Project Management is not about the framework in which we execute a body of work. Nor is it about processes or the ever so valuable soft skills we learn through time. It isn’t about communication, change management, risk management, quality assurance, etc, etc. Although all of these are essential during the execution of a project, they are only tools or methods in which we get things done. The essence of project management is being able to capture a vision, form and motivate a team of individuals who rally behind that vision and deliver value to the customer. Let me illustrate what I mean through an experience I had as a 15 year old boy.
My father approached me one beautiful winter day with an idea he had about taking a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Cascade Mountains. The Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking trail in the western United States which traverses various terrains from Mexico to Canada for a total of 2650 miles. My father’s idea was to hike a portion of that trail from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass in the state of Washington. Our trip would take six days to travel a distance of 75 miles with a total elevation gain and loss of 16,000 feet. My young mind immediately caught the vision of that trip and we began developing our plan.
As we started to plan I shared the vision of our hike with my best friend and my cousin who were quickly on board to join the adventure. We knew that even though the hike wouldn’t take place until August of the next year, there was a lot to learn about embarking on such an endeavor. We had to plan out the details of the journey to know how far we would hike each day and where we would camp each night. There was equipment and food to obtain. Finally the planning was complete and that glorious August day which marked the start of our hike was only a week away…and I became ill. This was a bad cold that settled deep into my chest.
Determined I would not miss out on the hike of a lifetime, I somehow recovered enough to convince my parents I could make the journey and we were off. Two days into the trip I was beginning to feel pretty good, but that evil cold made its way to my father and friend. On the morning of the third day, my father announced that the hike was over because he was too sick to meet the strenuous hike through the mountains that lay ahead. With continued determination to see my father’s vision through, I convinced him that my cousin and I could complete the journey on our own. Over the next several days and after separating from my father and best friend, my cousin and I faced several thousand feet of elevation gain and almost continuous mountain rain storms.
On the last day of our journey, we made it to the predetermined place in the trail where we were to meet my parents and we could declare victory over the Cascade mountain range. After several hours of waiting, we were approached by another set of hikers who shared with us that due to the heavy rains the bridge my parents would take to meet us was washed out. We would have to continue one more day to the second predetermined rendezvous point. After six arduous days of hiking and braving everything the mountain could throw at us we finally met up with my parents, and after relieving the stress that had crept upon my mother’s face, we all celebrated the completion of our vision.
I have thought of this experience many times through the years as it truly helped shape my life. We were able to take my father’s vision and goal of traversing the Cascade Mountains, develop a plan, meet the trials and adapt to the changes that occurred along the way. Although the plan was modified as circumstances required, we held true to the vision and I personally realized the value that experience has provided me through my life.
Isn’t this experience truly what project management is about? We are successful as project managers when we can take the vision of an upcoming project and work with our team to deliver value to our customer. Regardless of the roadblocks that are thrown in our way or the number of change requests during the project. If the team can rally behind the vision, led by the project manager, they will deliver great value to the customer.
A French aviator and author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, summed up the power of what I am talking about when he said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
It doesn’t matter much to me about the project management framework, or how rigid or freeing the processes are that I use. What matters most to me is how effective I am at helping my team understand the vision of the project and working with their strengths to build a powerful team which will deliver extraordinary value to our customer.
That is what project management means to me…and that is my sermon.