Friday, December 02, 2016

Traditional Wisdom

Projects teams tend to start out with boundless enthusiasm. They are going to change the world (or at least a small part of it) for the better. It’s usually as we get to the middle stages of a project that the problems start to emerge. The project manager’s role is to facilitate and clarify conflicts. But this is not something we get taught, it relies on common sense (which is difficult to teach) and traditional wisdom (which has to be gained).  

The Way
When the going gets tough a poor project manager will often rely on theoretical models and processes, but these are only tools and templates. The wise project manager responds to what is happening in the here and now. He is happy to serve others. The wise project manager does not make a fuss; he is quiet and reflective. The wise project manager prefers what is common and natural for this is traditional wisdom.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us: 

Give up learning, and put an end to your anxiety. 
There is little difference between one and another.  
Is there a difference between good and bad?  
Must I fear what others fear?  

The people are excited,  
As if enjoying a sacrificial feast.  
As if climbing up to the terrace in spring.  
But I alone am quiet and uninvolved.  

I am like a new born babe.  
I alone am bereft as if homeless.  
Everyone has more than they need,  
But I alone seem left out.  

I have the heart of a fool,  
Very confused!  
Other people are bright,  
I alone am confused.  

Everyone else has a purpose,  
But I am ignorant as a rustic.  
I alone am different,  
And am nourished by the great mother.  

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Self Improvement

Just realised I haven't posted anything for a month! Sorry about that but pressure of work at the day job (Treasurer of Topsham RFC) has been telling lately. Talking of which we had our first taster session of Walking Rugby at the clubhouse yesterday afternoon, great fun had by all and some good exercise, I was certainly feeling it by the end.

Self Improvement 
There are any number of books and courses that promise to make you a better project manager, but of course no book or teacher can make you a better project manager. There are no rules or techniques that can develop these qualities, you need to discover things for yourself. 

The Way 
A poor project manager may go on lots of courses but this will only make him a sadder person while making the people selling the courses richer. The wise project manager develops and improves through practicing silence and meditation. 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,  
And it will be a hundred times better for everyone.  
Give up kindness, renounce morality,  
And the people will go back to filial piety and compassion.  
Give up cunning, renounce profit,  
And robbers and thieves will disappear.  

If these three are not sufficient in themselves,  
Consider natural simplicity,
Cherish nature’s work,
And let things take their course.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Keeping Calm

Bonfire Night
The biggest fund raising event of the year for Topsham Rugby Club is November 5th. I was very heavily involved last year but this year I am leaving it to the team to organise. There will be a lot of pressure but I have trust in them to get it done.

There is often a lot of pressure at key times in a project. A poor project manager gets caught up in this pressure and consequently loses sight of what is happening. The wise project manager recognises that he needs to make space and step back in order to observe what is going on before doing anything. 

The Way  
The way represents the single principle of how everything works. When we keep it simple and follow the path there will be harmony in the team and people get on with the project. When we leave the way, the team will start to argue about what they should or should not have done and what might or might not have then happened. The project team begins to lose their motivation and they start to take sides.

The wise project manager recognises what is happening and returns to first principles. He needs to calm the team, reassure them and bring them back to the way. 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

When the great Tao is neglected,  
Humanity and righteousness arise.  
When wisdom and knowledge appear,  
They beget great falseness.  

When there is no peace within the family,  
Filial piety and maternal love arise.  
When the country is confused and in chaos,  
Patriotism is born. 

Friday, October 21, 2016


Lao Tzu tells us that there are four types of leaders and this seems to apply quite well to project managers, see how many of the four you have come into contact with:

Weak Project Managers
Ineffectual project managers that have been promoted to their level of incompetence. They struggle to get anything done and are generally seen as losers. Consequently no one wants to be in their team and we can all agree they are poor project managers.  

Feared Project Managers
These guys get their way by threatening and browbeating their team. Any good people in their team take the hint and move somewhere they will be more appreciated. While the bad ones will try to imitate their behaviour or worse still toady up to them. Again I am sure we can all agree that they too are poor project managers.

Charismatic Project Managers
These are the interesting ones. Typically they lead from the front, are popular and can even have fans, but are they wise project managers?  Take them away from their team and the team will stumble as they have become too reliant on the project manager. They are not usually poor project managers, but they are not wise project managers.

Wise Project Managers
The wise project manager is barely noticed. He does not intervene unless it is absolutely necessary and allows the team to run itself. He facilitates with a light touch and delegates wisely. The team gets on with its work without fuss and bother.

The Way 
The wise project manager trusts in his team and they, in turn, trust in him. Greatness does not come to those who go looking for it, it comes out of humility.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

When the best ruler governs,  
The people are barely aware he exists.  
The next best is a leader which they know and love.  
Then one who is feared.  
The worst is one who is despised.  

If the ruler does not trust the people,  
There will be no trust in him.  
The best ruler doesn’t talk, he acts.  
When his work is done,  
The people say “We did it!”  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Letting Go

In project management there is no point trying to be perfect or admired as these are not things that make the team or the project any more successful. By letting go of all emotional baggage and just being part of the team we not only benefit the rest of the team and the project but we benefit ourselves.  

Poor project managers try to impress their management and may even achieve it, briefly. But it is short lived and they are usually brought back to earth by their own vanity. 

The Way  
The wise project manager does not claim to be perfect or want to be admired, for it would only be an illusion. Interestingly the wise project manager often is admired. Not because he strives for it as he doesn’t, but because he supports the rest of the team and they admire that.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Empty your mind of everything.  
Let the mind rest at peace.  
The ten thousand things rise and fall,  
I watch their return.  

They grow and flourish and then return to the origin.  
Returning to the origin is stillness, which is the way of nature.  
The way of nature is unchanging.  
Knowing constancy is insight.  

Not knowing constancy causes confusion.  
Knowing constancy, one is open-hearted.  
With an open heart, you will be open-minded.  
Being open-minded, you will act in a kingly manner.  

Being kingly, you will attain the divine.  
Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao.  
Being at one with the Tao is eternal.  
And though the body dies, you are ready.  

Friday, October 07, 2016

What Makes a Good Project Manager

The good project managers I have known have tended to be subtle, responsive and had a good knowledge of what was happening on their projects. The poor ones tend to rely on methods and techniques to try and stay on top of their projects and they have usually struggled.  

I am a great believer in the effective learning cycle. This is an iterative process that suggests we learn best if we go through four stages of the cycle: plan something, do it, reflect on how it worked and then draw conclusions from it about what we will do next time. On a project this works at the task level, the stage level and the project level. It's why we do reviews and document the lessons learned.

The Way  
Reflection helps us to see how things happen. When we reflect we are grounded in the infinite. The wise project manager is considerate and does harm to no one. He is courteous and knows how to yield gracefully. He is open and receptive and can clarify things for others, because he has been there himself. The wise project manager is not trying to be enlightened, because he is enlightened

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:

The ancient masters were subtle and profound.  
The depth of their knowledge was unfathomable.  
There is no way to describe it,  
All we can do is describe their appearance.  

Careful like men crossing a winter stream.  
Wary like men aware of danger.  
Honest like uncarved blocks of wood.  
Open like a valley.  

Can you wait patiently,  
Until the mud settles and the water is clear?  
Can you remain still,  
Until the right action arises by itself?  

The sage does not seek fulfilment.  
Not seeking, not expecting,  
He can welcome everything.  

Friday, September 30, 2016

Staying Aware

Topsham RFC
There is a lot going on at the club at the moment both on and off the pitch. The next big event is Bonfire Night, and as it falls on a Saturday this year and our 1st XV are at home it could be massive. I'm leaving the details to the Bar and Events sub-committee this year but I'm also making sure I'm aware of what's going on.

One sure sign of a poor project manager is one who doesn’t know what's going on in his project. He may keep questioning the team to find out, but that will only irritate the team members and it is not the way. We need to become silent and listen with our inner selves. If we don't understand something, don't strive to figure it out, step back, be calm and the way will become clear.  

Try softer rather than trying harder. Stand back, let go of trying and we will begin to understand what's going on. Let go of trying altogether and then things will really start to work out.  

The Way  
So the wise project manager stays in the present. The past is over and done with, there's no point in thinking about what might have been. Likewise there's no point in trying to second guess the future, it will be what it will be. So stay in the present and attend to what's happening now.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Look and it cannot be seen.  
Listen and it cannot be heard.  
Grasp and it cannot be held.  
These three are indefinable,  
Therefore they are joined as one.  

Grasp the strangeness which is Tao.  
Mindful of what exists now.  
Knowing the ancient beginning,  
Is the essence of wisdom.