Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Industry Interviews - Elizabeth Harrin, Director of Otobos Consultants Ltd

Today we begin a new series focusing on careers across the IT industry. Over the coming months we'll be interviewing prominent industry professionals from some of the most sought after job titles within the tech sector.

Gain invaluable insights to the career you desire as we reveal the paths professionals  have taken to secure their chosen career,  what an average day looks like and how training and certification can influence career progression. 

So without further delay i'd like to reveal our first professional, Elizabeth Harrin:

Elizabeth is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management. She runs a project management copywriting firm which helps small and medium-sized businesses talk about their projects and solutions. She’s the author of three books about project management: Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World, Customer-Centric Project Management and Social Media for Project Management.  She occasionally speaks at conferences and tries not to fall off the stage too often.


Name: Elizabeth Harrin
Job Title: Director
Current Employer: Otobos Consultants Ltd
Personal Blog: A Girls Guide to Project Management
Social Media: found on Twitter and Facebook
- Finalist at the 2015 Women in IT Awards
Computer Weekly - Best IT Professional Blogger of the Year, 2011  

Summarise your job in a sentence

I manage projects and I’m a copywriter writing about managing projects.

What does an average working day look like?

On non-commuting days I give my children breakfast and then when we are all ready for the day I walk into the garden where I have an office. I’m at my desk a bit before 9am. I work until lunchtime – a mixture of conference calls and virtual meetings, catching up on emails and project management. 

At lunchtime I’ll come in for lunch and normally we eat as a family. After lunch, I’ll go back out to work and go through the To Do list I’ve prepared for the day to check I’m on track to complete everything. There’s normally some emergency or last minute thing to sort out that I didn’t plan for – that’s the nature of project work.

Around 4pm I’ll wrap up and come in for the day. I’ll prepare dinner for the children and between then and 7pm it’s eating, family time, baths and bed. I’ll finish up any other work tasks when they are asleep but I don’t go back out to work; I’ll set my laptop up on the dining room table.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety. I love being able to spend a morning working with colleagues from France and Spain and then the afternoon focusing on resolving issues. I love writing and my copywriting work which sits alongside project management, means I work with clients all over the world, and help them explain what they are doing. It’s satisfying to know that what I’m writing helps them solve problems for project managers.

What are the biggest challenges in your current role?

Time management! With two distinct roles, plus a young family, it’s hard to keep on top of everything. As a result, I spend less time on risk management and proactive strategic work than I would like.

What career path did you take to bring you to your current job title?

I chose to be a project manager, so that part of my job was a natural progression from Business Change Analyst many years ago to the role I have now. I’ve always written things down as well. I wrote stories as a child and then magazine articles, progressing as the world of copywriting changed to mainly preparing blog articles for project management websites as well as writing my own blog and a couple of books.

Do you have/did you require any professional certifications to secure your current job title? If yes, which?

No. I had written one book at the time of my interview and I think that helped me though. I was also PRINCE2 qualified but I’m not sure that had any particular bearing on my application.

What guidance would you give someone wanting to do your job?

You can get project management skills from any walk of life, including volunteering and managing a household, so don’t be put off by people saying you need deep subject matter expertise. And while it didn’t work this way for me, you can move into project management through other careers, so look for opportunities in your current role.

The advice I have for budding writers is to write. I have heard people say, “Oh, I’d love to write a book.” If you want something, do it. You don’t need anything to get started. Having said that, many people would like to write and really can’t. If you have something to say but lack the skills to get your  message across, either work hard to improve your writing or work with an editor who can polish it up for you.

What guidance would you give someone starting their career in Project Management?

It’s a great job. Take it seriously and remember who your customers are.

Has training and/or certification influenced your career? If yes, how?

I believe it’s a hygiene factor: certification doesn’t automatically mean you are a stellar project manager but it’s a useful grounding in project management practice and it ensures everyone on the team speaks the same language. No one has ever said to me that I didn’t get a job or couldn’t do a role because I didn’t have a certification. 

I support my team and colleagues to get certifications because it’s a way of ensuring the team shares a common background and because I strongly believe people should take responsibility for their own career progression. It’s a way of continuous professional development and that’s only a good thing.

What are your thoughts on the widely reported IT skills gap and its impact on business?

From my own experience it’s the business understanding piece that is lacking. For example, we can recruit developers but it’s hard to get someone who understands what happens when their code doesn’t work: the business impact can be significant. 

That’s the gap that I’m seeing, and the only answer is for organisations to get better at succession planning so that they can fill that gap with internal talent and create a pipeline for those hard-to-fill positions. 

It’s unacceptable to expect universities to turn out senior programmers with deep business knowledge: they can’t do it and they shouldn’t be expected to, although I know many courses have industry placements which must help.