Stop the Chaos: Back to Project Management Fundamentals

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With every gust of wind
The butterfly changes its place
On the willow
-Basho


October is always a chaotic month for me. It seems appropriate that at the end of the month is a holiday where ghosts, monsters and oversized cartoon characters wander the streets at early dusk asking for candy.

At the end of October, I am usually surprised to find that I made it through the month without incident.  I tend to get so caught up in the drama of my life that I forget what I’ve learned to do – and do what is most comfortable. Retreating back to my comfort zone is my favorite way to avoid most of the chaos and madness.

That’s when the books I have piled up in my house come in handy: they help remind me of the fundamentals. This October I flipped through my favorite books on project management: those books that widened my perspective and set me off in a new direction in the areas of Emotional Intelligence and Project Management, the definition of “successful projects” and personal effectiveness.

Following are three ideas that I rediscovered:

  1. Beyond the world of PMBOK there is life.  Projects are about people.
    In a reread of Right Brain Project Management by B. Michael Aucoin, I came across the following reminder that projects are not about following PMBOK guidelines or checklists:

    “While projects need plans and processes, what they really need is energy – human energy. Human energy and motivation spring directly from emotion. With a compelling purpose, projects that are seemingly impossible can achieve extraordinary results. Without a compelling purpose, a project can become tiresome.”

    The book definitely provides a larger vision than the PMBOK of a what a project should be and continues to challenge me to grow.
  2. The definition of project success isn’t based on a single metric.
    It can be easier to focus on reaching the end date than focus on the other aspects of a project that will have someone (other than you) talk about the project as a success.Rereading Radical Project Management by Rob Thomsett I rediscovered a success gauge that I’d overlooked in previous reads: Success Sliders.

    Thomsett takes the concept of a light dimmer switch and turns into a gauge for identifying your project sponsor’s priorities.  Turning the switch sideways so that you increase the importance of a metric as you slide it to the right, he gets sponsor input on the importance of:

    • Having satisfied stakeholders
    • Meeting the project’s objectives / requirements
    • Meeting an agreed budget: resources, capital, equipment
    • Delivering the product on-time
    • Adding value to the organization
    • Meeting quality requirements
    • Having a sense of professional satisfaction for the team

    He then recommends using the success sliders to help guide project decision-making. For perfectionists, the 7 sliders can help reduce the self-imposed pressure of having to hit a single metric in order to be happy.

  3. Stay Present and Flexible – or Not every problem needs a hammer
    If your strength is in a single area, it can be hard not to use it in every situation. Jim Hassinger, one of the authors of The Randori Principles wrote about having to outgrow the use of his favorite aikido stance by staying present and being open to each situation.

    As he writes, “It is possible to try too hard or be too forceful in fulfilling our expectations.  Becoming rigid and forceful creates resistance and, ultimately, a power struggle. Adopting a dual attitude of clear intention with flexibility of response lays the groundwork for a productive relationship and high energy results.”

    Hunkered down in my comfort zone, this passage was a good reminder that it was time to leave its safety and get back to being fully present in every situation. As Hassinger discovered in his sparring practice, staying present makes you less predictable and harder to knock down.

After surviving another October, it was nice to reread old favorites and remember why I still love project management. There is still so much more to learn. Do you have a favorite book to recommend for my collection?  Leave me a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

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