Episode 7: Neal Whitten – Project Management In Your Organization

Episode #7
Original Air Date: 04.05.2016

32 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Neal Whitten

Neal Whitten joins us live in the studio to discuss the five steps to institutionalize project management in an organization and get it to stick.

Neal is a popular speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor, and best-selling author in the areas of leadership, project management, and employee development. He has written over 100 articles for professional magazines—over 80 for PM Network magazine—and is the author of seven books. With over 35 years of front-line project management experience, Neal has developed and instructed dozens of unique workshops, created many professional- and personal-development online courses, and presented to many thousands of people from across hundreds of companies, institutions, and public organizations.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"The first step is to identify a project management champion and set a plan. Now, that sounds like a pretty easy thing to do, but you’ve got to have one person, not a department, not a sideline thought, but someone who’s actually dedicated to project management, owns it and is held accountable for it, and puts a plan in place."

- Neal Whitten

"When we work as a team, and every player on the team has a role to play, and that person feels needed and wanted – and by the way, they are – it works so much better than one person doing it all and telling everybody else what to do."

- Neal Whitten

"How you get it to stick is you have somebody accountable. You put a plan in place. You define the methodology. You continue to evolve it. You teach people how to think and behave. You actually put them together in a room with their problems that they’re experiencing."

- Neal Whitten

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ANDY CROWE ● BILL YATES ● NICK WALKER ● NEAL WHITTEN

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  It’s a great opportunity to talk about what matters most to you, whether you’re a professional project manager, or maybe you’re working toward one of your certifications.  We want to help spark your imagination, light a fire under you, and encourage you along the way.  And we do that by talking about issues and trends in the field and hearing from those in the trenches who are doing the job of project management.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are two guys who have been in the trenches.  They know what it takes to succeed.  They are here to help you succeed.  They are our resident experts, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And guys, here we are again.  And we’re going to be joined by another expert in just a moment.  But I’ve got to confess to you I’m a little antsy to be outside right now.  We’ve turned the corner into spring.  There’s just something about the freshness of everything in this season, something in the air that…

BILL YATES:  Nick, it’s called pollen.

NICK WALKER:  I wondered what that was.  Yeah.  Yeah, the tree pollen, it gets me.  But the brightness, the newness of the season kind of makes up for the sneezing almost.  So spring is here.  It’s nice to have that.  But I’m really looking forward to hearing from our guest today.  Neal Whitten is a project management professional.  He’s a speaker.  He’s a trainer, a consultant, and a mentor to those who are up-and-coming in the field of project management.  His newest book is called “The Gift of Wisdom:  Lessons for a Lifetime.”  Neal, welcome to Manage This.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, thank you.  I’m honored to be here.

NICK WALKER:  It’s always good to kind of hear a little bit about folks’ backgrounds before we kind of delve into everything.  Tell us a little bit about kind of where you’ve been.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Okay.  So we’re going to start by putting the audience to sleep.  I have a degree in electrical engineering.  Hired on at IBM as a software engineer and took early retirement there, and have been on my own for over 20 years, doing my own thing, but all related to project management.

NICK WALKER:  A lot of our listeners may already be familiar with you, your work on Velociteach.com.  You’ve created a lot of content for us.  You’re kind of another resident expert, really.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, this is absolutely true.  You know what, we all are legends in our own mind, let’s just put it that way.

BILL YATES:  Well, I’ve got to jump in on that.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah, Bill.

BILL YATES:  This is Bill.  It’s interesting, the studio that we’re in, Neal has been in this studio to produce about close to a dozen eLearning courses for us now.  And one of the things I love about the perspective of Neal, I mean, you hear it.  He was with IBM for 25 years.  He’s an electrical engineer.  Yet so many of the topics that are passion points for him have to do with soft skill, their leadership, their how to be strategic and think big picture.  And so we’re privileged and honored to be partnering with Neal.

NICK WALKER:  And you trained, Neal, in a lot of environments, a lot of different various organizations.  What common thread do you find in all of these organizations?

NEAL WHITTEN:  I’ve trained in every environment that I can imagine, frankly.  Let me give you an example of something that happened not long ago which is indicative of what a lot of us trainers face.  So I get a phone call from a potential client.  Client had been referenced to the training that I do and said, “Neal, I’m interested in you coming out and giving us some training, and it’s typically in leadership types of things.  But I have a problem, and I need your help on it, and this is the problem.  We’ve had a lot of trainers come out, trainers just like you.  And when they’re through training, they get good evaluations.  People like it.  They feel like they’ve learned a lot.  And when the trainer has left, the information has stuck for all of a week, maybe a month, and there’s a few pockets that may have lasted for a while.”

But, the client says, “What are we doing wrong?  Or what are you, as a trainer, doing wrong?  Or is project management overhyped?”  And the answer is, first of all, project management is not overhyped.  It may not be being used very well.  And then I proceed to talk about how you can actually institutionalize project management in an organization and get it to stick.

NICK WALKER:  So what are some of the steps that organizations can take to make it stick?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, actually, in my view, there’s five steps.  And I will tell you I had written an article not long ago for PM Network magazine, and it describes these five steps.  But the first step is to identify a project management champion and set a plan.  Now, that sounds like a pretty easy thing to do, but you’ve got to have one person, not a department, not a sideline thought, but someone who’s actually dedicated to project management, owns it and is held accountable for it, and puts a plan in place.  And when I say a plan, think about where you are today.  Think about where you want to be, I would say two years from now.  Look at the gap in between and lay out a plan that is measurable from quarter to quarter.  And if you find that you’re falling behind some quarters, then – this is run like a project – then go ahead and put some actions in place to get yourself back on track.  But somebody’s got to be held accountable.

ANDY CROWE:  Neal, from a leadership standpoint, that makes so much sense.  I love the phrase “One head to pat and one butt to kick.”  And so it kind of ties to that, in a sense, of having one person who’s a champion, but then one person that you can hold accountable, as well.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Yeah.  And what’s interesting, when you do identify that champion, I expect the champion to not be a senior manager.  It needs to be someone who’s an expert in project management.  But you do need a senior manager who also champions you.  So those are the two people.  But the non-senior management is the one held accountable.

BILL YATES:  Now, Neal, one thing that I’ve heard you say before related to this role is “No wimps need apply.”  What do you mean by that?

ANDY CROWE:  Bill, I think he’s talking about the two of us.  We’d be out.

BILL YATES:  Sorry, this is not applicable to you.

NEAL WHITTEN:  I’ll tell you what I run into everywhere I go, guys.  Again, I’m an old guy.  I’ve been around a lot.  And I believe in people.  And I know what they’re capable of doing.  I find that most people have so much more talent than they actually exercise.  And when I say “No wimps apply,” if you want to be the best, if you want to work in the best organization, produce the best products, that’s not an accident.  And you don’t need to apologize for being the best.  And so when I say “No wimps apply,” I’m talking about if you want to be a project manager, forget about running the entire organization from a project management perspective.  Just being a project manager, it’s important that when you come to work every day you understand you own the business of that project.  You are a businessperson first and a project manager second.  And when you think that way, that leadership starts oozing out.

BILL YATES:  Perfect.  And I love, you know, you pointed out the great combination is to have that senior leader who supports that project manager.  Then, as a project manager, I feel like this person, she’s got my back.  She’s going to give me the resources that I need.  The door will be open when I have an emergency, a risk has occurred, we need to respond to it.  So there’s a relationship there that’s very healthy for an organization.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Yeah, let me say something about that senior leader that the project manager has as his sponsor.  What a lot of us do is, when we have a senior leader around, we expect to get direction from that senior leader.  I’m not talking about that at all.  I want this person who’s a project management expert giving direction to the senior leader, telling that person what is needed in the organization in terms of funding, in terms of training, in terms of the sequence of steps we’re going to go through to get from where we are today to where we need to go.

NICK WALKER:  All right.  So we’ve got our project management champion.  Where do we go from there?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, the second of the five steps is define a project management methodology.  And I don’t expect the methodology to be foolproof because that’s impossible.  It’s going to need to evolve over time.  It may include Agile.  There’s opportunity for Agile, there’s opportunity for non-Agile, and there’s opportunity for hybrid.  What’s key is this:   Define something.  You have to have a baseline from which to start.  And even though you document it, don’t assume that by people reading that document, they’re going to understand it.  They won’t.  You need to have a class, whether it’s a half-a-day class or a day class.  You figure it out in your organization.

But you also need to figure out, when you put the methodology down, how are you going to teach the hard skills?  Because people, you don’t just say in your project management plan “We need to gather requirements.”  How are you going to do that?  How are you going to perform risk assessments?  How are you going to control change control, that sort of thing.  So those things have to be taught in addition.  But that’s all part of the second step.

BILL YATES:  When I hear “project management methodology,” of course we have to tip our hat to the PMBOK Guide.  But I think you’re talking about something even more practical, perhaps, than the PMBOK Guide, when we’re defining a methodology and what’s really going to work for an organization.  So my question, Neal:  Who should own that?  Or who’s going to help develop that for the organization?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Okay.  Going back to the example we’re using, I want one person to be held accountable for project management in an organization.  That person owns it.  Now, that person probably has the skills to define that.  If not, that person can use all the skills, the talent across the organization, all the other project manager types to come together and even assign different categories, different chapters, if you will, of this document, for them to go off and put together their pieces and to manage it that way, to put it together.  So if one person doesn’t have all the skill required, or doesn’t have all the time required, then you tap into all that talent around you.

BILL YATES:  That’s excellent.  And I can think of a training project that I was involved with last year where that was the case.  We had – there were several subject matter experts within that organization.  But they were managing, in this case, their program managers, they were managing multimillion-dollar, multi-year programs.  They didn’t have any time in the day.  So they did exactly what you described.  They divided up those pieces.  And, you know, one person may own risk.  One person may own communications planning or contracting.  And then they would collaborate and come up with something that worked well for the organization.

NEAL WHITTEN:  I really like that approach.  Look, when we work as a team, and every player on the team has a role to play, and that person feels needed and wanted – and by the way, they are – it works so much better than one person doing it all and telling everybody else what to do.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

NICK WALKER:  Let’s talk a little bit more about the leadership aspects, maybe some of the soft skills involved.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, I’m glad you brought that up, Nick, because that’s really the Step 3.  Step 3 is you’ve got to teach the project managers in an organization how to think and how to behave.  That might sound trite, like, come on, Neal, these are mature human beings.  They may be mature human beings outside of work.  But I find – and I’ve met thousands of project managers over my lifetime.  And my experience is, although they’re very good people, very intelligent, very educated people, they have a lot of experience, they’re not real good project managers.  Most are not very good project managers.  So you need to set aside time to actually teach people how to think and behave.

And let me give you an example.  We may be talking about a one- or two-day class.  But to give you an example, here’s the kind of things you talk about in a class like that.  Break the rules occasionally.  You can never be the best unless you break rules.  As a matter of fact, let me use the words of Colin Powell.  And it’s going to sound a little nasty, but I’m going to say it because I’m quoting somebody else.  But he says that, “If you’re not pissing somebody off occasionally, you’re not a good leader.”  And it’s not that you wake up in the morning and say, “Who can I piss off today?”  It’s not that at all.  But in the course of getting your job done, you’re going to have to do that.

ANDY CROWE:  Neal, that reminds me of the T-shirt I’ve seen that said, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”  I’m going to tie this in with that, as well.  Similar idea.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Andy, I don’t know where you’re coming up with this, but I kind of like your train of thought; okay?  We’ll leave it at that.  But to give you some other examples of things you talk about in a class like this, manage daily to your top three priorities.  When you look at the top 10 reasons why projects fail, I’m going to give you the number one reason, and I’ve never seen it on anybody’s list.  And I’ve been talking about it for over a decade, I have it in books and articles, and I’ve talked to tens of thousands of people.  The number one reason why projects fail is not scope creep; it’s not poor requirements; it’s not bad estimating; it’s not communications.  It’s that the project manager does not manage to their top three priorities on a daily basis.  That’s what it is.

And how I figured that out – because I’m not that bright, just to let you know.  But I’m an old guy, like I say, and it adds up over time.  Here’s how I figured it out.  I have reviewed hundreds of projects in trouble.  And when I do so, at the very end of the review I always reduce it down to the top three problems that I want the project manager to go off and immediately solve.  And when I step back, and I look at those three problems, what I see are problems that should have been solved, not just days earlier, but weeks or months early, and maybe years earlier, depending on the duration of the project.  It’s because we don’t manage to the top three priorities-slash-problems.  Those mean the same things to me in this context.  That’s why projects get in trouble, and that’s why they fail.  And you have to be taught how to manage time and how to manage priorities.

Another example is you’ve got to teach that you should never avoid necessary confrontation.  A lot of people run from confrontation.  They see it as something bad, something that’s harmful, but it’s not.  Routinely practice boldness and courage.  And let me throw one more out, one more, and that is to be a good actor.  People need to be taught to be a good actor.

And when I teach this in classes, it’s not unusual for somebody to say, “Neal, that sounds insincere.  You’re saying to pretend you’re somebody you’re not.”  And I say, let me tell you, it’s not insincere.  This is how the human mind works.  If you want to change the way you think, you first have to know how you want to think, how you want to behave.  Is it courage that you hope to have?  Do you want to be more bold?  Do you want to have more initiative?  You have to think that first, and then you have to pretend you are that person.  You are acting.  It’s a good thing to act, and it feels good to act.  And after a while, and how the human brain works, is we become what we think about all day long.  So when you act a certain way, that’s who you become over time.

BILL YATES:  Mm-hmm.  So fake it till you make it.

NEAL WHITTEN:  I like that, yeah, absolutely.  It works.

NICK WALKER:  So how do we motivate project managers to actually implement some of these?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, you’re good, Nick.  I like that.  That leads us into Step 5.  So here’s what’s happened.  Step 4, we taught people how to think and behave.  Step 5 is we’re going to see whether or not they’ve picked up on that, and they’ve solving their day-to-day issues that they’re facing.  So here’s how I do it.  You don’t need me.  Nobody listening needs me to do these things.  You have a lot of skill out there to do it yourself.  But I’m going to talk from my perspective because it plays out better that way.

But here’s what you do.  Say there are 20 project managers in an organization.  You put them in a room together for one day.  Before the day starts, you’ve asked each one to identify their top three issues they’re facing today that they hope we’re going to talk about.  And these are issues, they’re not typically technical issues or hard skill issues.  They’re leadership, you know, how to get somebody accountable, how to escalate issues to closure, how to get somebody to initiate something that they’re not doing or following up on or whatever.  So what I do is I ask those 20 people to identify their top three things they hope we’re going to talk about.  They’re all put in a list.  So if there are 20 people, and they each identify three, that’s 60 items.  But there’s going to be dupes.  When you clean up the list, I find you’re going to have around 30, 35.

So now you walk into this meeting for a day with these 20 project managers.  Everybody gets a sheet of paper with 30 issues listed.  And these issues are, like, one or two sentences long.  They’re not big, long-running scenarios.  That doesn’t work.  At any rate, then what we do is I will say, “Nick, I want you to identify the problem we’re going to work from this list, or you can come up with one right off the top of the head that may be an issue you had when you walked into this room this morning.”  And then I say, “Andy, I want you to solve the problem.”  Andy may say, “Well, I don’t even know what the problem’s going to be yet.”  And I say, “Andy, it doesn’t matter.  You’re a project manager.  You’re a leader.  You have an opinion.  And we want to hear what you think.”

ANDY CROWE:  Your job is problem solver.

NEAL WHITTEN:  It is problem solver, and you’re probably smarter than you think you are.  So at any rate, then I say, “Okay, Nick, state the problem.”  And Nick says, “Okay, I like Item No. 8 on this list.”  And he reads Item No. 8, and I say, “Do you understand, Andy, what he means by that?”  And if there’s any question about it, I want that to be cleared up.  Then Andy proceeds in solving the problem.  When he’s done, I turn to you, Nick, and I say, “Did that solve it for you?”  Worst case, Nick, you may say, “Well, you know, Neal, I tried that.  It didn’t work.”  So then I’ll go back to Andy, and I’ll say, “Andy, hit it again.”  And he does.  I open it up to the other 19 project managers in the room.  We get some good discussion going.

And I’m always, as the instructor, as the facilitator, I’m always the last one to put my two cents in, and here’s why.  I don’t want people walking away from something like this saying, you know, “This was entertaining.  It was interesting.  But on that one problem there were four solutions, and I’m not sure which one I was supposed to go after.”  So I always say what I think is the best solution to go after.  So think about this.  When you do this all day long, at the end of the day, it can be rather exhausting, everybody’s on the same page.  They’ve heard the same things.  They’ve had a chance to discuss it.  And now they’re applying what they learned and how to think and how to behave.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, you think back to the book James Surowiecki wrote, “The Wisdom of Crowds.”  And he looked at the fact that, you know, one of us may be smarter than the rest, but nobody’s smarter than all of us.

BILL YATES:  That’s right.

ANDY CROWE:  And so you get a group of people engaged on each other’s problems, that’s got to be profound.  And Neal, I’m flattered.  I’ve been accused of a lot of things in my life, but I’ve never been accused of being smarter than I think I am.  So that’s a first, and I’ll take it, I’ll take it.

BILL YATES:  Hold onto that one.  Yeah, we’ve been through a similar process in some training just in the last few months, and I love that.  That approach is so strong, and it’s so empowering to those who are a part of it.  The way that we facilitated was a little bit different.  We took a group of 25, and I think they were broken up into maybe five teams.  So you had five people.  Again, the prework was define your problem.  And it had to be a project you were working on currently.  And when they came in, they would present; and then the other four in their group would do the same thing.  They would offer those solutions.  And they’d have to – and we had a facilitator at each table, and the facilitator would follow up and say, “Have you tried that?  Is it working?  Do you think this will be good advice?”

The surveying that we saw, the feedback at the end of the session was incredibly strong.  Again, I think there was a sense of, okay, I’m not the only one in the world who’s dealing with this problem.  In this case they all were part of the same organization, so they knew a lot of the same constraints or levers to be pulled, and that was helpful.  And the feedback that they received from their peers was really strong and very helpful.  So it was a big takeaway from the training.  It’s a great process.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, something that jumped out at me in this whole thing is when Neal was talking about learning to be a good actor as part of this, as Step No. 3 or 4.  And the idea to me is that project managers are constantly being pulled out of our comfort zone.  We’re constantly being asked to do something that’s stretching us, that’s pushing us beyond what we’re comfortable with.  I think I’ve definitely felt like Best Supporting Actor in a Disaster Film before, if that’s a category.  This is a whole new world of awards that we could be giving out to project managers.  But that’s a very interesting point to me that you bring up, so I like that.

NICK WALKER:  Neal, let me ask you something about this meeting of the minds, the review process.  Is this ongoing?  You do it this one time where you get everybody together?  Or are you going to have to do that again and again?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, actually, you’re going to want to do it again and again, but I don’t want to complicate this because it really isn’t complicated.  But keep in mind Step 3 was we teach people how to think and behave.  They need to have the basic tools.  Step 4 was to apply those lessons to their actual issues that are facing them today.

Let me talk about Step 5 now.  And this is one that I really think is cool, and it’s rarely done in companies:  Routinely review projects that are underway.  Routinely review projects that are underway.  This is how it works.  Every one to two months in your organization, and I’ve kind of been using an organization as 20 project managers, so let me keep doing that.  So every one to two months I would expect two or three of those projects to be reviewed in the course of a day.

And how it works is this.  I’ll use myself again as an example.  And let’s say the three of you, Nick and Andy and Bill, each of you, your project has been chosen to be reviewed.  So I will tell each of you a week in advance what issues I want you to address.  When I walk in to review your project, I want you to have some slides that talk about things like schedule.  Where are you on your schedule?  Whether you’re on schedule or not, where are you going to be 30 days from now?  And if you’re not going to be on schedule 30 days from now, what’s your plan to turn that around?  I want you to talk to me about quality.  How do you know what you’re building is going to yield good quality?  How are you going to measure that?  And where are you today?

I want you to tell me, what are the top three issues you’re facing today?  What are the top three problems you have?  And by the way, what are the top three things that you’re doing right today?  Because I want to give you credit for that.  I want to know about your customer.  What relationship do you have?  Is it a healthy relationship?  Is it a good one?  And if it’s not, what are you doing about that?  Anyway, I give you around 20 things to go talk about.  When you walk into this room, it’s you the project manager.  It’s your peers, the other 19 project managers.  But I also allow the project managers having their projects reviews to bring a handful of their people from their project to help support them because I’m going to tell you, I’m going to get down and dirty and ask a lot of tough questions.

BILL YATES:  Oh, boy.

NEAL WHITTEN:  And if you want folks to help you out, you can bring them to the meeting.  And here’s what…

ANDY CROWE:  An entourage.

BILL YATES: I’d bring everybody.

NEAL WHITTEN:  I’ll bring everybody.  That’s right, man.  So here’s what I do.  I have two flip charts.  I have one that’s called “Praise” and one that’s called “Areas for Improvement.”  I ask the company that I’m working with to assign me a scribe, somebody who’s going to own those flip charts, because I’m the one driving the meeting.  I don’t want to stop and write anything on a flipchart.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

NEAL WHITTEN:  So let’s just say, for purposes of discussion, Zack is a character who’s going to write on the flipcharts.  So as I’m now reviewing – and, Nick, let’s say I’m reviewing your project first.  I’m now reviewing your project.  Remember, all your peers are in the room, the 19 other project managers.

BILL YATES:  We’re all staring at you.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Oh, absolutely.  I find that I’m going to ask more questions than anybody else, probably 95 percent of the questions.  And even though any other project manager in a room can ask questions, I find they don’t, very often because they know someday their project’s going to be reviewed, and it could be payback time.

BILL YATES:  It comes back.

NEAL WHITTEN:  So at any rate, as I’m asking you questions, and I find something you did well, I’m going to say, “Zack, praise.  Put it on the chart.  Here’s what I want you to put.  You can reword it any way you want.  I just want to make sure you got it captured,” and then I move on.  And when I find something that needs to be improved, I’m going to say, “Zack, improvement chart, same thing,” and we move on.

Now, anybody can ask questions throughout this period.  It’s usually around two to four hours it takes to review a project.  Some people say, “No, Neal, it’s going to take you a day or two days or three days.”  Unh-unh.  I’m a businessperson.  A businessperson doesn’t care about minutiae.  They care about the big-ticket stuff.  That’s where we want to spend our time.  All I care about is when we walk out of this room, we’ve identified the top three problems you’ve got to go off and work on.  If you can hit those, forget the other 20 or 30 little things.  You’ll take care of them.  I know that.  But that’s not where we want to put all the attention.  So that’s what you do.

And I will tell you a story that plays out all the time that I’m really pretty proud of.  I’ll be at a project management conference.  This happens almost everywhere I go.  Somebody will walk up to me, and they’ll say, “Neal, you’re going to have a hard time finding a problem on my project.”

BILL YATES:  Oh, boy.

NEAL WHITTEN:  And I’ll say, “Who are you, and what company do you work for?”  And they’ll say who they are, and they’ll say, “You’re coming out to my company in one month, and my project was chosen for you to review.”  You see, they’ve already – I’ve already been there.  They already know what it’s like.  The first one out of the chute is grueling.  But after that it gets good because now the other project managers, when they say that when the tide lifts, all the boats float up, so all the project managers benefit from this.  And so the first one, the project managers are put on notice.  They say, wow, this guy’s serious.  He’s really finding these problems.  And management must be serious if they really want us to do these things.  But then the next time that these reviews are done, people have their act together.  And this is what you do.  And this is how it sticks.

So what started this conversation, Nick, was somebody saying, “I need some training, and I need it to stick.  How do you get it to stick?”  How you get it to stick is you have somebody accountable.  You put a plan in place.  You define the methodology.  You continue to evolve it.  You teach people how to think and behave.  You actually put them together in a room with their problems that they’re experiencing.  And then, finally, you do this, I call it Project Review Mentoring Workshop because you’re mentoring all the project managers by using just two or three projects to do so.

ANDY CROWE:  Neal, I’ve looked at you as my sensei for quite a while now.  And the funny thing about this is, I’ve had projects audited before, and I usually knew more than the person auditing.  So I was fine.  I had the vocabulary I could hide behind.  I had the…

BILL YATES:  The numbers.  You had the metrics, yup.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah, the numbers done the right way.  But going before Neal on a project audit would be like a med student going before Dr. House.  You’re not going to – you’re going to be in trouble.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, thank you very much.  I take that as a giant compliment.  But I will tell you the downside is I know less than anybody in that room about that project, and maybe even about that technology.  So I’m going to ask a lot of questions.  And sometimes my questions might look a little stupid.  And I feel like that TV character “Columbo.”  He may look a little stupid and disheveled at the moment, but he’s remembering everything that he’s asking and what you’re saying, and he’s building a story, but this stuff works.  And most companies, it’s going to be rare to find a company that even does what I just said.  But if you do this, it’s a continuous evolution of your project management, and it works.

ANDY CROWE:  Neal, have you ever pulled the Columbo trick of walking out the door and stopping and saying, “Just one more thing.”

NEAL WHITTEN:  Oh, I do that all the time.  And I’m sure people are thinking, this guy’s kind of a little loose.  He’s a little dumb.  And then after a while, what’s neat is they actually give me too much credit.  They actually think I’m really that smart that I can think of all this ahead of time.  And I can’t.  So I actually typically look better than I really am.  But that’s cool.

NICK WALKER:  Acting.  He’s a good actor.

BILL YATES:  Oh, yeah.

NEAL WHITTEN:  That’s right.

NICK WALKER:  Hey, Neal, thanks so much for devoting so much of your time to helping others succeed.  Thanks for sharing your time and your expertise with us.  We don’t have an Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor in a Disaster Movie, but we have something even better.  And that is the Manage This coffee mug there in front of you.  Take that and use it and enjoy every day.

NEAL WHITTEN:  This is great.  Hey, what is this, Kahlua?  I love it, man.  Thank you very much.

NICK WALKER:  We can do that.

ANDY CROWE:  Maybe later in the day, yeah.

NICK WALKER:  We need a name for that; you know?  The PM-y, maybe?  The Little Oscar?

ANDY CROWE:  I like it, I like it.

BILL YATES:  I like it.

NICK WALKER:  A special award.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Let’s do it.  I’m honored to be here, and thank you so much for the opportunity, guys.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, Neal, it’s – from several of the points that you brought up in this, I am literally thinking of books, I’m thinking of chapters, I’m thinking of eLearning, I’m thinking of speaking engagements where I’ve seen you present and talk on these points.  There’s such – you really hit the tip of the iceberg on so many of these topics.  So thank you for all the resources that you’ve created.  And you’ve got them for all types of learners, and I appreciate that.  That’s something that resonates with us here at Velociteach.  So we appreciate all that’s going on in that brain of yours.  Thank you for sharing it with us today.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Bill, thank you.  Nick and Andy, thank you so much.  I appreciate again being here.

NICK WALKER:  Well, that’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in for our next podcast.  It will be our eighth podcast next time.  In the meantime, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about project management certifications, whether it’s the PMP, CAPM, PMI-ACP, CSM, PgMP, or PfMP.  Or maybe you know somebody like Neal who would be a great guest on the show.  We’d love to hear from you, as well.  That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

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