In the middle of writing Communicating Project Management, I sat down with one of my colleagues (in this case, Jeff Grabill) to talk about the book’s progress. I’d been feeling an intense amount of imposter syndrome, something I hadn’t acknowledged to anyone publicly. In that meeting Jeff asked me a simple, albeit complex, question: “Why does the world need your book?” I don’t remember how I answered the question in that moment, but I understood the importance of having an answer to that question. It’s a question I ask graduate students about their research too. And it is coupled with other panic-inducing questions like “What work might this do in the world?” or “What problem can your work solve?” I’m a slow thinker, so when asked a heavy question like that it takes me time to come to a clear conclusion. The answer always happens to arrive when I’m doing some sort of mundane task, like taking out the garbage or exercising. It can even happen while I’m writing or reading and I watch my brain wander off, which is exactly how it worked with my book.

Of course I had stock answers to these questions assembled for the book prospectus, like Technical and Professional Communication hasn’t produced a book on project management in quite a while (since 2007) or when we talk about project management we generally focus on teaching processes and tools instead of it as rhetorical practice. But these weren’t the answer. Don’t misunderstand–these weren’t bad answers–but they also didn’t get at the root of what I was doing and/or why I was doing it. And because I didn’t know the answer to that question, I continued to search for it as I wrote.

I knew I wanted to answer that question in a way that communicated the disruptive goal of my work, as I felt that was at least partially my point. That is, I argued throughout the book that project management is undergoing a paradigm shift–from a focus on efficiency to one on participation. In this way, how we’d framed it (i.e., as a project-level management method(ology) focused on efficiency and productivity by emphasizing collaboration and coordination) would need to be reimagined. More about those ideas in a future post.

Anyhow, the “aha!” moment for me was after another conversation with a different colleague several months later (in this case, Bill Hart-Davidson). Going in to that meeting I half expected Bill to tell me the entire book would need to be scrapped. Imposter. Syndrome. What he did say after (generously) reading the first draft of my book was that I’d convinced him project managers were writers and could be studied as writers. My brain started buzzing. Bill was right about the importance of thinking of project managers as writers, and his observation delivered some immediate clarity. I went home, opened up the first chapter, and began tweaking the language and reframing some of the ideas. Then that chapter became the Preface instead of Chapter 1. That was just under a week before the book was due to Routledge.

Writing out the answer to the “Why does the world need this book?” question wasn’t a linear process nor did it arrive at a convenient time. Ultimately, I decided to begin the book reflecting on my answer to that question on purpose. Here’s the quote from the Preface:

We need another book on project management because much of the previous work operates under a big assumption: that project management is about, above all, making teams efficient by expertly using tools and processes. However, this view neglects to position project managers as writers. If we understand project managers as writers, then we can understand their communication work as inherently rhetorical because it is situated and context-specific. More, the communication of project managers can be studied as writing, which can help reveal its embedded values and beliefs as these emerge through practices. So, what happens when we think about project managers as writers and study them as writers? Through this book I work to answer these questions, arguing that effective project managers help make teams efficient because they communicate in ways that seek to cultivate participation.

So why this story? One of my interests with talking about the research in my book is showing others how I did it in hopes that it can help them imagine doing the same. Not a “how-to” guide as much as an honest account of my process. When I started writing Communicating Project Management, it felt a near impossible task for me to complete. I read other books in the field and felt like I was in over my head.

When I originally got started, I collected advice off the internet. I found books people wrote about writing books and leafed through them. A lot of that material was very good. Some of it was also very much utopian, like “Write every day” (I have kids–that’s not going to happen) or “develop a schedule and stick to it” (see previous comment). I’m not saying I magically stopped feeling like an imposter at some point throughout the writing process. That’s definitely not true. However, I felt the feelings, acknowledged them, and wrote anyhow.

In this way, I learned to manage my imposter syndrome instead of eliminate it. Managing it helped me to stop worrying about doing the work and gave me the space to instead worry about the work I was doing.

Managing Imposter Syndrome and Answering “Why do we need another book on project management?”

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