to that. First, I asked Chris to share his background and how he got into project management.
Chris, tell me about your career path.
Out of high school, I started working for my stepfather’s road construction company. I started as a general labourer eventually becoming a surveyor (of sorts).
I was attending college studying building construction management. After graduation, I enrolled in the graduate project management program at the same university. I was working and going to school. The field and classroom knowledge blended well.
Did you always know you’d write a book?
Five years ago, I was laboring for my stepfather’s company while studying project management in graduate school. I was coming home with dirt head to toe, tired like a dog from the weather and long hours, and I had no idea what the next move was going to be.
Would I stay working for him and maybe take over one day? Would I leave and spread my wings with a larger company to put my studies to use?
While working as an assistant project manager for a different company, a professor from graduate school offered me the opportunity to write a book for a publisher she has worked for. I jumped at the opportunity. Over the past year, I have been focusing on writing the best book possible, learning about the book writing process, and pursuing more knowledge of the project management profession.
Now, I am 1500 miles from home in Colorado having written a book, completed graduate school, and became a PMP®. Only one of those goals was on my mind at the time.
I’m guessing it wasn’t the book! What was the writing process like for you?
I segmented the process into three parts: research, writing, and editing.
The research phase took the longest. Writing notes, picking materials to use, watching hours of webinars and videos, and then placing those notes into designated chapters. I wanted to use materials not only within project management but also outside the project management world.
I tend to look at project managers as leaders and coaches, so I reference sports quite a bit throughout to make the comparison more concrete.
The writing phase was transcribing those notes through a project management filter (in my head) relating coaching and leadership to a project manager.
My goal was to write on a subject then set the computer down. A piece of advice I took to heart was if you still have something to write about, stop writing. Pick that thought up the next day to keep the momentum going.
Editing was the last phase and most excruciating for me because I had to then read what I wrote and become critical. I had amazing people who read my work and gave excellent feedback along the way which drastically improves my writing.
You did a lot of research for the book. What in particular did you do on the subject of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship and outside-of-the-box thinking are often linked. I tried this same approach in my research. Instead of going to best-selling entrepreneurship books that most people read, I attempted to look for outside sources that can be linked similarly.
For instance, I read many coaching and leadership books because a project manager holds a similar position on his or her team. Hall of Fame coaches Bill Walsh and Bob Knight are two of the sources I went to for more information on taking teams to a championship level.
I also applied Stoic and Taoist philosophies because it is important for people who are leaders to understand their personal stances and why they do what they do, or believe what they believe. Making individuals perform for the sake of performance does not inspire or lead to betterment.
However, if you give reasons and data as to why these tasks are essential, the group is more likely to respond positively. “Because that is how it is done” or “this is how we do things” is not a substantial enough answer.
People might think that intrapreneurship is more relevant to project managers working in a big organization. What are your thoughts on that?
Intrapreneurship is a great concept that gives employees the opportunities to use company resources with expansive thinking and testing to innovate.
The first time I came across intrapreneurship was the PMXPO 2016 when Robbie Bach gave a presentation regarding his time with Microsoft and developing the Xbox gaming system. The only knowns Bach had were competing with Sony for the living rooms of consumers and a deadline. Other than that, the project was open ended. Each person became a firefighter coming into work not knowing what fire they would have to put out that day. Even with a $4-6 billion overrun, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer still considered the lessons learned worth it. Bach implemented his 3P framework: Purpose (Pursue the Northstar), Principles (Ground Rules), and Priorities (The Art of Leaving Things Undone).
Watch the video of Robbie Bach’s presentation here: PMXPO 2016: The Xbox Story: Lessons in Leadership, Strategy, and Team Management
Most of the time, people get caught up in the bureaucracy, hierarchy, and rules of an organization that creativity and innovation get lost. A lot of time is spent performing defined tasks and schedules, and before you know it, the day is done, and the train keeps on moving.
I like the idea of finding time to brainstorm, revert to a child’s mind, and be playful with idea creation. Not all ideas are good, but that should not deter someone from shouting them out just in case.
The Entrepreneurial Project Manager by Chris Cook is published by CRC Press