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The Way to Enlightened Project Management - Project Manager Today, February 2000


"Tell me Master where have I gone wrong ?"

An apprentice knelt before his master.

"I've done everything you've taught. I kept my resources balanced and never strayed from the plan, always I had a Change Request Form to hand. What more can I do ?"

"You have learnt the techniques well my son, but..."

"But ?"

"But, you've forgotten the heart of what it means to be a Project Manager. It takes more than plans and forms to lead a team. It takes more than structure and technique to reach the mystic realm of on time delivery. To achieve that height you must know the Way of the Project Manager. For the greatest tools are as naught without the heart to use them."

"Please tell me."

"Wait and listen and let the wisdom grow within you. "

The first principle of the Way is hold the vision

Once a project has started many distractions will assault your team. The daily problems and minor concerns will wear them down and they will loose sight of the ultimate goal. As Project Manager you will hold that vision and at each decision point marry the options against that vision. As your team deals with the routine tasks you will maintain the bigger picture. Which means that as others may get mired in the details, which can seem huge when you're dealing with them, you will have a project level perspective and perhaps a clearer view of the real impact of events.

The second principle is strength through flexibility

There is no obstacle which can not be overcome if you are flexible. When you encounter a problem, and there will be many, be clear of your goal and then find a way past it. It doesn't matter whether it's over, under, around or through; the route isn't important only the destination. And remember when you get there it may not be exactly as you imagined it. As long as the goal is achieved it doesn't have to take the precise form you expected. The aspect with the maximum flexibility in a situation controls the situation.

In truth though there are no real obstacles, only opportunities. Anything which happens in or around your project can be used to advance the project. When you are opposed, use the power of that opposition to strengthen and propel your project forward. Adversity can cement a team as nothing else and issues raised by your users can be used to spur them into greater commitment to the project. Be as the sailor who tacks into the wind, so that even as he moves against it he never truly opposes it.

The third principle is honour your team

If you ask others to follow you then you must prove yourself worthy to be followed. And as human nature is a fickle creature you must re-prove again and again every day of the project. Be honest with those who serve you in the team and be honest with the sponsors whom you serve. Trust is like a fine glass caving, difficult to create, easy to shatter and impossible to repair fully.

Good leaders are honest from a place of strength, great leaders are honest from a place of vulnerability. Be open with your team, share with them the good and the bad. From openness will flourish fellowship, and you will become one with your team. You will no longer need to rouse them to "go the extra mile", they will see the need and lift themselves.

In dealing with your team always show trust and respect. Expect the best from them and they will rise again and again to prove you right, expect the worst and you will also be right. In setting their objectives be clear within yourself before you speak, for how can the music be pure when the musician does not know the notes. Once set expect the best, support your team but give them the space to deliver their own results. And remember their path to the solution may not be the same as yours, honour their approach, if the result serves the project then there is no right or wrong, only different.

Be as a guardian to your team. Control through loving authority, and ensure all are treated fairly and equally. But above all protect your team. Let not the vagaries and influences of the outside world distract or disrupt them. You should act as shield, letting only that pass which is needed and allowing them to remain focussed on the work at hand. Stay the angry hand of outside influences.

For in measuring your success you and the team are as one. For you may allocate roles and authority, but ultimate responsibility for all their actions lies with you.

The fourth principle is wisdom through action

Amongst some Project Managers there is a great fear of doing the wrong thing, of making a mistake. Worse by far than doing the wrong thing is doing nothing at all.

In fact it is not possible to do the wrong thing. No activity we undertake is ever completely perfect, therefore there is always some part which is "right" and some part which is "wrong". More accurately there is some part which went as we expected and some part which did not. It is through examining and learning from those parts which did not go as expected that we can learn to do things more as we would wish. Or perhaps you may find that this unexpected outcome is even better than the "right" one would have been. There is no "right" and "wrong", there is only feedback.

But the key is action, for the fearful Project Manager stagnant in his inaction can not receive any feedback. And the more he waits, the greater the fear grows and the more terrifying any action becomes.

Inaction is anything which does not move the project forward, so be wary of action without purpose. The long, in-depth investigation, the extra piece of analysis, one last workshop. All of these can be worthwhile and valuable activities, but take care that they do not hide fear. If it moves the project forward it is valid, if all it does is postpone a decision or put off a difficult task then it is inaction.

Take action with enthusiasm but without attachment. When you are attached to the outcome of an action, then the success or failure of that action becomes a personal issue for you. With that attachment how can you be open to any feedback that might be provided? Without attachment you are always open to the feedback, so every action is a "success".

The fifth, and final, principle is find the joy

This simple principle can be the most powerful. Find the fun and joy in what you do, enjoy being a Project Manager, take pride in your team, enthuse about you're project. If each day you approach work with a sense of excitement and anticipation then your finding the joy. Don't be afraid to smile and laugh and have fun, being an excellent Project Manager does not have to be serious, you can choose how you want to do it.

Also where the Project Manager leads so shall the team follow. So if you bring a sense of fun and joy to what you do then the team will follow. When the team enjoys what they are doing they will gain an even greater sense of purpose and fulfillment from the project. How productive is a team who really want to progress the project ?

To gain respect from his team a Project Manager must be humble. He must understand that he is but one part of the team, fulfilling a role like all the others; no greater, no less. Humor and a sense of simple joy are the pins which burst the bubble of our own pomposity and allow us to connect with the rest of the team.

Be as the child. If each day is a wonder and each activity a joy, how could a project fail."

The Master sat back silent once more.

"And if I follow the Way will I be a great a project manager ?"

The silence hung heavy as the Master stared off into the distance.

"I do not know. Do you believe you can be a great project manager ?"


"Do believe you are a great project manager ?"


"Then pretend as if you are. Act the part each day, follow the Way as if you were a great Project Manager and soon, very soon, you will discover you are no longer acting. For belief is the first step on the Way, from belief flows all possibilities."

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