July 28, 2021 ERIK HARLOW, PROJECT MANAGER AND PUBLISHED AUTHOR
Q: How does each role affect the other? What is similar?
A: Writing starts with the desire to convey a complex idea. Project management starts with the desire to complete a complex deliverable. Both undertakings require effective planning.
As a project manager, I work closely with various teams. From developers to salespeople, from creative geniuses to executive visionaries—and all the stakeholders in between—we focus on seeing concepts to conclusion. Ever mindful of due dates, I pay close attention to the details, anticipate questions, research the unknowns, and collaborate to deliver on time.
When I learned to write in elementary school, I began to understand the importance of literary structure. But the project management philosophy informed the process I now use to write and empowered me to see my own creative concepts to delivery. I mapped out each chapter, talked to experts, and planned each character’s backstory. I painstakingly plotted the science of each planet, and with everything in place, I wrote my manuscript.
My editor replied with brutally honest feedback. When I asked how she could be so mean to my beautiful baby manuscript, she assured me she saw the potential under all the dirt and rags. After all, if she didn’t believe in the project, she’d have declined editing it.
With a dash of hope and a need for more humility than I thought I could muster at the time, I entered the most terrifying yet vital phase of creative writing: collaboration. It was the best thing I’ve ever done, both as a writer and as a project manager. Without the collaborative piece, my manuscript was lacking. In turn, the patience and humility I gained through writing has helped me approach professional challenges with confidence and calm.
Q: What’s inspiring you today in your work and personal projects?
A: When I worked in the game app industry—during digital project management’s nascency—my mentor once told me I’d be surprised by how much of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War can be applied to project management. Coming from a family where military careers run strong, Sun Tzu was practically required reading, so I was familiar with the work. While I can kind of see some applicable methods, it’s my coworkers, my boss, and the friends I’ve worked with in the past that are my true wellspring of professional inspiration.
As to my personal projects, I love revisiting the classics—The Lord of the Rings, Rendezvous with Rama, Foundation, Ender’s Game, The Forever War, Starship Troopers (yeah, yeah), and pretty much anything by Philip K. Dick. As for more recent works, I’ve been enjoying Annihilation, and who doesn’t love Brandon Sanderson? The man is a Time Lord and can write no wrong.