If there were any career that would prepare me for the long process of writing, producing, and marketing a book, it was project management.
It seems a long time ago since I first expressed my wish to write a book to my mentor at the time. “Whoa! A book?” he said, somewhat incredulously. “Why don’t you start with an article first?” So, I took his advice, and I started there. That desire to write a book didn’t go away, but it was shelved for the time being.
But when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and experienced first-hand the patient spaces I’d helped create, I knew then that I had to write my book. I could see how the healthcare industry was struggling to keep patients at the heart of their mission, instead becoming focused on the bottom line. The people designing, building, and working in these spaces hadn’t experienced them from the other side like I had – and it showed.
When I started this process, honestly, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. But looking back now, with my book about to be published, I can see how the project management skills I gained throughout my career kept me on track. Here’s the five project management skills I used the most.
1. Defining the Scope
Every project starts with the Initiation Phase, where you take the vision and start outlining the steps needed to get there. You ask questions like:
- What is this book going to be? A guide, a manual, an inspirational tale?
- Who am I talking to? Who do I serve?
- What problems do they have, and how can I solve them?
- What do I want to tell them?
When I defined my scope, suddenly I had an outline for what I was going to write, who I was going to write for, and what I was going to say. Without that, my book would have meandered and lost my message. Instead, I wanted to reach people who were used to following a process on a deep, emotional level. My scope gave me a roadmap to do that.
2. Building the Team
Any great project is delivered by a team, not an individual. The process of developing my book was just the same. I needed to write and direct the process, but I was supported by a brilliant editor, a meticulous proofreader, creative interior and cover designers, and a thorough indexer.
My book wouldn’t have come to fruition without them. But it was more than just finding people to do a job; it was about finding the right people to do the right job. That meant understanding their motivations, playing to their strengths, and connecting with them.
Project management isn’t about being an ogre, whipping your team into delivering. It’s about building, motivating, and trusting your team to deliver, and giving them a vision to believe in. Those soft skills are essential for any project manager.
3. Organizing the Documentation
Documentation. It’s just a book, right?
There is so much paperwork to stay on top of when you are writing a book. Just like with any construction project, you need an organized and efficient approach so that when you need information, it’s at your fingertips.
You’ll have lots of research, and much of it will need referencing. There will be interviews that you’ll refer to again and again as you refine your chapters. Your team might need material as the book progresses. All this valuable information needs to be organized and saved somewhere safe for when you need it (tip: keep backups – I’m speaking from experience here!)
On top of all this, if you haven’t written a book before, it’s a steep learning curve. It’s a good idea to keep everything you read or watch about writing and publishing, so you can refer to it throughout the process.
4. Controlling the Schedule
Writing a book takes a long time. In a construction project, if you don’t manage the schedule, you’ll be overbudget and late before you know it. With my book, if I didn’t stick to a schedule, it may never have been finished.
At first, it was just myself I was managing, so I gave myself milestones to hit. When it became clear that I needed an editor, then it changed to managing my deadlines to return edits to her and plan when she would be ready for the next chapter.
As the team grew, I needed to ensure we were all meeting regularly and everyone understood their next steps. We met every 6 weeks, updated everyone on our progress, and assigned activities. As it’s such a long process, it can – at times – feel like there is no end. Treating the book like any other project helped make sure the end was always in sight.
The team was also critical to this. I like to think that there are two types of decision-makers: open-ended and close-ended. With open-ended decision-makers, there’s a start, maybe a middle, and no end. But because I’d built a great team, we had committed, close-ended decision-makers who always had the end goal in mind – publishing the book.
5. Managing the Budget
Project management is about more than just the budget, but it’s still an important factor. Writing a book is inexpensive, at least compared to building a state-of-the-art healthcare facility. But that doesn’t make it cheap – it costs more than you might think.
That said, it certainly can be done on a shoestring. But I didn’t want a book that looked cheap; I wanted a quality product that reflected my brand. As is so often the case, you get what you pay for. I’d always advise anyone to spend a little extra to get your desired outcome: a book that gives your readers the best impression of you.
And it’s not just writing and publishing the book that costs money, but also marketing it once it’s finished. I smiled to myself when I realized that actually, my book had followed the typical cost profile of most construction projects: steady outgoings until the end when the expenses ramped up as the book approached completion.
Mindset is Key
If you’re starting, or thinking of starting, your own writing journey, I’d like to give you one last piece of advice: stick to it. Your friends might tell you to stop talking about it and just do it (or maybe to just stop talking about it, period) but there will be times when that’s easier said than done.
Others who haven’t been there don’t understand the persistence and strength needed to write a book. They don’t understand that no matter what life throws at you, you just have to knuckle down and finish this project. But hey – you’re a project manager, right? You do that every day. You got this.
If you’d like to order my book for more project management insights, Health Well Done: A Patient-Centered Management Approach to Building Healthcare Environments is now available on Amazon.