An updated version of
a paper first published
in PM World Today, February 2008
©Randall L. Englund.
Published here June 2008.

Introduction | The Project Management Institute's Work | Definitions of Project Success
The Process of Project Management | Working Within Constraints
 Be Careful Making Decisions Under Pressure | The Project Manager's Garden

The Project Manager's Garden

One may argue that much of what happens in nature is not a project, just ongoing cycles of creation and renewal. A fruit tree is a powerful metaphor and serves as a symbol for my consulting practice. A gardener has to create an environment for the tree to flourish - you cannot command a tree to grow. Likewise, people in organizations have to create an environment for project success.

Figure 6: Think of the project environment like a tree
Figure 6: Think of the project environment like a tree

A tree's root system absorbs nutrients from the soil; organizations develop theories from research. The nutrients flow through the trunk and into the branches and leaves; theories turn into methods and tools that create results. These activities are repeatable because they derive from a solid (known) foundation (roots and theories). Repeatable project success requires that you invest in an innovative infrastructure (theories, methods and tools) and then apply that practical knowledge to create results (fruit). We know that low hanging fruit is easy to harvest. More risk is involved to reach the higher fruit or go out on a long limb. Achieving greater results and a sustainable project management culture takes more effort. Close the loop and recycle new learnings or practices into improving your soil, theories and operating values.

The whole process begins with seeds and seed distribution. Seeds represent the potential projects for an organization. All growth starts small. It then builds linkages and grows organically. Additional growth comes from new branches on old trees. Success creates seeds that seek fertile ground to grow into new opportunities. Likewise, every accomplishment starts small and has the potential, when properly nourished by project management, to make a big impact. A project is a way to help nature along.

Nature's approach is random and may not serve our roles in organizations. An effective project manager learns that overlaying the project management process on nature's ebb and flow is a powerful mechanism, capturing the best of both. You sense that something more than a chaotic environment is possible. Recognizing patterns of growth and people's responses to challenges and feedback are tools in your toolkit. You are flexible and realize there are many different ways to reach a goal. It's also okay to fail because you learn from these failures and immediately apply your learning to your next project. Repeat or improve things that work, and stop doing or modify things that do not. You can hardly wait for the next project!

Ignoring environmental factors in a determined manner to achieve short-term success, especially if the tasks or projects are the wrong priority, does not build a base for a long-term career. Instead, balance your approach towards performance (results), the experience of people on the project team, and learning. A single-minded focus on results may create stress, burnout, sabotage, and leave no time for learning. When this is the same pattern over time, it reduces the organization's ability to sustain a results orientation. Make an effort to set goals for people as well as project goals, and conduct project reviews, both during and at the end of projects.

A preferred approach is setting an environment of:

  • Identifying stimulating project results,
  • Creating a positive, exhilarating, "this is fun" experience, and
  • Learning about people, group dynamics, new skills, ways of doing things better.

Then, rather than "resources" becoming scarce, potential project members will look at you and say: "Yes, I understand that what you are doing is a project because it will create a unique new result within a reasonable timeframe. And I want to work with you on it!"

Be Careful Making Decisions Under Pressure  Be Careful Making Decisions Under Pressure

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