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. 

Friday, September 23, 2016


I have long been interested in how we measure success in project management. The standard answer is of course: deliver the project on time, within budget and with all the required features and functionality delivered. On agile projects it is: with all the required features and functionality that can be delivered in the available time and budget. 

Of course the project should also deliver benefits to the business in line with the business case, although strictly speaking, that is not the project manager’s responsibility. So maybe a poor project manager would stop there.  

But of course true success can only be achieved when the project has delivered something that the users are happy to use. In addition to the users there is also the project team; can the project be regarded as a success unless the team also are happy with the outcome?  

The Way  
So a poor project manager concentrates on getting the project in on time and within budget. A slightly better project manager adds delivery of the required features and functionality. But the wise project manager includes and cares for the users, the team and all the other project stakeholders. He lets them be the judges of whether or not the project is successful.  By fostering success in the users and team we can share in that success and truly say “that project was successful”

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Love disgrace as if frightened. 
Honor misfortune as the human condition.  

Why love disgrace as if frightened?  
Love because of being unimportant.  
Obtain it as if frightened.  
Loose it as if frightened.  

Why think of honoring misfortune as the human condition?  
Misfortune comes from having a body.  
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?  
Therefore honor life as yourself.  

Have faith in the way things are.  
Love the world as your own self,  
Then you can truly care for all things.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Staying Calm II

River Otter at Budleigh Salterton, Devon
A slow stroll along the beach, ending up with this stunning view (the photo was taken on Christmas Day a few years ago). My favourite way of calming down. It always works!

Friday, September 09, 2016

Staying Calm

There can often be a lot of pressure in projects, simply by their very nature and also by task and deliverable inter-dependencies. If that wasn't bad enough, management always want it quicker if not also cheaper and better!

Things are not helped if the project manager responds to management pressure by interfering with the team and creating a lot more pressure in the process. When that happens the team can become quite disoriented and begin to lose its way. The lesson we can learn from the Agile approach is that the project manager stands back and lets the team do it. Even the Scrum Master is there to facilitate and not pressurise the team.  

The Way  
The wise project manager is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees happening around him. Stay still and calm and be guided by your inner feelings, not what you are being told. The rest of the team will pick up on this and stay centered. When we pause and take time to reflect, the way becomes clearer.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

The five colours blind the eye.  
The five sounds deafen the ear.  
The five flavors dull the taste.  
Galloping and hunting madden the heart.  

Desires lead one astray.  
Therefore the sage is guided by his stomach,  
And not his eye.  
He discards the one and holds the other.