You Are Never Too Young to Be a Project Manager


Interview with Gary Nelson

Author, Game Designer, Project Manager
Vancouver, BC, Canada

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

Introduction to the interviewee

Gary Nelson is an author, project manager, speaker and game designer. He is passionate about sharing knowledge and making project management concepts more accessible, particularly to new and aspiring project managers (of all ages). In other words, he likes to tell stories to help convey complex concepts in a way that helps the concepts “stick” to make learning fun.

As a project and programme manager, Gary has worked in the Telecom, Student Information Systems, Local Government and Healthcare sectors since graduating from Simon Fraser University (BC, Canada) in 1989. His international experience includes projects in New Zealand, China, the USA and Canada.

Gary is the author of seven project management books including Gazza’s Guide to Practical Project Management and Project Kids Adventures (PKA) series; he has served as a Board member for the PMI West Coast B.C. Chapter and for the PMI New Zealand Chapter.


Part – Story with project management

Q1.      Please share with us your story with project management. How did you step into this profession?

Gary Nelson (Nelson):      You could say that I started my project management journey “accidentally”, but I was “tricked” into learning project management by my first manager. In the late 1980’s, project management was still a developing area and there were no university courses in Project Management. I had started out in a Quality Assurance role in a technology firm, but I got to try my hand at a few different things over the first few years of my career. When my manager needed me to help update schedules for a project, I learned how to do it, using Microsoft Project. It was interesting and challenging, and he gradually involved me more and more in making project schedules and supporting projects. Today you would probably call it a project coordinator role, but they didn’t call it that then. In 2000, my manager encouraged me to formalize my experience and learn by taking a course to prepare for my PMP certification. I had been managing projects from end to end for a few years before that, but preparing for the PMP exam and studying the PMBoK was an eye-opener. I learned a lot more about what I needed to know as a project manager, so in a sense, that was my real start as an “eyes wide open” project manager.

Part – Top qualities of a project manager

Q2.      As a project manager, what do you believe are the top qualities of a project manager in VUCA era?

Nelson:         In this VUCA world, I would say that the top qualities of a project manager should include resilience and adaptability. Yes, you need the technical skills, and an understanding of the frameworks and methods for consistent project delivery, but change is the only constant, so we need to be flexible. No project ends up the way we thought it would by the time it is done, and sometimes that is just because the pace of change in our environment is so fast. So I would add another top quality to the list – having a basic grounding in Change Management, which is a beneficial skill for any project manager, and will help them in working with a wide range of stakeholders experiencing change as a result of projects (be it a planned change as part of the project, or in response to external factors impacting your project).

Part – Birth of project management story-books for children

Q3.      What are the reasons why you wrote books to teach children how to manage projects?

Nelson:         I didn’t actually start out planning to write children’s books, let alone ones on project management. I had always wanted to write and publish a book since I was a teen, but back then I didn’t have that much experience to write about. In 2011, I started a project management blog called “Gazza’s Corner”, with an associated podcast, and the articles were about project management concepts, but told in the context of stories and anecdotes. In 2012, I decided to try and write my first book – again, not for children – that wasn’t even an idea back then. The book “Gazza’s Guide to Practical Project Management” was targeted at university students and people starting out their project management career. But it was a different kind of book – like the blog, it covered the essentials of project management through short stories, with the PM concepts simplified so that someone new to the field could get a more intuitive grasp of what project management is all about.


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 (2021). You Are Never Too Young to be a Project Manager: Interview with Gary Nelson; Project Management Review; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue IV, April. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/pmwj104-Apr2021-Yanjuan-Interview-with-Gary-Nelson.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/