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Virtual and Project Management Expert: Writer, Speaker, Educator. Author of Managing Without Walls and Fundamentals of Technology Management. President of Garton Consulting Group.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What Does Project Management Mean to Me?

When I received a request to write this blogpost (see the explanation in the postscript) with the suggested title of "What Does Project Management Mean to Me - A Project Manager's Sermon", I had to sit down and ponder awhile how to put my thoughts into words. I am used to writing about my opinions on how best to accomplish management-related tasks. Writing about what it means to me to perform those tasks myself required looking at project management from a slightly different perspective. It has been an enjoyable experience—one I highly recommend! 

First, let me explain why I removed “A Project Manager’s Sermon” from the title. It is because project management is not a religion to me; it is an art. It is not something that I believe but something that I feel, see and immerse myself in. It is more artistic than divine.

Project management is often described as a set of skills or a collection of best practices, and while those descriptions are not incorrect, in reality, project management goes way beyond this. There is an art to managing projects that cannot be developed based purely on best practices, spreadsheets and organizational skills. 

Consider the task of creating a project schedule that contains over 2000 line items for a team of 20 engineers. If one takes into consideration not only each person’s unique skillset, vacation schedule and general availability but also their interests and career goals, it takes artistry to blend those diverse needs to create something that works well. By the time the schedule has been completed, each person is fully utilized but not over-scheduled. Each engineer has been assigned tasks that enable him or her to meet or exceed expectations, develop new skills and enhance existing ones. Senior team members’ tasks have been scheduled to allow time for mentoring junior team members. Continuing education time has been allocated for all employees. There is flexibility built into the plan to allow for scheduling vacations and holidays. Most importantly, the project finish date is within the specified timeframe. The resulting first edition of the project schedule is rather spectacular and unique. Why unique? Because no two project managers would create exactly the same project schedule. However, the project schedule is far from being a finished art piece. Rather, it is the starting point for the project. It is the vision of what the project manager plans to create—the pencil drawing that precedes applying anything to the canvas. The project schedule is the foundation on which to build a great project masterpiece.

If you asked ten artists to paint the same landscape, their final paintings will be original and distinctive. Each artist sees the landscape a little differently and has developed his or her own individual painting style. That style is based on experience, technique, color, artistic interpretation and the thoughts and feelings the landscape invokes in the artist. The different perspectives, artists personalities and artistic preferences will be reflected in the uniqueness of each artist’s painting. In the same way, you could ask ten project managers to manage an identical project and they will all do it a little differently based on their own management styles, preferences and perspectives. One approach may not necessarily be better than another. They are just different. 

My own unique brushstrokes have given my projects a signature style. The way I create my project schedule, the process I use for updating it, how I communicate with my project team members and stakeholders, the importance of providing growth and development opportunities to everyone on the team, the team celebrations and rewards, my sense of humor, how I manage a crisis……. all these things, and more, blend together to create the unique masterpiece that is a Colleen Garton project. 

A project may be something beautiful and satisfying or dark and apprehensive. Either way each new project contributes to improving and refining the skill of the artist. Styles may evolve and perspectives may change but the underlying character of the project manager is still there, overlaid with the layers and layers of brushstrokes. Like art pieces, some projects will be successful, some abandoned, some destroyed, some hidden away in a drawer never to be contemplated again, and some perhaps not appreciated as much as they should be until years after the project manager has moved on to new endeavors.

When I think back over the various projects I have worked on, each one had its own artistic uniqueness. Where one may have been the solitary ship sailing into a fiery sunset, another depicted grotesque gargoyles protruding from a sinister cathedral wall. The modern, huge eyeball on a background of blue that was fun but unpredictable, and soon followed by an old-fashioned, somber and dark image of a funeral procession representing the less-than-successful project. The more perplexing projects felt like a collection of randomly interconnected boxes or a staircase that appeared to go up and down at the same time so there was no escape until I solved the age-old conundrum of project challenges.

When each project is complete, I evolve into the artist I need to be to tackle my next project. It may require adapting my style a little, using more red and less blue, perhaps doing away with the impressionism and bringing everything back into focus. Some of my adaptations will be based on my increased level of skill, some on my desire to try something new or to avoid repeating past mistakes, others may have been inspired by another project management artist whose style I admire and wish to either emulate or incorporate into my own work. My cubism may be replaced with surrealism or evolve into the style of an old master, but my personality, my own unique style, will be visible. My unique signature will always be there inscribed on the bottom right- hand corner of each masterpiece I create!

Colleen Garton


p.s. This post is published as part of a first ever project management related global blogging initiative to publish a post on a common theme at exactly the same time. 74+ bloggers from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, UK and the USA have committed to make a blogging contribution and the fruit of their labour is now (literally NOW) available all over the web. The complete list of all participating blogs is found here so please go and check out my fellow project management bloggers!

1 comment:

  1. I took the 'sermon' bit out of my blog post as well, for different reasons, but I like your reason. Comparing PM to art is a concept I haven't seen before - very interesting!