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Human-Centered Digital Project Manager Brett Harned in an Interview With AppVerticals


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Today Digital Project Manager Brett Harned is in an Interview With AppVerticals. Brett Harned is one of the founding voices of the growing digital project management community. He launched the Digital PM Summit in 2012 and has since hosted and spoken to audiences globally over the past decade. His first book, Project Management for Humans, was published in July 2017, and his podcast, Sprints, and Milestones, launched in April 2018. His wealth of successful online classes, a YouTube series, and numerous bylines further underscore his experience in digital PM consulting.

He applies his breadth of knowledge and experience to help clients solve complex challenges around people, processes, and cultures. Brett served as Vice President of Project Management at award-winning web design agency Happy Cog and as a senior PM at global digital agency Razorfish. As a project manager, strategist, and consultant, he’s led capital campaigns, managed enterprise website redesigns, and produced new iOS and Android products for Zappos, MTV, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Pfizer, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Harvard University.

It is our pleasure that today he spared time from his busy schedule to facilitate our readers in understanding modern project management and leadership better.

AppVerticals: What motivated you, Brett, in choosing project management and leadership as your career goal for yourself?

Brett Harned: Honestly, I fell into project management. I worked as an account director for a small design agency and was doing everything from business development, UX design, copywriting, relationship management, and, you guessed it…planning. While I was there, I was contacted by a recruiter at Razorfish. After only two conversations, she told me that I’d be perfect for a role in project management. I explored the option with her and decided to go for it.

In the end, I think project management was great for me because I’d always been a generalist but always got excited about leading teams and facilitating processes. It’s just how my brain works–I’m constantly looking for the best way to do the task at hand, and I know it has to work not just for me but for everyone involved. I bring that same spirit to my work as a consultant and love helping teams to find their best paths.

AppVerticals: After success in their respective fields, many people are not likely to contribute and give back to the community as you do. What is the inspiration for you behind paying back to the community?

Brett Harned: Back in 2009, when I was a project manager at a boutique digital agency, I was looking for a way to connect with other project managers in the digital space. I knew that other people out there had to have been experiencing some of the same challenges as me, but no one was really talking about it. So, I found my community and built a local meetup. That then turned into many professional and personal opportunities for me. So for that reason alone, I have always valued community,

AppVerticals: You are a human-centric digital project manager. We understand the part digital that you keep up with tools and other technologies in the sphere, but what is the human-centric approach in project management here?

Brett Harned: I firmly believe that people drive processes (and they also tend to break them!). You cannot manage a team without considering its strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Therefore, you lead with people first through conversations that set expectations, build trust, and pave a path for positive collaboration and clear communication. To me, combined things can help you solve any problem and deliver any project, and the tools are there to support it.

AppVerticals: As a digital project manager, how do you see new technologies and tools replacing old project management techniques?

Brett Harned: I don’t! Here’s the problem: too many people see “project management” as a tool. And, yes, we use tools to help us track and manage details. But project management will never be replaced by a tool because at the end of the day, PM is about facilitating communications and collaboration across different disciples and personality types. While a tool can help you to catalog and organize communications and details, it would never be able to help you translate intent, uncover risks, or even just rally a team around a challenge or issue. To me, that is the real value of project management.

AppVerticals: What is the most challenging part for you as a project manager in any sort of project?

Brett Harned: It’s always the people. When you’re working with teams and clients or stakeholders, you have to manage several personality types, communication types, goals, and motivations. Everyone comes to the table with a different perspective and a different set of expectations. As the PM, it is your job to sort all of that out and make sure you get everyone aligned. That can be a real challenge, but it can also be very rewarding to sort out.

AppVerticals: When consulting any organization in their projects, how do you pinpoint flaws in the practices they already follow? What is the first thing you focus on rectifying?

Brett Harned: For me, the best way to uncover issues is to discuss the project experience with those who do the work and review and approve the work. Conversations with team members and stakeholders tend to uncover the root of issues and possible solutions. 

But of course, it doesn’t stop there. Often issues spur a lack of defined roles, processes, and expectations of communication and collaboration. I always dig into scopes of work, job descriptions, process documentation, tools, and any other information my clients can provide to illustrate the big picture of how and why they work the way they do. 

AppVerticals: You also coach project managers to keep up with their job; how do you keep yourself updated with the latest trends and technologies? What is your methodology of keep learning and improve yourself?

Brett Harned: It’s this simple: I manage projects! I’m not the consultant and coach who has retired my PM hat. I work with teams to deliver products, and while I do, I explore new tools and processes that help me to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening in my industry.

AppVerticals: In the current scenario, it is evident that to keep up with job requirements as a project manager. You need to keep learning. What in your view, is the best method to gain a deep understanding of new technologies than just knowing they exist?

Brett Harned: For me, the best way to stay in the know has been through the community. Local meetups and international conferences have truly extended my knowledge and circle of friends. If I ever have a question about a new tool, a method, or even a resource, I can turn to my trusted colleagues. 

In my book Project Management for Humans, I also mention that it’s really important for project managers to stay curious. I make time to read news, check in on LinkedIn, and generally just try to stay informed about what’s happening in my industry and the business world at large. 

AppVerticals: Many people are not fond of reading books. What is your advice to such project managers who consume digital content like blogs and forums but are not fond of reading books?

Brett Harned: I know this is very true, and it’s why I added a “TL;DR” (Too Long; Didn’t Read) section at the end of each chapter of my book. Sometimes you just need a quick summary, I get it!

But reading books is just a part of my DNA. It requires time and curiosity, but I think it pays off. If you’re stretched for time but curious about what lies within those pages and there is no TL;DR, check out apps like Blinkist. They provide a brief audio synopsis that can help you to learn more or dig into areas that might interest you.

AppVerticals: Apart from professional life, what hobbies have you adopted to maintain a work/life balance?

Brett Harned: You’ll find me outside or away from screens when I’m not working. Cycling, hiking, and running help me to clear my mind and stay healthy.

AppVerticals: AppVerticals is an applications development company that develops all sorts of applications, android, IOS, and web applications. What tools would you suggest to us to streamline our processes better?

Brett Harned: I’d never recommend tools without knowing you better. Instead, I’d tell you to ensure you do your best to communicate and collaborate as a team. Make sure you’re talking regularly, surfacing challenges and opportunities, and celebrating the wins!


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