Friday, August 26, 2016

Primal Virtue

A project manager has to do many things. Not taking sides or getting involved in squabbles, helping those involved to resolve the issues themselves is the correct approach. Leading the team without being possessive or dominating. Not taking the credit for the work of the team. 

The Way  
A poor project manager will try to dominate the team. This will grind them down and stifle their creativity. The wise project manager encourages the team and is supportive, without taking credit for the team’s achievements.

Lao Tzu asks a lot of questions in this chapter of the Tao and as project managers these are the questions we should be asking ourselves, most important can we lead without dominating?  

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Can you coax your mind from wandering, and keep to the original oneness?  
Can you let your body become supple as a new-born child?  
Can you cleanse your inner vision until it is pure?  
Can you love all men and lead them without cleverness?  
Opening and closing the gates of Heaven, can you play the role of a woman?  
Understanding all things, can you be without motive?  
Giving birth and nourishing, having yet not possessing,  
Acting yet not taking credit, leading yet not trying to dominate,  
This is the Primal Virtue.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Good Team

Yet more on the soft skills

I have always been impressed by how well people will work in a project team if you respect them and let them get on with it. My last big project team were all very professional. Of course some of them were better at some things than others but they were all good and capable of working well and they knew their stuff. It was a real pleasure and a privilege to work with them. Unlike at the Olympics, in many ways a good project team is better than a spectacular team. 

A poor project manager will try to micro-manage the team and want to be seen as a superstar. But superstars can get carried away with their own importance then, sooner or later, they will burn out and crash back to earth.  

The Way 
The wise project manager settles for good work and lets the team get on with things. He or she does not try and take the credit for what happens and has no desire for fame. They make sure the team takes the credit, as after all, they have done the work. Having a moderate ego demonstrates true wisdom

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:

Fill your bowl to the brim,  
And it will spill.  
Over sharpen your knife,  
And the edge will soon be blunt.  

Amass a store of gold and jade,  
And nothing can guard it.  
Care about other peoples’ approval,  
And you will be their prisoner.  

Retire when the work is done.  
This is the way to serenity.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

More on Soft Leadership

Still on the subject of soft skills: pushy project managers may think they are being effective but they can have a bad impact on the team. Better to be relaxed and go with the flow, for that way the team will be positive and motivated. That’s not to say that you can be incompetent and get away with it, for the team will soon find you out. Just be fair and honest with the team and they will respect it.  

The Way
The wise project manager is like water. Water goes anywhere freely. It is yielding and flows naturally. The wise project manager does not push, so the team does not resent or resist, 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

The supreme good is like water.  
Water gives life to the ten thousand things without trying.  
It flows in the low places people reject,  
And so is like the Tao.  

Giving with fairness and compassion.  
Speaking with integrity.  
Governing without trying to control.  
Working with competence.  
Moving with good timing.  

Not competing,  
So not finding fault.  

Friday, August 05, 2016

Soft Leadership

Continuing the theme of soft leadership, I like to think back to some of the project managers I have worked with over the years and a handful stand out for one main quality, their selflessness. 

A project manager who is selfish and thinks only of himself, will either alienate the rest of the team, or worse still, the rest of the team will think that is the correct way to behave and start to develop similar characteristics.  It stands to reason that a good, supportive project manager will make the whole team feel better.  And if the team feels better they will perform better.  

The Way
The the wise project manager shows enlightened leadership through service.  He puts the well-being of the team above that of himself. 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:

Heaven and earth are long-lasting.  
Why are they long-lasting?  
They use no personal agenda,  
So they can last a long time.  

Therefore the sage stays behind, and proceeds.  
Is detached from all things, and continues.  
By not having a personal agenda,  
He is able to accomplish great things.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Soft Skills

There are lots of courses available about how to be a project manager, but they tend to concentrate on the hard skills of project management. The Way is all about the soft skills, but what are the soft skills a project manager needs to get things done?  

The wise project manager knows he doesn’t have direct authority over the team, so he needs to build trust and respect to get things done.  

The wise project manager knows he can't do it all himself, so he delegates, lets go and trusts the team to do the right things.  

Life is full of trade-offs so the wise project manager is prepared to understand other peoples' needs as well as those of the project.  

The wise project manager knows that people need to be encouraged and praised and thanked for what they have done on the project.  

Team Building 
The wise project manager knows that team spirit is a wonderful thing, with it everyone will push together.  

There will be difficulties and difficult people; the wise project manager stays calm in these situations and nurtures the team.  

In summary the wise project manager brings out his feminine side (unless of course she already happens to be one of the 20% of project managers who is a woman, in which case be thankful and be yourself).  

The Tao 
Lao Tzu tells us:  

The spirit of the valley does not die,  
It might be called the Great Mother.  
The origin of heaven and earth.  
Ever present and everlasting.  
Use it, it will never fail.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

Using Peoples' Skills

Last week I mentioned Johnny Beirne and his excellent Project Management Paradise web site at He talks to me about my approach to project management on episode 5 if you would like to hear my thoughts. One of which was on peoples' skills.

Using Peoples' Skills
When it comes to project team members, it is quite normal that some will be better at certain things than others. Some will be very competent at what they do and others less so. Some will be more dedicated and some less so. I always have to smile when people raise things like Belbin roles as a pre-requisite when selecting project teams. “We must have a completer/finisher” is the usual cry but in my experience you are lucky to get people with the technical skills you need, let alone team skills. 

The Way  
The wise project manager learns to work with the people he gets given and thanks them for their efforts. The light of awareness shines equally on what is good and what is bad. One person is as worthy as the next. Knowing this the wise project manager does not pretend to be special. Silence is a great source of strength. 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us: 

The sage is not humane,  
Considering all as grass dogs.  

The space between Heaven and Earth,  
Is like a flute or sack.  
It is emptied but not lessened.  
Move it and more comes out.  

Many words add up to nothing.  
Nothing equals holding to the center.  

Note: The Tao uses the term ‘grass dogs’ to indicate that things might be good or evil.  So the sage does not take sides but considers all equal regardless of their virtue.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

What is the Way?

Firstly let's say what the Way isn't. It isn't a methodology, it isn't a religion (although some people have tried to make it one), it isn't a how to do things and it isn't a set of project management guidelines. It is much more than any of that.

This week I was discussing the role of methodology with Johnny Beirne for a future Podcast on his website. Poor project managers believe that if they follow a methodology, faithfully, then they are running their project the right way, but that is not the way. Yes there is a role for methodology or standards but it's not how to run a project.

The Way
The Way is a philosophy. The Way is a single unifying principle. The Way is about how things happen. The way cannot be learned, it is just there. Nothing made the way, the Way simply is. The wise project manager does not search for the Way, he runs his project in harmony with the Way by following natural law and the single principle.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:

The Tao is like a well,  
It is used, but never used up.  
It is like an eternal void,  
But filled with infinite possibilities.  

It blunts the sharpness, unravels the knots,  
Dims the glare, mixes the dust*.  
Hidden deep but ever present.  
I do not know from whence it came.  

* Note: The word dust or dirt is used to indicate things that might be soiled, corrupted or even sensual.  But as the Tao is universal it includes all things even things that might be considered as bad.