Interview With Author of “The Project Management Answer Book”, Jeff Furman

Project Management Answer Book Author, Jeff Furman

Jeff Furman is a project management evangelist who has trained more than 1,500 PMs, plus many trainers. He has also authored a book on project management with the name “The Project Management Answer Book” currently in its second edition, available on the market with many techniques and tips. He worked as an IT project manager for 15 years, on all sorts of I.T. projects for fortune 100 companies. He also trained in the corporate sector for 10 years, including many branches of the NYC and Federal Government. And for the last 6 years, he has been teaching project management in colleges in Manhattan (New York University and Fordham University) and also for the US Army, on bases in Texas, Georgia, and Kentucky. He is an expert in IT Change Management, Software Evaluation, and Developer Support. In his training career, he has won awards for “Instructor of the Year” in 2008 and 2009 for NetCom Learning, where he taught many PMP Prep and Train-The-Trainer courses.

TaskQue: First of all Jeff, I would like to know that what really inspired you in choosing project management as a career path? How did your journey start?

Jeff Furman: I was very much one of those “Accidental Project Managers” (by way of being a Trainer!) I greatly enjoyed the challenge of learning new software, and early in my career I was a Corporate Trainer for a large insurance company, and then for a leading brokerage in Manhattan. I created classes and taught them for the developers on the programming languages and testing tools the companies wanted them to use.

My break into PM came when the CIO at the brokerage was having trouble getting his many I.T. Developers to want to use the company’s Change Control System. He asked me to take on managing it, hoping that the Developers would use the system if I supported it and taught a class for them on how to use it. This worked out, and once they all started using the system, it made for a big improvement in quality in the company’s software apps. This led to my managing many more software projects for the company.

TaskQue: You have been a project management coach for quite some time now, how do you find this experience of training young minds?

Jeff Furman: Training people of all ages is immensely satisfying for teachers. It is always great “seeing the light go in” in your students’ eyes. And with teaching PMP, there is the special satisfaction of knowing that the cert will help the PMs a great deal in their careers.

I do get a lot of younger students in my classes, and the cliché is true that teaching young people helps keep you young. And I often learn a lot from my younger students, such as new trends, and new tools they are choosing.

But since you mention “young people,” I would also share that there is nothing more gratifying for me than teaching older people! Every time one of my older students sends me a note that they passed their PMP, I am especially happy for them because I know how much the certification can mean toward their continuing career. Often, the right certification can help an experienced PM take their career up to a new level.

TaskQue: You have been IT project manager for 15 years, what significant differences have you witnessed throughout your journey so far about how project management has evolved over time?

Jeff Furman: The trend toward the “servant leader” management style, away from the “command and control” model. The recent rise in agile methods. And of course, the revolutionary changes brought by mobile technology. This helped enable the wave of virtual/global teams, greatly shortened the development cycle, reduced costs, and led to many innovations in the apps teams can create for their clients. Also, PM certification is very big today and it’s become standard, but this is a fairly new trend. Only 10 years ago, a much smaller percentage of PMs were getting even one certification.

TaskQue: In a project, which element do you believe to be a major productivity killer and what in your view is the best solution for it?

Jeff Furman: Low morale takes a huge toll on productivity, and sometimes management is the culprit. For instance, sometimes an employee gets a job offer from another firm, and management makes them a counter-offer, but without raising the pay for the rest of the team. This not only hurts morale but often the team-member winds up leaving soon anyway (pay wasn’t their main reason for wanting to move on in the first place). So it’s best when management can avoid knee-jerk reactions like this, which can have a ripple effect on morale, and then further on productivity.

TaskQue: In your entire career in project management, which step or move do you believe benefited you the most?

Jeff Furman: Writing my book opened up a lot of doors for me. Almost as soon as my 1st Edition was published, I was asked to teach Project Management for the US Army. This was a big step up from teaching PMP for IT training companies, as I had been doing for several years. The Army wanted a longer, in-depth course, not just a quick test-prep course. And they told me they specifically reached out to me because of my book, which they said convinced them that I could stand up for 2 weeks and teach a room filled with senior Army officers.

And then soon after that, the book also helped me start teaching at NYU SPS in NYC, so does the book really raised my profile. I’m still teaching for the Army and NYU, and also Fordham University now in Manhattan. All 3 are great learning environments, with highly-motivated students, making teaching in those venues a pleasure.

TaskQue: You attended PMI Annual Conference 2017 in Chicago, where you also listened to a Jesse Fewell presentation. What did you like the most about his presentation in PMINAC 2017?

Jeff Furman: Yes, definitely a personal highlight of attending PMINAC 2017 in Chicago was seeing Jesse Fewell co-present with Mike Griffiths on PMI’s new “Agile Practice Guide.” This is the first year that PMI put out an Agile Guide as a companion document along with the PMBOK. And starting in March, it will be the first year where Agile is part of the body of knowledge being tested for on the PMP and also the CAPM exams.

Jesse and Mike gave two outstanding presentations (the first was lecture, the other one the following morning was a follow-up workshop) on the topic of Agile as a new big piece of the new PMP.  As a PMP trainer, this was a very important topic for me to learn more about. And Jesse and Mike were both exceptionally knowledgeable and engaging speakers. Also, they worked together really well as co-presenters.

One quick share from Mike and Jesse’s sessions: “Predictive” and “Adaptive” are starting to replace the terms “Waterfall” and “Agile” in the PMI literature. As Mike discussed, “Waterfall” has come to be used negatively by agilists. So “Predictive” is a more neutral way of describing projects where the scope can largely be documented Up-front, for example, a project for building a bridge. Whereas projects with an ever-changing scope require PMs to be highly change-friendly, and therefore adaptive in their approach. Fewell and Griffiths also addressed how there is often a gray area on projects, where a blend of the two approaches can be best.

TaskQue: In your career, you have led projects of fortune 500 companies as well, what significant differences you found in fortune 500 organizations which you believe separate them from the rest?

Jeff Furman: When you go to work for a Fortune 500 company, you feel like you are joining a winning team. The company has already had a lot of success, and there’s an expectation that you can help make them even better. Many people like that environment better than working for a small start-up, which might be more fun, but where there’s a lot of uncertainty in the air.

Also, it takes money to make money, as they say. Big companies have the funding to look for best-of-breed products, as opposed to having to go to the lowest bidder. So when my team and I were charged with bringing in dev tools for our programmers to use, it was a pleasure managing “horse-race” competitions among the vendors, evaluating the leading tools in the field and then picking the one we and our stakeholders determined to be the best. Developers like working with great tools, which leads to efficiencies and also better morale. And this feeds into attracting more good candidates who want to come work in what they hear is a good environment.

TaskQue: You have also been part of the program “Train the Trainer.” How did you yourself find this experience of training professionals who are already in the field?

Jeff Furman: It was very gratifying helping instructors improve their course-creation and presentation skills. A lot of my students were very instructors on the Microsoft and Adobe product lines, who really enjoyed adding more training skills to their very technical tool-kit.

Train-the-Trainer is great fun to teach because you often see dramatic improvements in your students from early on in the course.

And I also liked helping the instructors become certified as trainers. The classes were toward CTT+ certification (Certified Technical Trainer, from CompTIA). This certification greatly helps trainers on the job market – many companies consider CTT+ a pre-req for instructors, including US Federal Government agencies.

And as a side benefit, I personally learned a lot from observing the teaching methods of the many talented trainers who were my students.

TaskQue: You have authored a book “The Project Management Answer Book” of which you have also introduced the second edition. What do you like most about writing the book?

Jeff Furman: I wanted to write a book that had a dual purpose:

  1. a) To help people toward the notoriously difficult PMP exam, but also
  2. b) To make the many valuable skills in the PMBOK very accessible to PMs, so they could learn and really use the skills (and not just cram them for the test).

It’s been very gratifying that many readers and students in my PMP classes have told me how they find my book very clear and easy to read, and how it makes difficult concepts in the PMBOK easy to understand.

TaskQue: Your book has received 35 reviews on Amazon and all of them are 5 stars? What is your recipe for writing an excellent copy?

Jeff Furman: There is a famous cliché in the fiction-writing world: “Write what you know.” I wrote my 2nd Edition after teaching more than 200 PMP Prep courses. So writing about PMP from a trainer’s perspective is second nature to me.

Also, English was my major in college, and I did a lot of freelance magazine articles before I did books. After a day’s work at the brokerage firm in NYC, I often used to go out and see live music at the clubs in Greenwich Village, and I would later interview some of the singer/songwriters about their music. My interviews were published in

The Bergen Record, a New Jersey newspaper.

I also wrote articles about some of the leading-edge work my team at the brokerage was doing, and those articles were published in various software magazines. Writing all those articles helped train me to later write books, because you get better the more you write, and the more you work with different editors at the magazines.

TaskQue: You have managed a programmer’s support team in which you provided support to over 1,000+ developers. Share your experience and about how did you manage to supervise and provide support to such huge number of developers.

Jeff Furman: One key was that I always took the time to make sure my team was very much cross-trained, to the point where every team-member could support all the products our group was responsible for. So we had a lean but very strong group.

Also, our team mainly provided phone support, but we often would accompany the roll-out of a new tool with a short “hands-on” classroom course on the tool we were charged with supporting. We would create a short, customized class that would get the developers started with the key features of the product. It would also get them using the software in a standardized way, which made it easy to support them down-the-line. And meeting our customers face-to-face in the classroom also facilitated supporting them later when they would have more advanced questions.

TaskQue: In current times project management is transforming fast and it is getting harder to keep up with the pace while you have also published a more upgraded version of your book, how do you manage to keep up with the pace while taking out time for mentoring management candidates?

Jeff Furman: You’re right, mentoring does take up a lot of time! But it’s worth it when you see how much difference you make in people’s lives.

I try my best to use time-management and prioritization skills to still get everything else important done while squeezing in time for mentoring.

And I don’t look at mentoring as totally separate – the mentoring often feeds into my other areas of work in very positive ways. For instance, when I talk to a PM in-depth about an issue they are going through, it gives me more empathy and insight, which helps me do a better job the next time I cover that topic in my class, or when I write about it in a blog post or book.

TaskQue: In project management community which personalities do you see as role models for yourself or who inspires you the most?

Jeff Furman: That’s an easy one: Elizabeth Harrin and Cornelius Fichtner! Both are PM experts, as well as very prolific, always creating all kinds of great content. Both are outstanding communicators as well, so they are two of my favorite ‘go-to sources.’

  • Elizabeth Harrin, PRINCE2, FAPM, is well-known for her award-winning blog: “A Girl’s Guide To Project Management,” plus her excellent books, most recently: Collaboration Tools For Project Managers. And I’ve been enjoying her popular new Facebook group: “The Project Management Café!”
  • Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM has created an amazing catalog of podcasts in the PM field – he now has more than 400 Episodes of The Project Management Podcast available! He also has several other podcast series for PMs, plus his well-known product line of Exam Simulators for the PMP and other tests.

I’ve had the pleasure of being interviewed several times by both Elizabeth and Cornelius about my books. And as a disclaimer, I am now a Sales Affiliate for several of Cornelius’s products.

TaskQue: Keeping professional life aside, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? What hobbies have you adopted to keep yourself relaxed and balanced?

Jeff Furman: I’m glad you asked this question! My wife and I have adopted two amazing rescue dogs from local shelters. Both dogs needed a lot of special care when we first got them, as they came from very difficult backgrounds. But both turned out to be the best pets anyone could possibly ask for!

Caring for a rescue dog feels very special.  You are rehabilitating a creature that has had a very rough start in life. And so when you take them hiking in beautiful woods out of the city, or swimming in mountain lakes that they’ve never seen anything like before,

They love it so much! And I think they appreciate it all the more because they had nothing like that ever before.

And keeping up with an active dog does a lot for your own health! Having to get your dog out for walks and exercise in all kind of weather helps keep you both healthy and happy.

Last words

At the end, I and the whole TaskQue team would like to thank Sir Jeff Furman for giving us this insightful interview.