47. Brett Harned, TeamGantt Project Management For Humans And Capital-P Process

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Brett Harned wants to teach the world about Project Management, and why it’s more exciting than you think! Brett is the Director of Education at TeamGantt and has become a leading voice in the highly sought after, but misunderstood, PM world. Brett educates inspires through a range of mediums including the Digital PM Summit, his Coffee with Brett YouTube series, his podcast Time Limit, and his acclaimed book Project Management For Humans.

Today, Brett tells us his trailblazing story, from dot com boom start-up to world-renowned thought leader. We discuss Process with a capital P, and what law firm owners can do to refine, align, and mastermind their digital projects.

Whats in This Episode:
Who is Brett Harned?
Why every organization needs a Project Manager
How Brett helped create the Digital PM Summit
Director of Operations, Integrator, Project Manager – what’s the difference?
What you can learn from planning a fancy party
Insights from Brett’s book ‘Project Management For Humans’
How to use project management to scale a content strategy

Transcript

Chris Dreyer

In the digital era, the business world moves fast. You only have to look at some of the job titles on a recruitment board to see how far we’ve come – you’ve got your directors of email deliverability, your scrum masters, your organizational change specialists, and even your reprographics expert. Okay. You got me, that last one actually means xeroxer. The point is the.com boom changed business forever and it certainly changed the trajectory of today’s guest Brett Harned. Brett was an English major who found himself in the center of a startup in those crazy early internet years.

Brett Harned
I was doing everything from writing content to directing motion, capture, video shoots, and creating flash movies. I mean, they literally taught me everything I know about the web at a startup, my first job out of college. And back then, there was no such thing as a digital project manager.

Chris Dreyer

Today, we hear how Brett honed his skills to become a leading voice in the growing digital project manager niche, which management techniques will make running your firm a breeze, and why managing your content strategy is like putting together a fancy dinner party. That’s coming up on The Rankings Podcast, the show where founders, entrepreneurs, and elite personal injury attorneys share their inspiring stories about what they did to get to the top and what keeps them there. I’m Chris Dreyer, stay with us. Brett Harned is the kind of person who thrives on a challenge. When he started out as a project manager, the role barely existed. There weren’t any best practice guides to follow or industry leaders to look up to, so Brett set out about figuring out this on his own.

Brett Harned

I think I kind of just naturally am that person who takes on the administrative side of things, the organizational side of things because it’s just ingrained in me. So I ended up, you know, obviously being laid off from that job, like 90% of people in startups back then did at the .com boom. Ended up in higher ed doing communications work and then I got recruited into an agency where I really credit my career as a project manager to a recruiter who had a few conversations with me and was like, “Hey, I think you actually would be a really good PM here”. And it was at Razorfish at the time. And that’s kind of where, where it all started for me. I moved on from Razorfish into a role at a company called Happy Cog, another digital, kind of, boutique digital agency and that’s where I really got to kind of like spread my wings and kind of carve out a space within the project management world, start a bit of a community and a conference and writing and all of this stuff. So, I kind of grew into it. So, I guess the short story or short version of that answer.

Chris Dreyer

So, you had a great passion for this and in fact, I mean, a passion so much that you created the Bureau of Digital, which is a Digital PM Summit. So, you know, what drove you to take that extra step to actually create an event around this space?

Brett Harned

Yeah. So at that point in time, the company that I worked for Happy Cog, a small agency, like I said, we started to kind of dip our toe in events and we started doing small kind of round table events for owners of agencies, which, like yourself, those still happen today, they’re called Owner Camp, there’s an Owner Summit. So I was involved with that early on. I don’t want to take the credit for starting the Bureau because it was a full team of people who did that. But I did start the Digital PM Summit and that was because I started to do public speaking around project management, because I was going to amazing events where I was getting to learn about everything from UX to development and even SEO, right. And there was never content specifically for me, which was fine because as a project manager, you kind of should learn, or even just as a professional, like it’s good to kind of open your horizons, right. So then I started to see like, hey, there was an opening here. If I could find an opening, right? Like I could create this content that people might actually find valuable because I do believe that the PM content is really relevant to anybody no matter what industry you’re in, no matter kind of what field you work in, project management is part of what we do.

Chris Dreyer

Well, let me, let me jump right in there, Brett. So, so before we lose our personal injury attorneys, you know, most of our audience’s personal injury attorney, so, and you mentioned, you know, we’re all project managers, like, let’s take us there. Like why, why is everyone to some degree, a project manager?

Brett Harned

Yeah. So, I always take it back to the most kind of like personal, basic things we do as humans, right. So, think about your day to day, you’re planning out your day, you probably have a to-do list. Those are things that project managers are kind of experts in. Think about, you know, you might have someone who does this, I know I do, but planning vacations, pulling together a party. You know, I do a lot of teaching with students and that’s kind of the level that I start getting them interested in project management. Like, plan out you’re throwing a dinner party, plan that out for personal injury attorneys. I mean, It could be everything from, hey, I’m trying to figure out how I’m gonna handle all of these cases in my week to week, it could be planning out the process that will get you through from the beginning to the end of a case. You know, there are lots of ideas that are… actually I have an email in my inbox from an attorney asking me how she can organize her projects in a Gantt chart, which is really interesting to me because it’s not a topic that I have really thought about in the past, but if anybody out there is doing that, I would love to hear from you.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. And so that’s where I wanted to take this as almost anything that’s processized or you’re managing time a to-do list, you know, a workflow, there’s some element of project management and so you’ve had kind of this, this trajectory where you have the Digital PM Summit, you, you found this, this passion and now you’re the director of education at TeamGantt. So what does that role involve?

Brett Harned

So that role is really kind of me just really connecting with the project management and leadership communities. Talking, writing, speaking about project management, leadership, productivity, kind of all of the themes that we’re, we’ve talked about so far today, but yeah, I’m teaching weekly classes online, putting out a podcast, putting out YouTube videos. So I’m really a content creator at this point, which is nice because it’s kind of taken me back to where I started in my career and kind of mixing what I kind of fell into.

Chris Dreyer

I first found Brett via his blogs and I knew I wanted to speak with him and pick his brain. Down the line, Brett now coaches our Director of Operations at Rankings and it’s incredible to see the transition of managing scope on time on budget and how it’s impacted our business. If you’re listening from a PI firm’s perspective, typically you’ve got someone in-house taking care of that stuff. You might call them your COO or director of operations or any number of titles. According to Brett, the title really doesn’t matter. It’s all about process with a capital P.

Brett Harned

The first thing is it’s operational, right? It might not necessarily be a project manager specifically. In fact, I’m starting to see a trend of ‘project manager’ the title not being used because I think it doesn’t get as much respect as it could. But I think in a law firm, I could see that person being the operational force, the person who is working with the heads of business around, you know, business development, what the intake process is, how you’re handling things day to day, week over week, how things are spread out across the people in the organization to make sure that people are not over underworked underutilized. Everything from making sure that processes, whether that be small processes around the way that you’re collecting payments to the way that you’re handling transcription like anything, right? Like there, everything has a process and having someone on staff to constantly think about how to make that process better, how to make people more efficient and more productive, and at the end of the day more profitable. That is kind of where project management comes in. So it doesn’t have to be a PM specifically, it’s a mindset more than anything.

Chris Dreyer
Right. And I completely agree, and I think. A lot of those processes have to deal with consistency. And it reminds me of this story, and I can’t remember where I heard this exactly, but the story kind of went like this: you know, imagine you went to get your hair cut and you got a great haircut and then the next time it was just horrible, like it was the worst haircut ever because it didn’t follow a process. It was iterative. You probably would never, that individual that had, you know, went to the same barbershop would probably never go back again and had a terrible experience. And I think that’s a lot where processes come into play.

Brett Harned

Absolutely. I would think that for lawyers, your clients certainly can tell if you’re organized or not. And if you’ve got someone handling those details, chances are, you’re really organized as an organization. Personally, it’s a different story, right? Like we talk about personal productivity and how you handle things and that’s on you, but you should have those things pretty buttoned up so that there is a good experience not only internally, but externally.

Chris Dreyer

Absolutely turning them into an evangelist. There was recently you mentioned in a podcast a few years back that there was a tendency for project managers to feel pushed to the side because some people don’t care much about the details that the project managers care about. Do you feel like there’s an attitude towards project managers that their work, you know, has changed over the years?

Brett Harned

I do. I think I’m kind of, um, on the bandwagon at this point to make project management a more strategic role. I think back when I said that people were pushed to the side and I would say, like, I don’t think that’s changed so much. I think a lot of it has to do with education and people actually understanding the value of the role of a project manager and an organization from the top-down, recognizing that as well. I think if you don’t have that, then nobody’s gonna really be worried about the process or things that are, are important to make your business streamlined and profitable. But I do think that some folks in the industry are doing their job in terms of moving out of this role, where project management is almost like a box checker, the person who says do this, do that, you know, it’s all very directed to a more collaborative, strategic role where you’re focused on communications, you’re focused on figuring out what the challenges or roadblocks might be and working with a team collaboratively to sort out the best path forward and then managing that path. So I’m hoping that’s where things are trending.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, I know for myself, like I’m a D I on the disc personality assessment. I’m, you know, the big visionary and I just like to move quick and light things on fire. And I love our project managers because they make things clean and consistent and can, can fulfill upon that vision. You know, one of the, a book I recently read, it was Mike Morris’s book, Fireproof, where he has his, you know, he’s the visionary, he’s the big picture then John is his integrator, his guy that processes things utilizes data. I think nowadays, especially if you want to grow. A larger law firm. It’s just essential to have those types of components in your business.

Brett Harned

Yeah. I would think absolutely in any business, I mean, you need to create some level, like you said before, of consistency within your business, not just with the experience that people are having internally, but with your clients as well. And if you don’t have someone there focusing on that, keeping an eye on those things, kind of at a higher level, even, you’re never going to have that. And then your growth is going to be very inconsistent, right?

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s just going to it and it’s going to be a lot of stress too, where everything’s a blank canvas and you have to recreate over and over. It’s a big strain. And so you’ve had a ton of experience in this, this. This facet, this, this area, and so much, in fact that you wrote a book. So who is the book for, you know, is it just for the digital project managers, or is it again just, is it for anyone that’s managing a project?

Brett Harned

Yeah. So, the book is called Project Management for Humans, Helping People Get Things Done. And it is, it was intended to be for anyone, you know. The idea or the concept behind the book is that every chapter is on a topic that I think is important or relevant. It’s project management, but it starts out with a very personal story. You know, stories that include my kids, taking my kids shopping, and helping them figure out how much they can buy, right. Like things that can always, you can point back to project management practices. It’s, it’s a little goofy, but it works. And I think it, it pulls people into what could be really dry, boring content, and it, and it personalizes and humanizes it. The feedback I’ve gotten on the book has been really good in that it’s helped people get into the concepts of project management without feeling like they’re jumping into something that is so foreign to what they would ever do, and it’s helping them in their daily lives and their work.

Chris Dreyer

That’s incredible how you can relate it to just managing the home life, managing the kids and yeah, I’ll get on the pant leg, you know, try wanting that toy or something. That’s out of scope budget. Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s, that’s awesome. I think that that humanizes it and I think people connect with narratives and stories a lot better than just, hey, here’s the educational.

Brett Harned

I mean, I think about project management is that it is very formal, right? I mean, there is a certification and there’s lots of overhead that comes along with it and my belief is you don’t need all of that stuff, especially if you’re just in business and you want to figure out how to be better, right? Like how to run your business better, how to run your projects better, how to communicate better. All of those things are project management based and just understanding a few of the concepts in a simple kind of human way can help you overall to kind of level up your own practices, whether they be project management or not, it’s, it’s going to help you be just better at your work.

Chris Dreyer

Call me a broken record, but whenever I hear about project management, I think digital strategy. Every law firm in the country wants to be strong, digitally whether that’s SEO, pay-per-click social media, it all needs a solid plan of action. So I wanted to know how Brad’s tactics could be harnessed to manage a content project that will scale.

Brett Harned

So I think the best things that you can do in that case are first research, right. Understanding who your audience is, what the messaging is that you’re putting out there and essentially what’s going to land, right? Like, understanding your audience is everything that’s going to help you to set goals. I think having goals for every initiative or project is really important because once you get into that thing, about 75 new ideas pop up and probably 90% of them don’t stick to the goal. Right? So having that goal will help you to stay on track. Then I think it’s a matter of implementing right? With content strategy, writing, implementing, figuring out what’s going to work best for your audience, keeping an eye on that, analyzing it and iterating, continuing to get better. But again, always being able to point back to a goal to tell you if you’re on target or not.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. And I love that. And that fits a lot in with the the EOS attraction type of methodology, those leading indicators to see if your, you know, your year to date targets and you’re at year to date actual, if you’re a percentage ahead or behind, and then it, you know, if you’re going to hit your goal, I totally only agree when it comes to a digital strategy. Management tracking is absolutely key. It’s hard to give advice on metrics because key performance indicators are just so individual, but there are a ton of great tools out there that can help you stick to your targets. If you want to learn a little bit more about Brett’s approach, we’ll link you up to his awesome book in the show notes. So a couple of years back, you had your sprints and milestones podcasts, and you’ve, you’ve been creating coffee with Brett videos with TeamGantt on YouTube. Will we be seeing more content like that from you in the future?

Brett Harned

Yeah, so I’m continuing the coffee with Brett series. I only have six episodes out, I’m trying to release one a week. So that’s been a fun, new challenge. Just again, teaching project management concepts with a little bit of personality, trying to have some fun with it. I am continuing to record a podcast called Time Limit that comes out every two weeks and then I do, like I said, I do weekly classes and writing content here and there. So this is my life. I am writing this stuff, I’m having conversations with people, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. I have to say it’s been really cool to be able to put stuff out and connect with people from all over the world about it. It’s kind of amazing to me.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, that’s incredible. And so you’re, you’re producing a ton of content. So, you know, you’ve got a lot of projects going on. You, you mentioned your family. So what is it that you do to relax?

Brett Harned

Oh, lots of stuff. We’re on zoom right now so you can see I’ve got my records behind me. I’m a big music nerd when I were able to be out and about. I’d love to go see live music over the summer. I got into running so I’ve been doing more of that. Also I’m on Peloton, so I’m spending a lot of my time working out, which has been a positive thing for me. But yeah, aside that believe it or not, I do some writing on the side, always doing work. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s like, you have to peel yourself away from work, but then when work becomes fun, it’s like, hey, this is actually a really good place to be in that.

Chris Dreyer

I feel like I’m there now. That’s awesome. And I’m not sure how old your kids are and I, you know, so how do you, do you incorporate some of those project management skills into your home life? Do you find yourself saying, oh, this is really similar to what I just talked about?

Brett Harned

No, because I take my project management hat off the minute that I walk out of my office. I’m like organized in my home life and my wife takes over with stuff, which is cool. Like I don’t plan and vacations, I don’t plan weekend,. I don’t do any of that stuff. I think it’s a little bit of a relief from the day-to-day, even though I’m not really a PM now I don’t like, and also my kids are 10 and 12, two girls. They have zero interest in what I do for work.

Chris Dreyer

Oh, well I wanted to ask you that because I asked John Ruhlin from Giftology, he was on and I asked him, I was like, isn’t there a lot of stress on you to, to, to come up with a good gift? I was just wondering how project management affected you and your home life.

Brett Harned

I mean, I’m constantly doing something around the house, you know, like I’m not the type of person just like sit around for a few hours. Like I’ve always got something going on and I’m thinking about like stuff I need to do, but I don’t put that on anyone else. I don’t think that’s fair. Like I, as a PM, you have to put that stuff on people so much day to day and work that like when it’s not work time, like I just want to chill.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. Completely agree. So,closing up, we do this three for three quickfire segment. It’s just three questions in three minutes. And I think you’re going to get where this first question comes from, but let’s just jump right in. You’re ready.

Brett Harned

Sure.

Chris Dreyer

Okay. What is your top search engine optimization?

Brett Harned

Know your content. I mean like, wait, what, like we talked about before, you know, like having a content strategy is important, knowing what people are looking for and searching is really important.

Chris Dreyer

Absolutely. Which entrepreneur do you admire the most?

Brett Harned

Oh, wow. So many of them. I’m a really big fan of Jason Fried from Base Camp. I’ve read all of his books, I’ve been to the base camp office, have done workshops.

Chris Dreyer

I am too!

Brett Harned

They do super cool stuff.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. That’s signal versus noise blogs. Incredible.

Brett Harned

The, the book Remote was a really good book.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, absolutely. Uh, and what’s the next big thing on your bucket list?

Brett Harned

Well, I am hoping that when all of our travel restrictions are lifted, I can go to Egypt. So my dad is a world traveler and he and I have never done a trip together. So now that he’s getting a little bit older, I’m getting a little bit older. I’m like, Hey dad, let’s go on a trip and he’s never been to Egypt and I want to go.

Chris Dreyer

I love that. Yes. I think we’re all yearning for a little bit more freedom to travel right now. Although I have to wonder who’s going to be the one managing all the bookings for that trip. You’ve been listening to The Rankings Podcast, I’m Chris Dreyer. A huge thanks to Brett Harned for joining us today, you can find more information on today’s conversation in the show notes. And we want to hear from you. What are your top project management hacks? Drop us a review and let us know. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time.

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