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.