Book Review: Right Brain Project Management

Ningen (Person)
Ningen (Human) = Person + Interval

“The fundamental problem with project management is what is missing, and what is missing is life, what is missing is people.  We need to breathe life into projects.  Life animates – an individual, a team, a project, or a company.  Giving life to a project involves making it more human.”
– B Michael Aucoin

For someone who started managing projects in highly process-friendly companies, that sentence was a fresh idea.  Right Brain Project Management, by B Michael Aucoin, is a book that essentially says, hey PMs, we need to focus a little less on the mechanics and try to understand that projects involve people.

The book takes a look at how projects are usually managed (with a left-brain focus) and then makes the point that in some cases, complexity or uncertainty can screw up even the best laid plans.  Right Brain Project Management calls for a new approach to projects where instead of

Focusing on Mechanics, we…

  • Find the compelling purpose
    Projects involve people and most humans need a compelling purpose to motivate them past obstacles and tough moments.  Keeping a job is a purpose, but you’re looking for a purpose that engages “the intellect and soul on a project.”  Something that makes you want to get out of bed every morning.
  • Make sense of the project
    Many projects are so complex (using new technology and remote teams, for example) that we need to make sense of how people will work together, what processes they will use, and why the project is important.  Making sense of the unknowns or uncertainties in a project is also part of finding a compelling purpose.

Instead of assuming that our solution for a complex problem can be developed the way we’ve always done things, we should…

  • Experiment and adapt
    Aucoin believes that many projects move ahead with a fixed plan in place before we completely understand what we trying to accomplish.  He believes that some projects are so complex that we need to be more comfortable with ambiguity and experiment before committing significant resources.  I read agile here – I could be wrong.
  • Create the new reality
    Projects and organizations need to be more creative in creating new paths for complex projects and in generating and vetting new ideas.

Instead of focusing on scope, quality and time to the exclusion of everything else, expand our success criteria to include…

  • Exercising and fulfilling trust
    Focus on building an environment of trust.  It improves decision-making and leadership within the team and improves the speed and quality of decisions.
  • Hitting the sweet spot
    When the project manager balances right and left-brain approaches and follows the other principles mentioned here, Aucoin says that the work becomes effortless.
  • Leaving a legacy
    When we look back on the project, what will our story be?  One of accomplishment or defeat?  Will we look back with pride or wish our name had never been associated with the project?

A project is more than a schedule

What this book said to me was that a project is more than the sum of its parts.  Like most things that people are involved in, a project has a life of its own that needs to be engaged and managed so that we can leave behind something of value.

I know that for most left-brain leaning project managers this book will seem squishy and indirect as it has a right-brain approach in talking about the subject, but I recommend sticking with it.   Let me know what you think: leave a comment or send a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.



  1. Nice review. The kanji you selected as an image are interesting 人 literally means person. The letter is basically a headless and armless person standing with their legs spread. The second character is a composition of two radicals. The first radical is 門 which is a gate. The lower radical is the sun 日 that radical is derived from a round pictograph with a dot in it. The combination of a gate with the sun shining through is space, gap and also interval.

    I think of the combination of person and interval is the way to measure a person means human being.

    It is interesting in your review that you describe a project in term of time as something we can leave behind. Kind of the project should be measured as a complete part over time.

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