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Johanna Rothman - there's no such thing as a free lunch

‘People’, ‘projects’, and ‘professional development’ are all career buzzwords – but ones with beneficial results.

This week, we spoke to project management blogger and author, Johanna Rothman, about working in an agile workplace, her career advice, and team work.

How would you describe your current role as a consultant?

“Sometimes, people get lost in all of their problems and multitasking – I help them sort it all out and realise what they do need to focus on.

“Then I help them see what their potential solutions are.

“I do this in a variety of ways – coaching, workshops, assessments and through the conversations surrounding my books.

“Generally, when people work with me, they move faster as a result of our collaboration.”

Do you believe a fully agile workplace can excel?

“Yes – firstly, in agile we have a focus on value and transparency, which sometimes can be closer to lean.

“If you focus on creating a great environment for the employees, creating value for customers, and being transparent when you do this, your mission is clear.

“You don’t have to be agile to do this, but being so can help you fly through the features.

“With agile you don’t get distracted by the potential for multitasking, you can manage the project portfolio, and you can integrate feedback into everything you do.”

What stumbling blocks are there when companies seek to use good project management practices?

“Too many companies believe in ‘best practices’ without remembering that the ultimate best practice is thinking.

“Every project is unique; what’s worked before might work again, but we have to think to apply it.

“I really like agile, but I also like staged delivery as a lifecycle, timeboxes, and small features.

“I also like design to schedule, spiral lifecycle, and sometimes, for very short projects, where we know what we have to do, and the people and requirements aren’t going to change, I even like waterfall.

“I never recommend the same approach to agile, I encourage companies to customise it.”

Is a team ever a complete failure and why?

“Teams are almost always a product of their environments, and it’s down to the management to create the environment through structure.

“Management almost always blames a team for not succeeding, but if you look back at the history of a project, you can see many management failures.

“It comes down to the targets, requirements, mandated approach, and team the management has set.”

What makes a team succeed?

“A team needs to be small and committed to a common purpose or goal.

“They have to agree to a common approach to the work, have a complimentary skillset, and must possess interdependencies, so their work matters to each other.

“If they have these characteristics, and they only work on one thing at a time, they can succeed, although there is still no guarantee.”

What’s your top piece of career advice?

“There is no such thing as a free lunch.

“If you incur technical debt, you will have to pay it off at some point, or it will come back to bite you, at the worst possible time.”

What soft skills must every project manager possess?

“A sense of humour is a must and great listening skills.”

Who inspires you?

“Every project manager who keeps going, they all inspire me.

“Every time I hear from someone about having read one of my books or a blog post, or a Pragmatic Manager newsletter, and having found some value, I feel very happy.”