Carl Pritchard is the author of seven books in project management, a co-producer of a nine CD audio set, pioneer and visionary in risk management and e-learning. Clients from virtually every sector of the economy have recognized his dynamic and entertaining and fun keynote presentations as a speaker and trainer. Carl is also well known as one of the lead contributors to the project body of knowledge PMBOK version four, fourth edition as a leader in the development of the risk management knowledge area.
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Transcript: 1106_PPM Academy Interview with Carl Pritchard
Gerald: Okay, welcome to the PPM Academy Podcast project, program and portfolio managers where we will interview industry experts and discuss current and future trends in the world of project program and portfolio management, and how we can impact our company’s execution culture. I am Gerald Leonard.
Today we have with us Carl Pritchard. Carl is the author of seven books in project management, a co-producer of a nine CD audio set, pioneer and visionary in risk management and e-learning. Clients from virtually every sector of the economy have recognized his dynamic and entertaining keynote presentations as a speaker and trainer. Carl is also well known as one of the lead contributors to the project body of knowledge PMBOK version four fourth edition, as a leader in the development of the risk management knowledge area. Carl, thanks so much for talking to us today.
Carl: Hey Gerald. Thanks for inviting me today. I really appreciate it.
Gerald: No problem. So let’s get into this. So how did you get started in the field of risk management and what do you think has made you successful throughout your career?
Carl: Well honestly I got into risk management totally by accident. Project management is known as the accidental profession and I became a project manager by accident and risk manager by accident. What happened was in the company I was working in at the time, the risk guy quit. This was in the early 90's. I went into the boss’s office and said: “Hey, the risk guy left.” He said, “Yeah, yeah better opportunity.” And I said, "Who is the new risk guy?” And he looked at me and smiled saying, “You’ve got six weeks to get up to speed.”
Carl: And it is funny because this actually is kind of, I think, symbolic of where people need to be coming from when it comes to risk management. Everybody thinks you have to have some advanced degree in all of this stuff, but the reality is that the best crucible for creating risk managers is actually just giving them a chance to learn what it’s all about and then get out there and start doing the risk process. That’s how I wound up here and it’s a nice place to be.
Gerald: Oh, that’s excellent! So in regards to what’s made you so successful throughout your career, can you shed a little bit more light on that?
Carl: It’s largely a function of… And again it goes back to risk management, it’s an opportunity side of risk management. It’s a matter of this: we get presented with opportunities on virtually a daily basis and unfortunately most organizations are not agile enough to actually seize upon those opportunities.
My old boss Ed, the best boss I’ve ever had, once said to me when a client asked for a new delivery that we had never done before he said, “What did you tell the client?” I said, “Honestly I told him I would check and see if we can do that and I would get back to him.” He said, “That is the wrong answer.” I said, “Okay, what’s the right answer?” He said, “Very simply. From now on I want you to say: That’s all we do.”
And it’s kind of an interesting moment because I didn’t even know we do that. And he said, “We don’t yet. We will soon enough. We figure it out before they need to have it figured out.” And granted I think it’s a high risk kind of approach but at the same time I think that’s the real secret to success is believing in your own ability to resource out what you aren’t currently capable of doing and looking at it as just what it is. It’s an opportunity to seize serendipity. Tragically most organizations leave a lot of serendipity lying on the table.
Gerald: Right. So when you think about how organizations manage risk, what do you think is poorly understood or unresolved in this area of risk management, especially when it comes to when you
look at organizations that do project portfolio management or they are dealing with cultural issues; because risk management plays a major part of that as well.
Carl: The first thing is they have to look at it as being tainted. They tend to look at it as dark, sad, evil, and all of those bad things and as a result, organizations don’t embrace it. They don’t want to embrace it because they perceive it as, well, this is going to be just darkness. And the reality is they should be looking at it as clairvoyance. They should be looking at it as an opportunity to gaze into a crystal ball and see the world as it might be. And if you look at it from that perspective, anytime you go to a fair or something there is always that temptation when you are walking past the fortuneteller to stop and the reason there is that temptation is we all would love to know the future.
Well risk management is that future and tragically that’s the part where organizations miss out. Instead they help people generate a risk list, they put it into an Excel spreadsheet, they stuff it into the SharePoint and forget about it. But the reality is they should be having fortune-telling sessions on a ritual basis just to try and see; who is their best soothsayer? Who is the one who can actually look in the crystal ball and truly predict the future? And most of the time it is not going to be an outside consultant like me, it’s going to be somebody internal to the organization, somebody with some credibility within the organization that somebody has been around the block, somebody they probably haven’t been listening to up till now.
Gerald: Why do you think that’s so critical for them to be doing that?
Carl: Because people tend to go to outside consultants a lot and God bless them. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a career. But at the same time most of their best insight, most of the really gifted insight is inside their own teams and they don’t go after them because well gee, it’s Bob and Bob has been here forever. I mean what could Bob possibly tell us? We need to hire somebody expensive from outside when in reality it’s not the consulting culture that’s going to solve their problems, it’s the people on the ground.
Gerald: Right, that is so true. So, Carl, tell us about your story.
Carl: My story. I got into project management through the back door. I was a member of the media and I have had every job known to humankind. One of the jobs I had was actually doing ghostwriting for big corporate culture and I wound up writing a white paper for them on the issues and
concerns on project management and put an executive’s name on it, got a nice paycheck out of the deal and walked away. And then shortly after that they started coming back to me saying hey, we would like some insights on project management and am like [whistles] I know nothing on project management.
Carl: And they said, “Well, yeah but you’ve got a much better grip on our problems than we do.” And then I kind of slapped myself upside the head and said, "Wait a minute. What does this pay?" And then I took the job.
The beauty is, and this goes to another aspect of the whole project/ program/ portfolio thing is as employees we need to be the ones who are basically saying when somebody says: “Hey, would you like to tackle this? Would you be vigorous in helping us out on this?” instead of looking at it and going: you know what, that is not my wheelhouse, I don’t want to go there. The exact opposite should be true. Anytime they are throwing some new bizarre opportunity at us, we should be the ones going, “I would love to take that on” because that’s the kind of opportunity that builds careers.
Gerald: Yes, yes I agree. That sounds like a great story. Anything else you want to share about that that stands out for you?
Carl: The whole idea of getting into project management. I am a PMP, project management professional certified on PMP number 1049. I am the second RMP risk management professional on the planet. And I look at those credentials and I am glad I got in early.
And I think realistically one of the things we should be is the trendsetters. We should be the ones who are coming in, when somebody comes up and says “Agile,” rather than looking at it and going “Oh, we don’t do that whole Agile thing,” we should become the arbiters of what good Agile looks like.
Gerald: Right. That’s well said, well said. So when you think of just some of the main conflicts though that whether it’s the consulting practitioner or organizations have around this area of risk management, what are some of the things that stand out to you?
Carl: Probably the most outstanding thing is just accepting the fact that bad things do happen to good projects. And the organizations love to say “Oh, it won’t happen” or “If it does happen, we will deal with it then.” That’s a head in the sand kind of thinking and it’s a dangerous place to be.
Instead we should be looking at it and going, you know what? From day one I want you to bring me all the bad news. I want you to bring me the good news too but I want you to bring me the bad news because I want you to bring it to me along with the solution which is so often. Just come to me and say hey, this month it might happen to us but if it does here’s what we can do about it. If you come in with the solutions inside of things, you are the hero rather than to go to.
Gerald: Right, right. So thinking about again going back to your experience in your life, tell me about a time or a project or accomplishment that you consider for yourself, to be one of your greatest accomplishments.
Carl: Working for ESI International. It was actually they made me there Vice President of e-learning but when I was working with ESI international building their e-learning infrastructure in the mid-1990s was probably just one of those things you look back on and go, “I can’t believe we actually accomplished that.” and the team that I was working with, the people were amazing, Godfrey Park and Deborah Person, they were just really amazing human beings.
And the thing that made it amazing is this was breaking new ground and the thing that made it successful was the fact that we were a team of nobody had the same skill sets. No two people on the team had the same skill sets and as a result we were constantly reliant on each other. There was no way this could have gotten done just by having one player in the team and that’s what made it so amazing and that’s what made it so wonderful is because everybody was looking at this through a different prism and the prism through which I looked was a project prism. Deb looked at it from a detailed [11:24 inaudible] instructional design prism. Godfrey was looking at it from an IT prism and it was just fun because you can’t argue with them because well, they were the experts in their corner of what we were creating.
Gerald: Right, so it sounds like collaboration is a big part of risk management.
Carl: Oh, absolutely. Yeah nobody has the corner on risk and anyone who claims to is just a [11:51 inaudible] liar. There is no way because you haven’t experienced it all; you don’t know what thing is going to whack you upside the head from someplace completely different.
Gerald: Correct, good point. So looking forward you talked about risk management being kind of like the fortuneteller or the crystal ball. From a trend standpoint, what trends do you see coming in the industry?
Carl: I think it’s more of a wave than a trend. By wave I mean it’s one of those things that comes and goes, it comes and goes. I think we are currently seeing another [12:30 upsurgence] in the applications of risk management not to because the external threats that exist our project. A lot of them just things you read about in the news every day; tourism and that kind of thing, actually drives a lot of that behavior. So I think you are going to see just more people paying attention to it.
And again I think it’s one of those opportunities where you can open the door and say: “you know I have noticed that we don’t have any consistent risk practice.” I would love to be the author of that practice. And if you are the author you get to set the rules, you get to set the processes and you are the official internal Einstein, nice place to be.
Gerald: Yes, yes, well put. So Carl as we wrap this up, what’s one tip or strategy would you give someone if they were looking to grow in their careers as a project portfolio manager or risk management expert.
Carl: I would look across the horizon of my organization and if you want to stay in the organization and I would try to identify something that no one else is doing or that they keep pulling and putting different people in and out of and particularly given position. And if it is something that looks like fun to you, and fun is really important here, if it looks like fun to you, grab that job. Or if you want that job desperately and frankly don’t like working in your other organization right now, I think one of the keys is to start becoming an expert in something.
And you and I have talked about this before Gerald; you need to be the person who wrote the book.
Carl: You need to be the person who sets down; here’s what reality should look like.
Gerald: Correct. And my book is on the way. I’m in the middle of writing it. So Carl before we and if some of our listeners want to learn more about you where could they go?
Carl: They can go to my website at www.CarlPritchard.com and that pretty much tells the whole story.
Gerald: Perfect. Well Carl, thank you for talking with us today. Ladies and gentlemen, that was Carl Pritchard author of seven books and the book "Risk Management Concepts and Guidance." It’s in its fifth edition. For more expert insights, go to www.principlesofexecution.com then click Podcasts.