Interview with James T. Brown


Project Management is for those Comfortable with Uncertainty

Interview with James T. Brown

Author, Expert, Speaker
President, SEBA® Solutions
Florida, USA

Interviewed by Yu Yanjuan
Journalist, Project Management Review: PMR (China)
International Correspondent, PM World Journal
Beijing, China

Introduction to the interviewee

James T. Brown, Ph.D., president of SEBA® Solutions Inc., has provided training and consulting services for dozens of companies nationally and internationally. James T. Brown is now also a lecturer at the University of Central Florida College of Business. He taught courses such as Business Intelligence, Data Driven Decision Making, Systems Management, etc.

James is the author of The Handbook of Program Management published by McGraw-Hill and has published extensively on platforms such as PM Network, PE Magazine, PM World Today, etc. As a recognized authority in project management, he is a frequently invited keynote speaker on project management and leadership. You can view a demo video of James here https://www.sebasolutions.com/project-management-keynote-speaker/.

James is a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), and the National Speakers Association. He is actively seeking a public or private board appointment.


Part I The Joy of Project Management

Q1.      I noticed that you graduated with a PhD degree in engineering. What motivated you to enter the project management profession?

James T. Brown (Brown):            I never thought about project management as a profession initially. I was just getting stuff done and then getting stuff done through others, and that turned out to be project management. Project management was and is intriguing to me because in many aspects it is a mystery, a puzzle to be put together.

I enjoy working with the clients to gain an understanding of the requirements. This may sound trivial, but to good project managers this is a deep understanding. Some project managers don’t go far enough in the understanding of the requirements. They don’t understand the clients’ motivations for the requirement, they can’t frame the understanding in terms of business value or what the results may mean intrinsically to the client and their stakeholders.

I also enjoy the uncertainty and managing that uncertainty. Without uncertainty project management would be boring and often those that don’t like it or that do it but find it stressful are not comfortable with all the uncertainties. I tell young project managers and aspiring project managers if you are uncomfortable with uncertainty, project management is not for you. One of the things that separates a good and capable project manager from one who is not is a high degree of comfort with uncertainty. Uncertainty is a mystery, a puzzle to be put together.

The working experience at NASA exposed me to some very skilled project managers and I studied their tradecraft. Most of project management was not about process but was about leadership.

Part II Scope Management

Q2.      Defining the requirements (scope) is important, but in innovative projects the clients themselves are sometimes not clear about what they want exactly. What should project managers do in this case?

Brown:          First, everyone has to accept the risk that in an innovation project there will be dead ends and wrong turns. It is not logical to think you are going to have an innovation project that will go as smoothly as a normal project. So, expectation management with all stakeholders is key at the beginning. There is no magic bullet or magic methodology for this, as they all have disadvantages. Regardless of the methodology, I like to understand what is not clear and assess its significance in comparison to the overall project scope and objectives.  I also like to understand when it must be clear and when it doesn’t matter if it is clear or not.  This requires a good deal of risk analysis and multiple plans based on multiple assumptions. I do not like to work ahead of requirements and I do not like to be more detailed in planning than the requirements or the project parameters allow.


To read entire interview, click here

Editor’s note: This interview was first published in PMR, Project Management Review magazine, China.  It is republished here with the permission of PMR. The PM World Journal maintains a cooperative relationship with PMR, periodically republishing works from each other’s publications. To see the original interview with Chinese introduction, visit PMR at http://www.pmreview.com.cn/english/

How to cite this interview: PMR (2022). Project Management is for Those Comfortable with Uncertainty: Interview with James T. Brown, PhD; Project Management Review; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue I, January. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/pmwj113-Jan2022-Yanjuan-Interview-with-James-T-Brown2.pdf

About the Interviewer

Yu Yanjuan

Beijing, China


Yu Yanjuan (English name: Spring), Bachelor’s Degree, graduated from the English Department of Beijing International Studies University (BISU) in China. She is now an English-language journalist and editor working for Project Management Review (PMR) Magazine and website. She has interviewed over sixty top experts in the field of project management. Before joining PMR, she once worked as a journalist and editor for other media platforms in China. She has also worked part-time as an English teacher in training centers in Beijing. Beginning in January 2020, Spring also serves as an international correspondent for the PM World Journal.

For work contact, she can be reached via email yuyanjuan2005@163.com  or LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/yanjuanyu-76b280151/.

To view other works by Spring, visit her author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/yu-yanjuan/