Origami and Project Management: Something in Common?

Designed by Fumiaki Kawahata. Folded by Phillip West

I love theme calendars.

Every year multiple themes decorate my walls.

This year I have Celtic Mandalas, Japanese Desserts and Buddhist Quotes on my walls and Origami a Day gracing my bookshelf.

While some calendars die after a few months (think Puzzle a Day), this year Origami a Day has captured my imagination. Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding.  After walking me through basic shapes like a folded letter, the calendar has ramped up in difficulty by challenging me into shaping Pomegranates or 3 dimensional Triangles.

Project Management and Origami

What becomes obvious in some of the more difficult patterns is that what gets you to a shape that resembles the picture is not necessarily in the diagram or instructions. After trying to force a fold back on itself and failing – it occurred to me that Origami is a lot like Project Management…in that:

  1. Everyone can know the techniques and folds required, but the difference is in the level of experience

    Whether PMBOK, PRINCE, Scrum, or Lean, there are inputs, outputs and process steps. Which processes you use and how you execute the steps will determine your end result.

    Trying to fold a Lord of the Rings Gandalf when you really just need a folded letter shape – or trying to load process onto something that’s a short and simple project can be a matter of experience.

  2. Once something is folded, you have to contend with that crease until you’re finished

    Life can be a little more forgiving than paper, but once something is spent or used up, you have to live with it. Whether we’re talking schedule, budget or resources, once you’ve spent time/ money or allocated the resource, you have to factor that into the planning for the remainder of your project.  Nothing magically reappears unless you have a fairy godmother who can magically grant you additional budget.
  3. Sometimes the technique may be spelled out, but a crucial aspect that can only be demonstrated by someone else, is missing, so you mess up your figure.

    Running your first project can be like this if you don’t have a mentor or coach to help you.  You may encounter situations that are not actually explained in the PMBOK (go figure).Origami birds can be challenging: try folding a beak.  The instructions seems simple: crease the tip of the paper, push tip inside, reverse the fold and flatten.

    Without ripping the paper.

    Watching someone do this could make all the difference in how you attempt to fold the paper and your eventual success.

  4. The only way to get better is to keep going. Repetition and hard work gets you to excellence.

    We hate to think this, but it’s true: anything worthwhile takes work. If you want to improve at Origami, there is no shortcut to putting the time in or the experience in. Like Origami, the only way to get better at certain aspects of Project Management is just to keep at it, while keeping a growth mindset.
  5. You will be forced to grow

    Origami has the ability to marshall in me a level of patience I have never seen before. Sitting down with a piece of paper and folding it, staying with it, tearing it or mis-folding it, then starting over again so that it comes close to looking like the end result displayed in the calendar is tough.

    Project Management has forced me to expand my comfort zones and grown my character in ways that would not have been possible had I stayed a technical writer. Being thrown into different situations with all kinds of people can be a growth experience.  Hanging in there when it seems tough will force you to grow.

    Have a comment?  Post it here or send me a tweet.  My id is jgodfrey.

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