(Sometimes it takes someone on the outside looking in to provide you with that “whack on the side of the head” that changes the meaning of what you are doing. Such was the case with this simple email from a student.)
A while back I taught an online class based on my book, The Project Management Minimalist. After the class I received this email from one of the attendees:
“Thank you for your class, ‘Become a Project Management Minimalist!’ The practical tools and skills-in-attitude you teach are a source of inspiration and clarity for me. As a young project manager with a passion for social impact, I’m clear that the tools you share will help me become an effective presence for my community and teams. Project management as you teach it is truly a technology of manifestation! — Best Wishes, Soheil Majd ”
As you might imagine, I’m always glad to get good feedback from a class participant. Most of the time, when I teach one of these online classes, I feel a bit like The Maytag Repairman: I’m fairly sure I provided a useful product, but I seldom hear much feedback from the attendees. But beyond the fact that someone took the trouble to thank me, Soheil’s email really stuck with me. I found myself going back and reading it several times, largely because of the unusual perspective he expressed about the session.
Here are some of his unexpected insights that stuck with me:
“… practical tools and skills-in-attitude… are a source of inspiration and clarity…”
Now I am well aware that my classes focus on practical tools and skills. That’s no accident. I value the practical and the useful above all else. I’ve always believed that all the esoteric and complex PM theory is of absolutely no value if isn’t embraced and easily put to use. So, the litmus test for me of any PM tool or practice is “Is this practical and useful in the real world?”
However, the phrase “skills-in-attitude” is a fascinating one! I am conscious that I try to share with my PM newbie students the attitude of “project manager as facilitator.” And I’m also aware that I encourage PM newbies to apply all PM tools and processes gently and respectfully, so as not to get in the way of the smart people on their teams doing their jobs according to their professional best practices. But this phrase, “skills in attitude” was a wonderful leap that Soheil made — a real insight. The PM practice of an attitude of respect and deference toward the professional skills brought by the team, when applied repeatedly to each of the “nuts and bolts” tools I shared, turns out to be essentially a “meta skill.” In other words, it’s truly a “skill in attitude.” Wow! Who knew?
“… will help me become an effective presence for my community and teams.”
Now translating this concept of “being a presence” in the real-world while inside a whirling, activity-filled project is difficult. The best a new project manager can do is simply be vigilant for opportunities to help… be alert to potential obstacles and remove them… be ready to fight for your team so they can do their work unencumbered by administrivia. I now see that all this translates to “become an effective presence for my community and teams.” Well, said, Soheil!
“Project management as you teach it is truly a technology of manifestation!”
Now, to be honest, it is the sentence above that truly blew me away and caused me to re-read Soheil’s email several times. As the years of my life accumulate and the miles traveled on the PM road pile up, I look back on all the folks I’ve tried to guide as they join me on this road. And what stands out above everything I’ve seen and done is that no matter how accurate we are in applying our official PM guidelines… no matter how religiously we apply our official PM best practices… we are in the business of manifestation!! New products, new processes, new events… all of these come into existence as projects. And to the extent that the soft technology (i.e., management practices) of PM support the birth of any of these new entities, they do indeed form a “technology of manifestation.”
Reading Soheil’s insights above, culminating in that incredible vision of PM as technology of manifestation, gave me a bit of a thrill! Think of it! If we practice this pursuit we call PM in an effective way, we manifest visions! Dreams of what might be are transformed into reality by our PM teams!
I’ve always been passionate about teaching my unique PM vision in my own peculiar way. And now thanks to Soheil’s insights, I have been consciously connected to a formerly unseen, yet profound, theme that has been running through this vision all along! Wow! Who knew?
So the next time you’re putting together a project charter or revising a project budget, take a moment and reflect on how you may be a bit like Leonardo. Think about how you might be manifesting a dream!
Thank you, Soheil!
Addendum: Cleaning Up Elephant Dung & The Thrill of Helping Smart People Make Beautiful Music
While PM at its most transcendent may indeed be seen as a “technology of manifestation,” the PM practitioner should also be ready to grab a broom now and then and do the mundane work of keeping the team’s path clear! (As you’ll see below, this can have its own rewards.)
In my classes, as well as in the occasional interview, I love to make this analogy: A project manager should frequently behave like the guy in the parade who follows the elephants with a shovel, broom and wastebasket.
Picture this: A parade is in motion and features a marching band that will share their uplifting music with the crowd. Preceding the marching band is a beautifully-decorated group of elephants who, unfortunately, have no sense of propriety and release their waste somewhat at random. Now unless this voluminous elephant dung is quickly removed, the marching band may step in it and slip, fall, and ruin their performance.
It comes down to this: No matter how talented the band, they are going to need all the nasty elephant droppings removed from their path so they can keep marching and so their music can ring out and inspire the crowd. Without this humble street cleaner, all their musical talent and rehearsal could end in a discordant trip-and-fall disaster! It’s a dirty job, but an important one — and someone’s gotta do it!
So it is with project management. No matter how talented, how creative, how burn-the-midnight-oil your team is, if they are encumbered by obstacles, all their talent and creativity may never have a chance to shine. They need someone to “sweep the dung” out of their path! And when you, as project manager, are willing to jump in and grab a broom and start cleaning, you are likely to be rewarded with the thrill of seeing your team soar and dazzle with their work products.
The truth is I knew I was a true project manager when I realized that my sense of gratification and pride had shifted from doing great work myself to seeing great work created by a team whose path I had carefully tended.
My wish for you, project manager, is that you become comfortable with a broom and learn to thrill at your marching band’s great music!
[Note: This essay was published as part of the #PMFlashBlog event “What does project management mean to me?” Learn more here: Free e-Book “What Project Management Means to Me” from #PMFlashBlog Authors]