GirlsGuidetoPM Creator Elizabeth Harrin on Remote Project Management

Elizabeth Harrin interview

Elizabeth Harrin is the blogger behind the award-winning project management blog, GirlsGuideToPM.com. Outside of blogging, she’s an author, mentor, PM trainer, and Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK. When it comes to project management expertise, Elizabeth has it in spades.

We wanted to know more about Elizabeth’s day-to-day, whether she thinks COVID-19 has changed project management, and what she believes the future holds for project managers. Here’s what she had to say. 

Why did you start GirlsGuidetoPM? 

My blog began when I realized that there weren’t enough women writing and speaking about project management, although there were plenty working very hard at it. 

Back in 2006, flicking through the trade press and going to conferences meant reading and listening to what men had to say about project management. There’s nothing wrong with that – they were (and still are) often very good. But the project management world was lacking a female perspective. Basically, there wasn’t enough stuff about shoes, chocolate, and crafts for my liking.

Today, things are better. Conference organizers tell me that they go to lengths to attract female speakers. Editors have more balanced editorial panels. However, it isn’t their fault that they have to make a special effort: it’s ours.  If we want women to have a more active role in promoting project management as a 21st century profession we need to get out there and do something about it.

I don’t speak for all female project managers, of course.  And I hope I speak to men as well.  The blog has evolved over the last years into a place where I hope all project managers will find something useful. 

A Girl’s Guide to Project Management aims to provide some direction in the world of project management by offering news, opinion, and coverage of the many project management events that happen in the UK (and when I can get to them, overseas too).

In short, I’m the Girl, and it’s my Guide to the wonderful world of managing projects. 

What is a typical day in your life?

I wake up at 6:00 am when I hear my  young children wake up and check my email before getting out of bed. I know I shouldn’t, but something always comes in when I’m asleep. After breakfast and prep for getting them out the door to school, I turn on the computer, and start working at around 9 am (after a cup of tea). 

Most of my mornings are spent writing — either client projects, blogging, or personal projects like my book. I also spend a lot of time in my inbox. 

After a break for lunch, I tend to spend the afternoons on video and phone calls. And whatever time I have left is spent doing the work that results from those calls, or engaging with my community on social media or other channels. Did I mention more tea? I am trying to cut down! 

My evenings are spent with my family, reading articles, watching TV or working on social media and emails, sometimes all at the same time, and often with wine. Then I put together my schedule for the next day, and try to not work past 8:30 pm.

What’s your personal tech stack? What are the tools you can’t live without? 

I need Outlook and Zoom. I need a notebook.

That’s pretty much it for essentials.

I use Plutio for managing my work with my team, and monday.com and Slack for working with my clients. I also have an active Facebook community and I connect with a lot of project managers on that. I’d be lost without that for the social aspects of remote working. 

It’s been almost six months since much of the world was forced to start working remotely. What do you think the impact has been on projects and project managers?

I think it’s sector dependent. The project managers I know have either been incredibly busy or made redundant, much as people in other jobs. 

There are going to be long-term implications for work that requires teams to come together with regards to health and safety. And of course we’ve seen a big uptake in tools like Zoom which has required individuals who haven’t worked remotely to start using collaboration tools. 

I literally wrote the book on collaboration software for project managers so I haven’t seen that much difference in my day job!

In general, even without COVID, more and more work was moving remote. How does remote work change how projects need to be managed? 

It doesn’t really. The work is still the work. We just do it using different tools and we can’t shake hands any more.

My project teams have been distributed for at least the past 13 years. We speak on the phone, we use software to communicate, we collaborate remotely. 

I suppose what’s different is the lack of informal opportunities to influence and network. You have to be more conscious about getting time with senior stakeholders: no more getting into the office early to catch a director before she gets sucked into a day of meetings. 

While remote working doesn’t change the need to engage stakeholders, it does make it harder.

What is the biggest challenge involved in managing a remote project?

Building relationships with people. I put a lot of effort into getting to know the team, understanding their work preferences and communication preferences and tailoring. 

Personalization is a big deal now because it gets us better results when time is short and stakeholders are distracted.

How can project managers better prepare for a remote future? 

If you aren’t already prepared, you’re probably already struggling.

Get comfortable on camera. Get a headset and a decent lighting system for your office. Switch off at night and find a way to transition from work to home because remote work can be all-consuming without the physical cues of the commute home.

Consider what digital skills you should learn and start thinking how tech affects the projects you lead. What data protection, security, privacy principles need to be baked into your work in ways they perhaps didn’t before because the solutions you are delivering have changed?

How can businesses better support their project managers in a remote context?

Give them the tools they need to do the job. It’s so hard to struggle with a personal and work mobile device, 15 different logins, a bunch of cables to connect up for the VPN to function… Get the tech sorted and make it easy, so we aren’t wasting time every day looking at systems loading.

Beyond that, back off and focus on management by results. Trust your people – and let them prove they are trustworthy. 

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out as a project manager today?

Get a mentor. If you’ve got someone on hand to bounce ideas around with, and to give you the best practice and shortcuts, it saves you so much time.

Even if you can’t afford to pay for external mentoring from a professional, you can still learn from your colleagues. Also, read a lot. The great ideas are out there. There is loads of free advice (and some excellent paid-for courses to take your skills further too). If training isn’t an option for you for cost reasons, then at least spend some time each week learning by reading books, industry press, or websites.

Any bold predictions about the future of project management?

Hybrid approaches, project leadership at board level, digital skills, and advances in project management tech to incorporate blockchain, AI, and robotic processing are all on the cards. You can learn more about each of these predictions on my blog

Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your project management insights with us!

Elizabeth also took part in our five-part series on project managers. Check that out here.