All hope is not lost..3 reminders regarding the human side of project management


Folly Beach SC shoreline

I just returned from a friendcation in Charleston, SC. This was a much needed vacation after a few really stressful weeks. This vacation was filled with good food, good friends and perfect weather. More than the relaxation and rejuvenation, this vacation reminded me of some key pieces to the human side of project management. Yes, fundamentally, all project management is human, but many times we forget the basic courtesies as projects get challenging.

These three reminders have been playing through my head today as I have returned to my project work.

Don’t forget the generosity of strangers

On the first day of our travels, we were taken under Mary’s wing. Mary was a new acquaintance of one of the group members, who happened to be from the Charleston area. Mary went above and beyond, picking us up, showing us around her town, chauffeuring us to the drugstore, grocery store, and finally depositing us several hours later at our beach house. She provided us with a list of places to go and things to do. We were four friends with a lot of luggage, and a lot of “asks” but Mary extended her southern hospitality and made our lives a whole lot easier. We hadn’t realized how much until about a day or so later when we realized that there were no available Ubers in the area we stayed during the off-season.

In project management, you are usually so focused on your immediate team members and milestones that you can lose sight of the periphery. You might be missing out on just the thing you need to deliver more effectively.

If you’re all aligned to the same goals, you can make anything work

This particular vacation had 4 friends, traveling from 4 different areas, with 4 different budgets. There wasn’t a single spat or disagreement of any kind. Nobody complained about people’s choices to sleep, or golf, or not drink, or even to work a little. We each respected the boundaries the others set and made arrangements for food or checks or whatever we needed.

During challenging projects, it can sometimes get contentious. It’s important to realize that everyone should be aligned to the same goals, and therefore should be able to work together to make it happen. If you truly start to see and feel stakeholders pulling away from the central goal, you need to explore that. Sometimes goals have changed, or other times it’s the pressure they are feeling approaching a looming deadline, or something else entirely. It’s your job to figure out what it is, and how to work through it.

Beware of the driftwood in the corner

Driftwood & Sea Glass

Driftwood & Sea Glass

The beach house we stayed in was very cute. As we were lounging in the front room chatting on the first day, I noticed this driftwood and sea glass art piece in the corner. As I looked more closely at it, it manifested itself as a dead, jumping rabbit carcass. It was all a bit morbid and creepy, but this became the consensus of the group.

Unfortunately, projects often end up with a similar situation. Something seemingly “artistic” morphs into its not so pretty reality. As the project manager, it’s your job to identify these instances before they escalate. Just like the driftwood rabbit, once all the stakeholders start to “see” these in the project, it’s very hard to un-see them.

I’m really glad I took this time away. Yes, I did a bit of work. But mostly, I didn’t. We relaxed in the sun under an umbrella on Folly Beach. We laughed. We explored. I’m back at work, taking my projects to the finish line and reminding myself of all that I learned.

Thanks friends.