Five Minutes with a Great Project Manager
I get to meet some fantastic people in my line of work. I’m especially energized by the 20-somethings that are extremely talented with tons of drive.
Nate Cohen has been working in his family’s business (Cohen Architectural Woodworking) since he was 6 years old. I swear I’ve heard pennies squeal when he walks past dropped change. True, he’s a great money guy, but I believe he is the most talented project manager I’ve ever encountered–not too shabby for a young man that is self-taught and not even 30.
Nate has an uncanny ability to get projects done on time, and profitably to boot. Accordingly, I wanted to pick his brain, and he obliged (he had to since I can beat him in any push-up contest).
G3CFO: What is the main thing in your work? What’s most important?
Nate: Timeliness. Timeliness of getting things done is most important. Time is everything. That means starting on time, staying on time, wrapping up on time.
G3CFO: Let’s back up a bit. I know that you are a self-taught project manager, and that amazes me. What teaching or training has helped you the most?
Nate: Most of it has been centered around people management. I’ve had to learn how to be patient with people. I’ve had to learn how to keep people accountable. I’ve also learned how to ask the right question. I’ve learned there’s always an answer. The key is asking the right question. So yeah, learning people skills has been my focus.
G3CFO: And that leads to the biggest issue you face daily. Could you elaborate?
Nate: Yes, it’s getting people to keep their commitments. You have to realize I’m not just dealing with people in our own business. I’m working with architects, contractors, and other third parties. This is hard because you cannot control their schedules. I think people just have so many distractions nowadays and so many things going on. So yes, commitments and follow-through [with other parties] is an ongoing battle.
G3CFO: How about your age? Is that ever an issue?
Nate: It used to. I’ve had to learn how to work with the people who “have been doing this for 30 years” and have not quite adapted to modern ways. I’d say what’s helped the most is when people see that I am knowledgeable, and I am staying on top of the project.
G3CFO: As I look back in my career, I’ve never met a contractor doing WIP reporting as they should be. The ones that are doing it have their CPAs do the WIP reporting only for year-end reporting. You are the exception. How is WIP reporting helping you in your family’s business?
Nate: Our WIP reporting is forcing us to look at every project we work on from start to finish. We see the big picture, but we can drill down into the details if we see a project not going as planned. I would call our WIP reporting one of our most critical management tools.
G3CFO: Favorite software tools?
Nate: Technology comes easy to me, but I rely mainly on Excel, followupthen, and Microsoft Project for certain contracts.
G3CFO: Nate, you are young and talented. You have gifts and abilities that some people twice your age do not have. Accordingly, what advice do you have for other people interested in project management for a career?
Nate: If they want to be successful? Then they need to be driven to get things done [on time]. They need the ability to look into the details, but still be able to back up and see the big picture. Finally, people skills are critical.
G3CFO: Great stuff, and many thanks.
Rebuilding a Small Part of Joplin, Missouri
After the interview, I asked Nate about his favorite project. When he listed several, I could tell that completing a large job for a temporary high school in Joplin, Missouri meant a lot to Nate and his family.
Nate shared several pictures of this project, and he gave me permission to share here.
Nate does not need my advice but I’m going to leave him with two solid resources related to project management. The first is a podcast over at 10xtalk.com by Joe Polish and Dan Sullivan. The topic is How to Hire a Project Manager and Why Most Hire Badly, a great episode.
The second resource is a book about project management by the late Eli Goldratt, Critical Chain. I like it because it’s light on the technical minutia but heavy on the big picture and written in the form of a novel.