Walking Through the Complex World of Project Management with Andy Kaufman

Interview Andy Kaufman

Today, we have another star from the cosmos of project management. Mr. Andy Kaufman who is PMP, PMI-ACP certified professional. He has 25+ years of working experience in technology, management, leadership, consulting and coaching.

Besides being a veteran project management guru, Andy is also an award-winning keynote speaker, coach, author of Navigating the winds of change. He is also the president of the Institute for Leadership Excellence & Development Inc. He helps companies across the globe in delivering projects and leading teams.

He hosts the popular People and Projects Podcast, which features interviews and insights to lead people and deliver projects on-time.

His major clients include the United Nations, Microsoft, Marriott International, Medline, Grainger, Northern Trust, Orbitz and United Airlines just to name a few.

TaskQue: First of all, tells us how you began your career in project management? What inspired you to choose this field?

Andy Kaufman: I have yet to meet someone who said during elementary school, “Daddy? Mommy? Some day I want to be a project manager!” 😊

As with most project managers I know, we have a passion for delivering results. That often drove us into roles that eventually required project management-related skills. I started as a software developer, and that’s an area that tended to look at work as projects.

I got promoted into management for all the wrong reasons—I was a reasonably good developer so CERTAINLY, I will be a good manager, right? We make that mistake all the time in management.

Over time, and after making lots of mistakes, I was promoted to Director and Vice President roles. Throughout the process, what I found is leading teams to deliver value is a wonderful way to make a living. Many people do that with titles such as Project Manager, but far more don’t even have the word “project” in their title. Yet they are effectively PMs. We’re everywhere! 😊

TaskQue: PMP is one of the most demanding certifications in the project management field. What are your predictions for major changes in 2020?

Andy Kaufman: PMI is doing a major overhaul on the PMP certification. Personally, I think it’s going to breathe life into the credential.  The PMP has drifted toward a reputation of being most relevant only for predictive projects, which is not a completely fair view.

In recent years, the exam has included more questions related to agile and hybrid approaches. But the changes coming in July 2020 will more explicitly be directed toward these approaches. That will have the benefit of giving additional exposure to multiple project approaches, which is a win for everyone.

TaskQue:  In an interview, you emphasized the influence and authority of a project manager. Would you like to share more insights about it?

Andy Kaufman: Increasingly, project managers need to influence their team and other stakeholders without the authority of being “the boss”. We are responsible for delivering, but we can’t rely on positional power to just make things happen—we have to influence without authority.

This is not unique to project managers—it’s something that nearly all of us need to grow in. One of the topics we cover in our keynotes and workshops is how to do this.

TaskQue: What do you think are the most common project delivery challenges and how a project manager may overcome them?

Andy Kaufman: There are countless challenges to delivering projects, including poor sponsorship, inadequate understanding of requirements, unrealistic timeframes, lack of involvement of stakeholders, and more. One that I’ll specifically mention here is a denial of risk. Too many projects suffer from this and for a number of reasons.

How to address it? Here’s a simple idea: every time you have an update meeting for your project, including an analysis of your top 3 risks. The magic isn’t 3—it might be more or it could be less.

But in addition to whatever else you would communicate during an update meeting, talk about your top risks. And don’t just mention what the risks are—also include what you’re doing about them now. Too often we focus on problems—things that have already gone wrong.

Having an ongoing discussion about risks—uncertainties that could create problems down the road—is more proactive. Talking about it all the time ensures it’s not just something we do when things are going poorly. Rather, it’s something we do all the time, which takes reduces perceived stigma about being negative.

Talking about risks should be like breathing. This is a simple way to incorporate it into the culture.

TaskQue: Being a firm believer of team collaboration, what are your views on team collaboration?

Andy Kaufman: I believe it’s a good idea. 😊

TaskQue: Please tell our audience what are the key takeaways of your book “Navigating the winds of change” and what do you suggest to adapt to change in an organization.

Andy Kaufman: There’s almost always opportunity in change. How we look at it makes all the difference. I was just talking with a colleague today who is upset about some changes in the industry. I kept reminding him to look for the opportunity.

I would bet nearly everyone reading this interview can think of a change that they never would choose but it ended up providing an opportunity that they’re grateful for now. I’m not suggesting all the changes are good. I’m just saying our seemingly natural aversion to change can keep us from seeking the opportunities.

The book uses a sailing metaphor, and if we can learn to navigate changes in the winds and seas, we can make a big difference in this world.

TaskQue: Tell us about your People and Projects Podcast and what are your target audience? Also, share which one has been your best episode and why?

Asking me for my favorite or best episode is like asking a parent which is their favorite child. 😊 Often my favorite episode is the most recent one.

A typical episode interviews a world-class thought leader on a topic related to leading and delivering. We have listeners around the world and show up in the top 100 career podcasts in many countries. I love hearing from listeners about how they apply the learning from the discussions.

TaskQue: Many people consider the rise of AI as a threat to future jobs? Do you agree and why? How is AI going to affect our personal and professional lives?

Andy Kaufman: Ah, you can guess that my leaning is that continued automation is a change that will provide seemingly endless opportunities for us.

The key is to be a voracious learner. Left to our own devices, we grow stagnant, and accelerating automation will be a wake-up call for all of us to keep reinventing ourselves. I’m so excited about the future despite knowing that it will force me to keep changing.

TaskQue: Your client list includes very prestigious institutions, for example, United Nations? What has been your experience working for the United Nations?

Andy Kaufman: As with any large entity, there’s not one culture within the UN. Each agency and project and team have their unique nuances that are a fun challenge for me to understand and adapt to.

I have had the privilege to work with leaders from every continent (except Antarctica) and learning to teach and coach and facilitate across cultures is a true joy in my job, whether it’s with the UN or any of our other global clients.

TaskQue: What tip would you like to give to project managers to stay productive in the year 2020?

Andy Kaufman: Focus on delivering value.

TaskQue: You have been working for around 25 years in the field. What personalities have been your inspirations?

I can honestly say my inspirations come from all corners of the globe, across industries and disciplines. I’m inspired by people who want to grow and make a difference. As a follower of Jesus, I’m inspired by those who put their faith in action.

As a speaker and teacher and coach, I’m inspired every time I see someone excellent at their craft. The world is filled with inspiration if we take the time to notice it.

TaskQue:  What are the must-have qualities of a project manager?

Andy Kaufman: A pulse, curiosity, and a willingness to serve and learn.

I’m very resistant to lists of qualities because it just depends so much on specific situations and cultures. But one of my most admired qualities these days is leaders (including PMs) who have a genuine curiosity and use that to learn and serve the people around them.

TaskQue: TaskQue is a cloud-based productivity management tool for team collaboration, communication and task management, how do you see such applications in helping teams being more successful?

Andy Kaufman: The answer is never a tool, but tools can be part of the answer. Anything we can do to increase transparency and reduce organizational debt and friction is a win for teams and projects.