Tell us a bit about yourself and your most recent book.
Managing Project Stakeholders, my most recent book, is based on my journey to find a better way to manage people during times of change. As a business consultant focused on transforming the way organizations do their work I found myself regularly engaged in hairy interpersonal situations. I had been trained on strategy, operations, finance and other areas. I had not been trained on how to manage stakeholders with widely divergent opinions and motivations. Managing Project Stakeholders is the result of my research and later advocacy for formal training in the human element of work.
What inspired you to write this book?
Prior to writing the book I was speaking at the Project Management Institute’s global conference in Washington, D.C. After my speech, a gentleman came up to me and quietly stated that he was working on an update to the de-facto global guide book for project management (The PMBOK® Guide). One of the new chapters was to be on stakeholder management. Eventually, I was selected as one of two or three global experts to officially review the new chapter before it went public. There was a lot of great work in the chapter including some of the frameworks my company had developed over the years. But the global standard could not reasonably address the topic with the depth and breadth it deserved. I also wanted to write in a way that made this complex topic approachable.
How did you celebrate when you finished writing the book? When it was published?
The book was published in 2013. I celebrated by, well, not writing another one! My first book was published in 2011 and I needed a year or so before even thinking about the second one. After the second book I took a longer break. But now I’m starting to get the itch again …
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I did not wake up one day and decide I wanted to be a writer. I always preferred the spoken word as my chosen form of communication. In speaking I could use tone of voice, non-verbal expressions, and other techniques to get my message across. I also had someone I was interacting with who could tell me if they were getting it. I found writing to be a new challenge. The real reason I decided to write was because I had something to say. I had ideas in my head that I wanted to organize and share. I thought they could make a difference. Thankfully, they have. My first book called on the project management profession to pay more attention to people skills. It has. In my books I also called on project managers to take a more balanced approach to project management. I designed the balanced approach of technical skills, interpersonal skills, and business acumen that later became the talent triangle used by the largest project association. I am grateful for the contribution to the industry my message has had. If you have an idea that just won’t let you go, as I did, get it out there!
How did I start? I took all of the speeches I had delivered on the topic over the years and asked an assistant in my office to transcribe them into a single document. Then, I was on my way.
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
A little of both. Before starting to write I knew what I wanted to say. I had the main themes and the main take-aways I wanted people to get from the books. The chapter names, sequence of concepts, and other details came out over time. I let the unfolding process drive the content to a certain extent.
Do you have a daily or weekly writing schedule, or do you write only when you are inspired? How many words or pages do you complete in a typical day?
I write most effectively when I am completely and totally focused on the task at hand. For both books I chalked off a week or two which was when the bulk of the writing happened. During those weeks I cleared my schedule and told my family I would not be reliable for dinner or any other commitments. I just did not know when I would get into a chapter and get lost in the writing. Two techniques really helped me pull the ideas out of my head. One was the use of voice translation software. Since I am a speaker it was easier for me to “talk” the book to my computer than to write it. The second technique I deployed was to use different physical settings for writing. I hiked in the woods with my laptop and would stop to write when I arrived at a waterfall or bench that looked inviting. I would go to a local library or park. Different locations brought out different ideas … and new connectivity and clarity to old ones.
How many drafts did you write before publishing your most recent book?
It’s hard to say. I was constantly tweaking and re-writing. Once the work was sent to the editor and publisher I don’t think we iterated more than a half-dozen times or so. But by that point I had already worked it over for months until everything flowed.
What software do you use to write? Or do you prefer to write longhand or dictate your work? What made you choose the method you use?
As mentioned above, I prefer to use voice recognition software. There were times when I would jot down an idea on a scrap of paper or the back of the napkin too. You never know when a clarifying idea will strike you.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
One major lesson for me after my first book was that fact-checking takes a lot longer than I expected. Since my books are non-fiction and science-backed it was important to find original sources. There were many times when I would write a piece based on an article or story I read. Then, I would go to the article’s original sources and see that the original source was not interpreted correctly. So, I’d re-write to make it accurate.
Do you read reviews?
Yes. I regularly read the New York Times Book Review to learn about other books and writing styles. I am also an avid reader and work through a few books a month – both fiction and non-fiction. I like to read about one viewpoint and then find a book as opposite to that view point as possible. It helps me to find the common denominator. As far as my own books, I read the Amazon reviews of my book and have also read some of the reviews on various web sites. I think it’s important not to personalize the reviews to much – but to let them inform you on the general way your book is being received. It is fascinating to me how my writing is interpreted in different ways by different people.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Enjoy the process. Also, don’t go cheap on your publisher and editor. Hire a great editor or even several. You don’t want any typos. Also, be willing to give a fair percentage of your book’s earnings to the right publisher if they are going to add value to it.
Do you have friends who are writers? How do you help each other to become better writers?
I do have friends who have written books. Interestingly, we have not spent a lot of time talking about it. I find writing to be a personal process so what works for me may not be the best approach for someone else. Having said that, discussion with other writers has really helped me understand the landscape of publishers, book stores, Amazon, etc.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Someone with an open mind. Although my first two books mainly had a professional audience, one of the most common pieces of feedback I received was that the concepts apply more broadly than the work place. So, a person who is willing to explore who they are and how the rest of the world perceives them will do very well with my books.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My second book is also available at wiley.com, and both are available at Amazon.com and a variety of other resellers