People in Projects with Geoff Crane

Geoff Crane has travelled all over the world lending project management expertise to some of the largest organizations. Much to his students’ delight, Geoff has taken up teaching at both Durham and Fleming College. Any one of Geoff’s students will tell a story of a moving lecture, a confidence-boosting office hours session, or his signature “let’s have a rant sessions.” I jumped at the opportunity to learn more from Geoff and our conversation, discussed here today, barely cracks the surface of what Geoff has to offer.

Geoff starts our conversation off by telling me a little bit about what he’s been up to. He admits that he’s frustrated (this is all at 10 am on a Sunday) because he is having a hard time with a new software that he purchased after he realized his previous software could not handle what he is currently trying to do. Although it seems shrouded in secrecy, Geoff does tell me that he is working on something for us- his soon to graduate students. To those who don’t know Geoff, the thought of him working on something for his students is not foreign. He always went above and beyond to engage the class, add personality to project management, and genuinely help his students. Geoff, being always unconventional, has taken it a step further to provide his students with a special (no doubt beneficial) graduation gift. He assures me he will have it finished by our graduation ceremony.

As an avid PMI member and volunteer, there is not much that goes unheard. In the past week I had heard Geoff’s name thrown around by people I know from PMI, which was something I wasn’t used to. Geoff did a lot of work in other parts of the world, and he provided some insight into the challenges he faces now because of it,

“I left Canada in 1994/1995 and I was gone. I didn’t stay in touch with any of my friends and I didn’t talk to anyone. So I get there, and slowly but surely all my relationships back here withered up and died, just because you have to maintain them. When I was in Singapore I lived there for 10 years, and it was super fun, but then I decided to come home. And you know what? I don’t know anybody who could actually refer me to a job. I struggled for all of 2005, it took forever and I finally managed to get a job. Then, I got laid off in 2009, so now what? I looked for work for a while and then again I made the same mistake. While I was working at the job I worked out of a home office and only went out to meet with clients. So I wasn’t at an office, hanging around the water cooler, or eating lunch with everybody. There was none of that. I then got to the point where I had to get out there and network with people but I didn’t know enough people to make that worthwhile, and I live far away from those functions. What occurred to me was that I had to do something to be more active in the community. If I can’t have those water cooler conversations then at least I can be talking to people.”

Hearing Geoff say that he had let his network run dry here in Canada, and that he had a hard time with rebuilding his network shocked me. The Geoff Crane that I have come to know runs a popular PM blog, is extremely outgoing and can chat with pretty much anyone. But therein lies a partial answer to the question that all recent graduates are asking themselves: “What can I do to get a good job?” What does Geoff say? “Do not let your network wither away.”

After all was said and done at the previous organization, Geoff decided to go back to school. After years of practicing project management Geoff obtained his undergraduate degree and started teaching. Geoff enjoys teaching but he knows that he needs to keep planning for his future. One of the things that Geoff has loved about project management is working with people. That sparked something in me to discuss a recent article I had read entitled, “Do not hire creative people.” Geoff mentions that the article is probably serving another purpose (driving comments and pushing people to the home blog) but no one can deny that a lot of organizations believe in stifling creativity and increasing productivity. Geoff, never short on stories, fills me in on such an experience:

“I was working for an organization where there was a huge morale problem. I would do things, just being me, while also making people more comfortable with me. My hawaiian shirts were a trademark! I would wear them to work everyday and it would make people laugh. People felt immediately more comfortable with me and it meant that some of that ice was broken. It got me trust faster. I accomplished little things, but faster, and I was able to put a dent in people’s armour. As soon as I did that I was able to get right in and take advantage of it to really fix up the morale. You know what? Maybe it isn’t the ideal image that some companies want to project but you can’t say that my methods weren’t effective because I cleaned that place up really, really fast.”

I know that at this point in our conversation I was thinking about how great it would be to wear a hawaiian shirt to work everyday but the yet-to-be-employed voice in my head told me to ask Geoff about the balance. Where is the hiring manager looking? Surely somewhere in between a complete robot, and the personality of the office.

“I don’t think you need a solid understanding of the business domain in order to do a good job. I know that PMI will agree with me because they take the position that project management skills are portable. Now, does it help? Yes, it helps. If you walk into a project being strong in the business domain, it means that people will be less likely to trick you, because you already have a lot of facts that you know yourself. But, you know, if your people skills are strong then you can overcome a lot of that. You can always surround yourself with people that are experts in the business domain. Ask them tons of questions! It’s not the same as knowing it yourself, but when you have a question, you have someone to turn to.”

That seemed like a wonderful response until that voice sang out again. Geoff’s answer is regarding your credibility once you are in your position. But what about people that are looking for entry level positions? How can a candidate compete for a position if there is elementary domain knowledge?

“If I work in Human Resources, I don’t know much about what is going on in the different business units. All I know is that they want me to find them a project manager. So what am I going to do? Well, I’m going to look for a project manager, but I’m going to get a bit more specific. That’s fine, it will help make things easier for the HR department, but where does it stop? That’s where we are right now. Job descriptions are now laundry lists of massive must-haves, and to be quite honest, I think those are based out of fear. Do you need to have domain skills to be a project manager? I would say no, I don’t believe so. Is it reasonable for a company to ask for those domain skills? Yes, to a point. But after that point they are really wasting everybody’s time.”

One thing is for sure, Geoff believes in the power of people. It is encouraging to hear of a project manager that chooses creativity over monotony. Geoff’s blog is full of more insight and personality, and I encourage everyone to visit it.


Project Management Evolution with Sylvie Edwards

Sylvie Edwards is a busy woman. Not only is she the program coordinator at Durham College for the project management programs; but she also teaches PMP prep at the University of Toronto, owns her own consulting company, and is the past president of PMI-DHC (Durham Highlands Chapter). I met Sylvie at a program advisory committee meeting for Durham College in 2013. Her reputation had proceeded her as an avid proponent of project management and, more specifically, risk management. During our first lecture from Sylvie in risk management, the “no nonsense” Sylvie that I was expecting, turned out to be a women who was passionate about seeing all of us succeed. Her wisdom and words of encouragement helped many students in all aspects of our program, especially me. I was able to sit down with Sylvie this week (Starbucks, of course!) to discuss her life in project management, and how she sees the future.

My dialogue will be bolded, Sylvie’s dialogue will not.

Sylvie, How long have you been working in project management?

Officially, or not officially?

Let’s do both.

Ok, so. Officially speaking, I have had a project title for about 20 years but it’s probably more than 25 years. For the first 5 years I was called all sorts of titles from “systems integrator” to all sorts of weird and bizarre things but what I was doing was project management.

So, how did you start? How did you break into the industry?

Well at the time it wasn’t really an industry. I always like to say that this wasn’t what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m one of those kind of reluctant people. Project management happened to me more than I wanted to happen to it. I was really good at integrating things, and people, getting work done, pushing people to a deadline. I am a fairly organized person and that sort of worked into the mix too. At the time, people were looking for me to be technically qualified and then those other things kind of made it so I fit the perfect profile.

So what was the name of the first position that you took?

I was actually an auditor. I was a night auditor in a hotel. Even after I had worked my way up I was called a “Systems director” but I also was a project manager, or rather “project lead.” So that’s how I got into it. Truthfully, it isn’t until the last 10 years that project management had it’s own career path and people actually are aiming for that. Most people that I know that are my age got into this the same way. They were good technically at something, and then they worked themselves up the ranks and they were able to understand the organization and the contacts. So people looked at them to be the leaders.

So what do you have to say about the evolution of project management?

Having been involved in it for so long, and being involved with PMI, I’ve seen the evolution and literally the last 10-15 years is when all of a sudden people started having a structure to project management and people wanted to fit in those roles rather than working their way through all of the technical stuff. Now there is a role where people may know some technical aspects but also do the project management as well.

Do you think that is causing a disservice to project management because people may be glossing over the fact that it still requires some technical skills?

I still firmly believe at the end of the day, and I think I’ve said that in class, I think for me the basic line for a person is that if they are able to sit at a meeting table and have an understanding of what is going on around them then they deserve to be at the table. Be it interpersonal skills, be it general management, organizational, you need to be able to not have that question mark on your forehead all of the time because you are totally lost. You are supposed to be the one that is managing these people to a deadline, a goal, or objective. If you always have the question mark on your forehead people will look at you and doubt you, or not trust you to do that. I think that is the most important thing. I get a lot of people asking me after graduation how they can get a project manager role. You still need to work your way through the catacombs for a while, so that you have that perspective, experience and know-how. Sooner or later, it’s not always going to be fun and it’s not going to be a straight line, but sooner or later someone will recognize if you build on your soft skills with the technical skills. The rest happens by itself. That’s what I see happening.

So is it equal as far as applying for entry level positions go? In that your technical experience, as it applied to the job description, is more important than your soft skills?

I would say that if you are already a project manager (PM) and you are looking for another PM role, they will be looking not just in terms of you being able to do spreadsheets and be technical. They will also be looking at how you manage people, how do you influence people in an organization, how do you deal with change, stakeholders, and a whole other realm of stuff.

What do you think they are looking for in entry level positions?

If you find a company that has a PMO (Project Management Office), some of the coordinators will often reside in the PMO and help coordinate the different pieces of the projects with the PM as a mentor. The PM will not necessarily generate the reports, but the coordinator might. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work on your skills. You’re still going to need to reach deadlines, make sure people understand requirements. It’s not at the same level as a PM.

So, is it fair to say that the best position you could be in when your applying (to entry level positions) is it to understand the jargon and understand the industry? 

Yes, I always say to people that if this is your first job in any industry the first time you get into that job, you need to become a sponge. You need to take it all in. The reports, the processes, the good, the bad, the ugly, you just have to take it all in and you need to put a perspective on it and decide if you really want to do this.

What are some of the lesser known challenges that project managers face?

Communication is really big, not just communication, but making sure that your communication is effective and relevant. Making sure that you get what you want or what needs to be coming out of that communication. Making it targeted and relevant.

Do you have any examples?

Getting people to participate or contribute and then the communications around that. You can craft a pretty message and then you have to follow up with everyone because nobody reads and your time isn’t as important as theirs. The other thing, is that everyone wants it tailored to them. When is comes to reporting you cannot do that.

What made you want to start being a consultant?

In 2002 I started consulting. Originally I wanted to be an archeologist. I went to university and did some history classes and met some archeologists. No one was doing anything related to archeology. That evening, there was a friend that said because I was social, talkative, helpful, and people oriented that I should go to hotel school (hospitality). I went through every department. First at Meridian hotel, as a cashier then I asked to be transferred to night auditing. I was the only female working and training everyone else and making much less than every other man. I then left for the Four seasons, the Controller’s assistant was a woman and I was hired on the spot as a senior night auditor. This is where I got my first look into project management because they were installing a new system into the kitchen. I was the one that was putting this all together. From there I shifted to “income auditing” and we input a new accounting system in. I was able to be with the systems person, and then the rest is history!

If you could offer advice to students studying to become project managers what would you say?

People come out thinking that you’re going to have a PM role, I would say, don’t look for a job that you want to end up in. Look for a job for a job that will get you in. Once you’re there, be a sponge, take it all in, and then look for a way to springboard to the next one. As you’re going along, refine your criteria of what you want and don’t want.



Volunteer, Because Your Career Depends On It

Volunteerism is a huge activity and even a job for many people nowadays. Volunteering has been touted as a great way to overcome many battles. It has been recommended for introverts so they can be more outspoken, people who have received a lot from a community & looking for a way to give back and even as a way to network to find jobs.

I define volunteerism as the act of doing activities for the greater benefit of one’s self and other’s with little or no monetary compensation to the person (s) doing the activities.

There are a few benefits that the initiating individuals have from carrying out a voluntary action such as: growing one’s knowledge base about the activity in which they are part taking, social entrepreneurship, and networking or build a community in which one resides.

Continue reading Volunteer, Because Your Career Depends On It

Highlight on Avanti Women

Last month I had the pleasure of volunteering for a PMI-SOC members meeting where I met Alosha Paranavithana. Alosha is the York Region ambassador for Avanti Women. Alosha and I sat down this week to discuss the fairly new organization, and to connect PMI practices and standards to Avanti’s.

What is Avanti Women?

“Avanti Women is an organization that is created to help women move forward. At Avanti Women, we help women learn to network, provide mentorships,  teach,  and help women learn really in any industry. At Avanti Women it is more than professional development and career development. Mentoring programs are provided to help. Avanti Women is a fairly new organization, it was created around two years ago by Dina Barazza. The organization functions with regional ambassadors (Alosha is the regional ambassador for York Region). Each ambassador has to hire committees-  these committees help generate more data, stats, determine ages/ demographic, and help plan networking events. Avanti Women also offers a free strategic thinking online course from Harvard University. Membership is also free!”

How did you get involved with Avanti Women?

“I was studying human resources at George Brown where I met and became friends with another ambassador. She introduced me.”

What is your personal focus at Avanti Women?

“Dina has over 25 years in HR consulting. She is a care giver, and she likes to provide help. Dina has powerful convictions about moving women forward.”

Why did you decide to come to a PMI meeting?

“I had taken a business elective that was taught by  Derek Vigar called  successful project management, he coordinated a school visit to the meeting. I also enjoy the guest speaking and networking opportunities.”

Can you see any connect between your experience with PMI and Avanti Women?

“I see the relation with respect to event planning, creating marketing initiatives, and establishing a committee. Of course, like any other organization we are responsible for deliverables. I think the aspects that relate the most, and what I would look for in a committee member is project management experience; particularly communication and negotiation.”

What are the goals for Avanti Women going forward? 

“By the end of the year, 1 event must be held for each region. The events will be spread out all over Ontario. Avanti Women was officially launched in 2014. We are going to create volunteer positions, its all about the experience.”

What do people need to know about Avanti Women?

“It is all about empowering women, and assisting them with moving forward. Its not all about the profession, its about helping women.”

As a mentor, what advice do you have for a female aspiring to be a project manager?

“Be open minded about opportunities, there is often a pessimistic view on opportunities. Take a look at it and see what you can get out of it. Be ethical, make good decisions. I think being optimistic and positive throughout managing a project is key too. Most importantly, is to make connections and network as much as you can. At school, students don’t realize that they are surrounded by so many unique individuals with different goals, different aspirations, and different personalities. Most of the time students just want to get their diploma or degree and head straight into their career. Getting to know your classmates and/or your professors can open new opportunities and help you create a bigger network.”

For more on Avanti Women, check out their links below! And a very big thank you to Alosha for talking to #pmisocstudents about the great work Avanti Women is doing in Ontario.  

How To: Become a PMI Member

Becoming a PMI member is one of the first steps many aspiring Project Managers should take. While it may be easy for some to find their way around the PMI website, we have created a students guide to becoming a member.

Jesus Lagunas, PMP, the Vice-President of the Southern Ontario Chapter – Students Section has created a simple slide presentation on how to become a student member. It reduces all guesswork involved and provides a straightforward guide on the steps to take.

Jump ahead for the full guide. Continue reading How To: Become a PMI Member

Monthly Preview: Problem Solving for the 21st Century Project Manager with Peter de Jager

How do YOU solve problems? Do you run headfirst and hope for the best? Do you systematically plan out each detail and step you will take? Do you ask around for help? Or do you jump ship completely? Problem Solving is a crucial aspect of Project Management and this monthlies meeting will provide an insight on how to approach problems in the twenty-first century, with Peter de Jager. In this monthly seminar, Peter will discuss simple and powerful ways to handle problems that occur.

Peter is an industry veteran with years of experience who now works as a speaker, writer, and consultant on the various aspects of Project Management. He publishes articles on problem solving, creativity, and change, which appear in a variety of publications such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Futurist and Scientific American.

Read ahead for an exclusive interview with Peter about problem solving and why this seminar will be a great talk for upcoming and seasoned project managers alike.

Continue reading Monthly Preview: Problem Solving for the 21st Century Project Manager with Peter de Jager

Discussion Panel – Agile vs. Waterfall

On March 10th, the PMI-SOC Students Committee helped plan and deliver the very first PMI-SOC Discussion Panel hosted by Seneca College. The core objective of this panel was to have industry experts come and speak to Project Management students about the experiences they have had with Agile and Waterfall.

All four participants gave short presentations about what it takes to become a Project Manager. With the intent to provide supplemental knowledge to what students have learned in school, the panelist provided a wealth of information about soft skills and hard skills that are crucial to have. They provided tips on improving as a Project Manager, how to build experience, and the steps to take and land a job.

The entire event was recorded exclusively for our readers. Jump ahead to see four videos with each panelist’s presentation.
Continue reading Discussion Panel – Agile vs. Waterfall

Innovative Project Management

What does innovation mean in terms of project management? Well, a project itself is an innovation. A project is a temporary endeavour that results in a unique outcome. That is not to say that all innovation is ground breaking, and not all project outcomes are astounding new products or services. The fact is that a unique deliverable may be a new supporting software, management process, or construction on an office. The main point to note is that with innovation comes change.

So do project managers have to be innovative individuals? Most would argue no. A project manager has to deliver innovation (a project) on time, on scope, and on budget but surely they don’t need to be innovative themselves, right? This “innovative” factor may be the missing link between good project managers and great project managers. The articles shared on this post all provide great steps to be an innovative project manager:

Continue reading Innovative Project Management

A Student Guide To Recruitment

It is difficult to get noticed with today’s recruitment tactics. Many project managers will claim that “recruitment is broken” and it is no longer about what you know, but who you know. Modern recruitment (job postings, web advertisements) processes assess thousands of resumes every day for a single position. How can aspiring project managers get their start? Where do we begin?

The project management community is global because of the Project Management Institute (PMI). A Project Management Professional (PMP) is an accredited individual that follows PMI’s best practices to ensure that a project is delivered on time, on budget and on scope. These principles do not change based on geographical location. For this reason, finding a job is no longer diving into the local employment pool, but researching opportunities on a global scale.

Continue reading A Student Guide To Recruitment

Humber College Represented at PMI-SOC Meeting

The PMI-SOC’s October 2013 meeting hosted the largest recorded attendance of Project Management students from Humber College. For many of the students, the meeting offered their first opportunity to experience “project management” outside of the classroom.

The project management post-graduate program offered at Humber College educates students on best practices in project management, including a Capstone research project where students conduct an audit of a completed project generated by their sponsor, a working project manager.

The search for a sponsor was the driving force behind the impressive attendance rate of students, how-ever, by the end of the night students received more than they bargained for. Many expressed that they were able to make connections, widening their professional network with individuals in the SOC community, in addition to enjoying the presentation on Agile Waterfall management approaches.

Many expressed that they genuinely appreciated seeing how project management is used in the real world. Since the meeting, students have become more excited about their studies and look forward to more opportunities with the PMI.