Getting some answers: an interview with Jeff Furman

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Jeff Furman is the author of The Project Management Answer Book. I asked him why he wrote it and what it was like putting the book together.

Hello, Jeff. Tell me why you wrote The Project Management Answer Book?

Hi, Elizabeth. When I approached the milestone of my 500th PM trained, I felt I had amassed a unique body of best practices (many inspired by my students) and I wanted to make them all available in a book.

And I wanted the book to be extremely practical, with a lot of hands-on tips and ready-to-use templates, so it would help PMs equally on the job and with the certification exams.

The book is all about answers. What’s your favourite question?

In my chapter, “Ethics In Project Management,” I ask the question: “What are microinequities, and how do they relate to xenophobia?”

This question came about from one of my PMP classes, where we were discussing xenophobia, a term PMI favors as part of their strong emphasis on diversity (it means fear or distrust of strangers). One of my students, a PM from India, introduced the word microinequities into the topic, a word none of us had heard before, referring to small-scale injustices.

This sparked a great discussion on how xenophobia can take very subtle forms, where, for instance, team-members may not even realize they are treating their virtual coworkers unfairly. And it was a very memorable learning moment for all participants.

Project Management Answer Book front cover

What was the writing process like?

With the Q&A format of the book, I was able to get many of the questions down in advance, before working on the answers. I started by taking each key point from my PMP class and creating a question from it. Some literally were questions I remembered my students asking, while others are composites

I put together from various questions and responses in class.

And as I would remember a student who had some trouble with a formula or concept, I would write the Q&A partly with them in mind. In fact, one of my students who just read the book after taking my class a couple of years ago wrote and told me: “It’s funny, because I actually see myself in your questions and answers.”

How long did it take to write?

The first draft took a very solid six months of full-time writing, where I worked on the book basically all day, every day when I wasn’t teaching, including most weekends (many thanks to my wife Martha Garvey for her understanding and her expert suggestions – she has written two books of her own on pet nutrition).

Then there were two rounds of review and revisions with my editor over several   more months, where we polished it up (Kaizen!).

That’s a long time! Which was the hardest bit to write?

The hardest chapter was probably “Managing Your Human Resources.”  There is no one catch-all answer to HR issues, the way there is for some of the hard skills, so that’s a challenge. There’s also a great deal of source material to select from, and I wanted to work from the original writings as much as I could, from the books by the motivational pioneers (Maslow, McGregor, Herzberg, Fiedler, Vroom, McClelland). I wound up learning quite a bit in researching this chapter. But then I had the constraint to boil down as much as I could into just one or two Q&A’s on each theory.

And one might think that everything is available on the Internet nowadays. But I had to take a lot of trips into Manhattan to find those rare books. Many are browse-only at the famous NYC Public Library on 5th Avenue — the one guarded by the lions!

Where can people get more information about your book?

I’ve been lucky to do some very fun interviews (podcasts, blogs, and webinars) where people can learn about the book and also get a lot of good project management tips for free:

My interview with Cornelius Fichtner, host of The Project Management Podcast was Episode #168: “The Project Management Answer Book”.

And I gave a live Webinar/call-in event about the book ­which was an interview by Henry Will called “Pitfalls For PMs,” for his group, PM Lessons Learned.

The publisher is Management Concepts (Vienna, Virginia) and you can find out more on their website or my own website/blog.

Thanks, Jeff!

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  1. “Microinequities”….what a fabulous concept! It’s true, we see them all the time. Because they’re small, we often let them slip by without addressing them…or if we do, we address them inconsistently, and ad hoc. I would very much like to hear more about this topic! 

    1. Hi Geoff, part of why I found this term so interesting is the element that these behaviors can be very subtle, and according to the research, can be unconsciously done. And also, because I grew up in New York, but both of my parents came over here from Europe, I was aware of this kind of behavior from some of their experiences.   

      Meanwhile, the PMP class where we were having the discussion on this topic was in a classroom in Manhattan, and the student who brought up the term was from a foreign country.  He happened to be a very polished PM with an MBA, who spoke very good English. So one might think that he might not face any such treatment himself, but apparently he had. And I had the feeling also that he was bringing this up on behalf of others from his country who are less well-educated than he is, and therefore more susceptible to this kind of unfair behavior. 

      1. Hiya Jeff, thanks for the reply! So I suspect we’re primarily talking about racism / sexism in regards to microinequities. Would that also apply to elitism, etc? 

        We see this sort of thing very often, and unfortunately decisions are sometimes based on them. Since you’ve sort of identified this concept in conjunction with your Indian colleague, have you found you’ve become more sensitive to microinequities of your own and those of other people? Has awareness affected your behaviour in any way in regards to project execution?

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