Interview with Project Management Expert Elizabeth Harrin


Elizabeth is an evangelist and expert of project management with more than a decade of experience as a PM in healthcare and financial services. She is the member of Association for Project Management and has a number of impressive publications. She has written widely on the subject of project management and manages her own blog: Girl’s Guide to PM. When she started her career back in 2006, there were very few female project management professionals and she strongly felt that the profession of project management requires female voice as well. She began her project management journey in a male-dominated industry and today, due to her sheer hard work, female project managers are also given importance and invited to speak at prestigious project management events and conferences. Elizabeth has won an award for her contributions to the world of project management and continues to serve the project management community with her blog and active social presence.

TaskQue: There used to be very few female project management professionals when you started working, what actually inspired you to choose project management?

Elizabeth Harrin: I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left university so I joined a graduate training scheme that allowed me to test a number of different areas. I discovered a department called Business Re-engineering which is basically project management and process improvement. It felt like I had found something I could really enjoy. It was all about lists, making changes, organizing people, getting things done. I had no idea prior to that that I could find a job that would play to my natural strengths.

TaskQue: Your website girls guide to PM is at core, formed with a vision to promote project management scope in women, as back in 2006 you felt that Project management field was missing female viewpoint, what do you think as a possible reason for lack of women interest in choosing project management as a career field?

Elizabeth Harrin: I don’t think there’s ever been a lack of women interested in project management as a career – although I know in some industries there are fewer women represented than in others. I think the issue back then, and to some extent, this is still the case, is that women aren’t represented publicly in project management thought leadership roles i.e. as the authors of magazine articles, blog posts and as speakers at conferences.

I’m not sure what the reason behind this is. In my experience, it’s never been a lack of available talented women. Perhaps the people who organize conferences don’t find the talent easy to source. Perhaps women are more interested in getting the job done and less on the self-promotion that is necessary to secure visibility in the field. I think it’s a mix of issues with both supply and demand. From the people I speak to, there are fewer women putting themselves forward for these opportunities, although I do think that is getting better now as conference convenors, in particular, look to source balanced representation at events.

If you are reading this and would like to write for your industry press or speak at an event, just contact the organizers and volunteer!

TaskQue: You set a vision for yourself to promote women in the discipline of project management such as you gave the example of the world of finance where women share ratio of 50/50, how much do you think you have been successful in fulfilling your vision so far?

Elizabeth Harrin: It’s impossible to say with any certainty! I am contacted by people regularly who appreciate what I do, but I can’t personally take any credit for shifting the needle in the wider PM environment.

One comment that did stick to my mind was from a (male) lecturer who taught African women project management. He said that he used my website as an example of what it was possible to achieve – in other words, as inspiration for his students that project management was a real job and that women could excel at it.

TaskQue: Whatever you do, you do quite proficiently as you have got awards for writing on project management as well as your blog, Girls Guide to PM, has also received an award, what is your recipe of excelling in every field you put your hand in?

Elizabeth Harrin: Ha! I certainly don’t excel in every field otherwise I would have knitted a jumper by now – something I promised myself I would do years ago and has never achieved. But it’s kind of you to say.

My recipe is just to keep learning. Do the research and don’t expect anyone to hand you anything on a plate. I know a lot about social media, blogging, WordPress configuration and web design but I have taught myself. I read a lot and I test a lot of things. You only get better if you keep trying.

TaskQue: In your publication on “Collaboration tools for project managers” in 2016 you wrote that these tools can help project managers communicate faster and work virtually with people across the globe and get better results” on the other hand many PMs contradict that working virtually reduces work quality, how much do you agree with it?

Elizabeth Harrin: I think it depends on the quality of your colleagues. This might sound controversial, but if you don’t get the right people, you can’t expect a good outcome. Working virtually sometimes means paying someone who isn’t as invested as you to do work for cheap. If that’s your approach to outsourcing, then you can’t expect decent results.

If you engage your remote team and they share your common goals and vision, then I think it’s reasonable to expect quality work as a result.

TaskQue: You have managed many projects actively and have written on different project related topics, what in your viewpoint are the most critical elements in determining the success of a project?

Elizabeth Harrin: Success is determined by the people who receive the end results. So if they say it’s important you come in on a budget, then the budget is the most important element. If they want a top quality outcome, then you aim for that.

You can change up your management style accordingly, so you hit the points that are important to the customer. But overall the core elements of how you make a project a success stay the same: having a clear vision for what you are going to achieve, engaging the team to achieve it and tracking progress and shifting course accordingly on the journey so you reach the destination.

TaskQue: You have been in the field of project management for more than a decade now, what do you think is the most critical challenge for any project manager?

Elizabeth Harrin: It’s still all about the people. The difference I have seen over the years is that we have moved away from the idea of project manager as keeper of the Gantt chart and towards someone who is engaged with the business strategy, even on a small level. It’s now about making sure the project delivers value and benefits and less about ticking boxes to prove you’ve done a quality audit. That makes the job more interesting in my opinion.

TaskQue: New project managers struggle a lot in the field because they tend to lack the expertise of the field. What’s your advice to those professionals gaining quick expertise?

Elizabeth Harrin: Get a mentor. This is something I am working on – I’d like to offer online learning and mentoring to people because I think it is really valuable. If you’ve got someone on hand to bounce ideas around with and to give you the best practice and shortcuts, it saves your so much time.

So: learn from your colleagues. Also, read a lot. I am lucky in that I’m now connected to authors and thought leaders who are prepared to share their words with my blog readers. The great ideas are out there. There’s 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 from reading books, industry press or websites.

TaskQue: Sometimes there is extreme work pressure, how do you think one can stay productive in such situations and avoid burnouts?

Elizabeth Harrin: Delegate. Rely on your colleagues. Focus on one thing at a time. Do what’s important and urgent, and not what’s not.

Plus, talk a lot about what’s bothering you to people who care: family or close colleagues who won’t judge.

TaskQue: Running a blog, being founder and Director at The Otobos Group as well as performing duties of Programme Manager at your day job is a lot of work to do, what fun activities do you do in leisure time for cooling yourself of?

Elizabeth Harrin: Erm… not much! I have two small children who keep me busy so we do a lot of coloring, reading, and baking. When I get time I enjoy growing vegetables and crochet.

TaskQue: At the end apart from professional life what hobbies do you find to be most relaxing for enjoying and maintaining calm in the life?

Elizabeth Harrin: I wish I had the answers to this! I have an incredibly busy life. What helps me most is having clear objectives and working through a to-do list. I know that sounds dull, but it’s the way I empty my head of everything I need to do so that I can focus on actually getting the job done.