The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world

No need for a conductor … really!

To conduct or not …!

Following on from my concept of using analogies and stories to break bad news, here are more recent examples; incidentally these should be used with caution! I was told that I was being facetious when I first used these, but I think it got the point across.

Many companies feel that there is no real need for “proper project managers”. I have often heard the question, “Can the functional lead or better yet the technical lead assume this role as well?”

Well let’s see, how about we imagine this….

A recital is punted to the world at large as a musical extravaganza of note. Great hype about how beautiful this musical rendition will be. A date is set and seats are sold. Does that really mean there is going to be a musical delight in the offering?

It’s all good and well to tell someone they can double as the conductor (sounds so auspicious).  There are a number of crucial matters that need to be taken into account that you simply cannot expect one of the soloist or members of the orchestra to fulfil.  Certain questions need to be answered, things need to be considered and set in place before one can be certain that the event will be a success.

Is this philharmonic piece in its own right or in support of a ballet or opera?  Is it a well known piece or is it a contemporary untried piece that is being used?  Has the score been reviewed?  Importantly and critically do we have all the relevant players signed up for this event?  This means do we have the necessary wind and string and other critical players on board, and the soloists, do we need these and are they signed up and on board?  Do they all know how to practise or does everyone file in one time and just start playing wonderful music. Then there is the venue and its facilities to be considered. One cannot sell 10,000 tickets if the venue seats only 3,000 people.

Even if the instrumentalists and venue are booked we have no guarantee of success. Of supreme importance are the questions, do we have staff to handle the booking of the tickets and seating of the theatre goers.  Finally of extreme importance, who will be the conductor?

When I started off saying this all, the executive looked at me as if I was mad.   I am known as someone that is resolute and determined, so although they thought I was mad they were not saying it!

I explained that while I was so excited to hear about the new project I would like to point out that they had NO STAFF to do this, especially the right staff.  More importantly they lacked the “glue” for this, as there was no strong conductor to pull this all together, to co-ordinate and time it perfectly so that all people knew what was required of them individually, as small groups or as a whole. 

Without a proper strong leader and motivator they would be a bunch of people playing music that was certainly not going to be a winning performance, or one worth paying for! 

Running the Kentucky Derby…

In projects we often presume that because a person can spell computer, and has dabbled in computers – they can do it all.  Horses and courses as it so happens!  We don’t all have the same skills even if we can type on a computer keyboard.

It’s important to ask what is required of the person doing the typing.  Let’s take the donkey, zebra and horse for example. They are all held to be of the Equidae family.

Donkeys are good for protection of sheep and goats, bonding with the animals and fighting off animals of prey.  Donkeys are good for halter breaking of young calves and companion to foals at weaning time.  Donkey’s love children and can be excellent for handicap programs and working with children, and the “working donkey” doing the tasks that require tenacity and power.

Zebra’s are pretty but wild, hard to tame and not necessarily very friendly with any kinds of people.  There are limited records of people being able to ride zebra, but this is highly unusual.  They are of little practical use to humans but a magnificent site to behold in the “bushveldt” (a name used in Africa to mean the wild).

And then we have horses, useful for pulling ploughs, riding or the more refined animals that are trained and become show jumpers and horse racers, or if the right breed the fabulous Lipizzaners of the ring. 

Although all three of these animals are part of the “horse family”.  I would not use a donkey or a zebra to run in the Kentucky Derby OR expect to be taken seriously and respected in the racing community. I certainly would not contemplate winning, not on your life!

Horses for courses as they say!  Why do we not consider this in projects, all things to all men – nope, don’t think so.

Kew Garden vs the uncultivated?

I love gardening, but admit I don’t know much about the fancy names of the plants.  I just know what works and what doesn’t work.

If I wanted to cultivate a Kew Garden I would need to do a lot of study.  Not to mention check out the names of the plants, know if they prefer sunlight or shade – loads or less water, acidic or alkaline soil – amongst a lot of other considerations.  Apart from that one needs to provide regular fertiliser, water, as well as tend and nurture the garden.

Another critical factor is that the garden must be tended.  If there are weeds in the garden, these weeds need to be removed so that the good plants will not be overrun and choked.  Being kind hearted and leaving the weeds means that these take over the garden.  Just planting good flowers is not good enough (but it is a pre-requisite).  One must then also provide fertiliser, water – without these you cannot have an award winning garden.

Why do we overlook these basic principals in staffing projects?


About the Author

I started in the world of computers in 1984 by serendipitous chance. I have since filled various roles in this intriguing world and worked in what is considered the world’s leading consulting houses. My initial focus was principally technical which evolved into an application fascination. My roles have included large scale functional solution designs and implementations, as well as business, pre-sales and management consulting. I am intrigued by what makes people think, how they learn, what moves them to think and behave the way they do, how to define and model excellence, and what influences and motivates people to seek and reach personal excellence. This led me to investigate, read, then study human behaviour and how people can define and then model their aspirations of excellence. I believe that sustained success is rooted in harnessing the collaborative strength of real teams which work in an energising, focused and planned manner and that proper communication is the glue which keeps this together. I am considered the master of crucial conversations done with grace. I have worked locally and abroad leading and managing diverse cross-cultural as well as offshore and virtual teams so have acquired good negotiation and facilitation skills. The science of influence, motivation and behaviour as the root for good negotiation are key passions of mine. My current passion is about growing; others and myself to look inward, reach outward and surpass their aspirations and dreams. On a personal note, I am in awe of life and thrive on learning new things as well as being exposed to new concepts, cultures and ideas. I am intrigued by synchronicity, and the concept of world connectedness. I am passionate about all things outdoorsy—photography, nature, sport (the more extreme the better). I have a deep love for my family (especially my stunning four-footed children) and music you can listen to without going deaf. I can even hold a tune and tinkle the guitar myself. I love travel and seeing how the world at large lives. I dislike more than words could EVER express; injustice, dishonesty, thoughtlessness, and prejudice. I regularly go and play with the lion cubs that live in the sanctuary near me; I have also played with baby cheetah, leopard and even tiger cubs, and have got up close and personal with a baby Ellie and fairly close but not too close to a baby rhino, all awesome soul feeding stuff for me. I am a certified Master NLP practitioner, a Language and Behaviour profiling practitioner (LAB), Prince2 project manager, APMG change management practitioner; with industry certifications in Consumer Goods, Food & Beverage, Life Sciences, Electrical & Industrial.
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One Response to “No need for a conductor … really!”

  1. Thanks for this complementary blog!

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