The Importance Of Project Management: An Interview With Terry Schmidt

As research would indicate, most projects never achieve the success desired. How can you ensure that your projects are succesful? What can you do to assure your boss you will deliver the goods--on time?
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

I will start by asking you, "How many projects do you have on your plate?" Weddings, family trips, the upcoming conference, rolling out a new customer service program or compensation system, or having to turn a blueprint feature of a car, plane, bus, or into a reality are only some of the diverse samples of projects that we attempt and want to be successful doing.

Yet, as research would indicate, most projects never achieve the success desired. How can you ensure that your projects are succesful? What can you do so you can cofidently assure your boss you will deliver the goods--on time?

I'd recommend a starting place is to meet Terry Schmidt -- a globally recognized strategy consultant and project management expert. He is the founder of, and the author of Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Practical Tools for Leaders and Teams (Wiley, 2009).

Dr. Hank: You have developed great expertise in Project Management. How did you get interested in this field?

Terry: My love of projects began in high school when I launched a small rocket loaded with guppies. That project earned national press coverage and motivated me to study aerospace engineering. During a summer internship at NASA, I devoured all the project and program management books in their library. This ignited my passion for Project Management and systems thinking, which considers how all the elements of large and complex systems work together to accomplish the big picture goal.

In a later career as a management consultant to developing nations, I witnessed the futility of piecemeal solutions to complex problems. For example, a project designed to reduce childhood mortality in Africa may provide inoculations and health education, but these good efforts will fail unless there is also access to clean water, which may not be part of the project. So we need to think, plan, and act from a larger perspective and address all the solution elements.

Given the nature of the problems we face today, it is essential to use systems thinking combined with Project Management.

Dr. Hank: Should "Project Management" be formally taught in our school systems, or just integrated into teaching methods?

Terry: Learning to use and apply Project Management is a valuable and essential life skill. Students need these skills because they'll use them life-long, on the job and off. Everyone who works deals with projects, but projects extend beyond the job to include personal projects, family projects, volunteer projects and so forth.

Project Management skills help you achieve better results. Mastering the art of Project Management can help you become a better parent, neighbor, and citizen as well as a stellar performer at work.

Project Management is a broad field. Let's be sure we teach the right kind. Typical Project Management gets too granular too quickly by focusing on activities, budgets, and schedules before first establishing the overall goals.. I'm a big believer in Strategic Project Management, which begins with clearly defining the big picture before delving into details.

Dr. Hank: If turning the Country around is a project, how would you approach it? What would your consulting advice be to President Obama and the Congress?

Terry: I can't think of a more crucial project. The place to start is to ask where we as a nation want to be in the future, and then develop a strategic plan to get there.

It's outrageous that the United States doesn't have a national strategic plan. Singapore has one; Dubai has one; China has one--but we don't. Sadly, right now there is no common vision, measures of success, or agreement on strategies to reach that vision. We have become too fractionalized and single-issue oriented to even discuss a common vision or projects that can get us there. By the way, I'll donate my time and expertise to help make that happen.

Dr. Hank: Since you lecture a lot on strategy, I am sure that you have met many people who are more "strategic" than others. In the scheme of evolution, I am sure that strategic thinking would be favored by natural selection. Do you think the capacity for this type of thinking needs to be in the genes, or can it be learned?

Terry: No doubt among primitive tribes, the man who had the Project Management knowledge needed to organize others and successfully hunt gazelles became the leader. Those less skilled in Project Management got eaten by tigers. Contemporary master Project Managers like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson would have made great tribal leaders because it is in their genes to triumph in any context.

While we can't alter our DNA, we can polish our strategic skills. Unfortunately, whole field of strategy and projects has become overly complicated and filled with buzz words. We need to get back to the basics. Everyone can master simple Project Management concepts like if-then thinking and assumptions-testing. Learning these increases your strategic I.Q. and multiplies your ability to make things happen.

Dr. Hank: You have been a consultant on some very exciting projects. Which stands out the most?

Terry: I'm fortunate in that my client base spans 34 countries and has involved just about every type of project imaginable.

One of my most exciting current projects involves helping the US Government's effort to reduce proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to combat terrorism. I am a consultant to CPOIS - The CounterProliferation Operations Intelligence Support Program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. There are a lot of smart people involved - Scientists, Engineers, Mathematicians, IT pros, Military experts - but their efforts need to be organized into a coherent whole. CPOIS leaders have adopted the Logical Framework Project Management approach as a way to leverage their resources and keep nasty weapons away from the bad guys.

Project Management skills apply in every sphere of life. When you begin to appreciate that your life consists of multiple interrelated projects and manage them strategically, the quality of your results will skyrocket.

Dr. Hank: Thank you for taking time off from your busy projects to meet my readers. My new project--get your book today!

Go To Homepage

Before You Go