What Does Project Management Mean to Me? A Project Manager’s Sermon

I’ve been working on information technology projects since 1985.  For the first few years, I was a programmer / analyst.  Then I started managing projects.  Then I managed programs, and then project portfolios.  These days, I’m back on the road as a migrant computer worker, managing consulting engagements.  But for some reason, the trip has felt neither long nor strange.  Because I’m managing projects, it’s never been about me.  It’s been about the products, the process, the customers, the team, the stakeholders, and the outcomes.  It’s been about the future.  And ultimately, that’s what project management means to me: an opportunity to help create the future.

Daniel Burrus is a Futurist, meaning he looks at trends and tries to systematically project them out to realistic expectations for his corporate and governmental clients.  He addressed a conference I attended many years ago, and spoke about digital cameras.  In those days, a digital camera was a large, bulky, expensive, low-resolution device.  But Burrus talked about them as future consumer products.  He said people would use them to take photos while on vacation, and then use software to insert their friends into the picture, so they’d feel like they had been along on the trip.  I thought the idea was silly, but someone developed Photoshop anyway.  Meanwhile, project teams removed most of the molecules (Burrus refers to it as “dematerialization”) from the old versions of those big, heavy digital cameras, so they now fit in all sorts of places.  They’re also several orders of magnitude cheaper, higher quality, more reliable, and far easier to use.  And many of them also make telephone calls.

Abbie on Skype with Grandpa

Abbie on Skype with Grandpa

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post asking, how would you explain the iPad to Benjamin Franklin?  The premise was that simply being incredibly smart was insufficient; one has to understand the context in which an artifact is used or a process performed.  Our context is changing.  Project management is quickly becoming driven by change management, risk management, and stakeholder management.  Instead of managing to cost, we’re trying to focus on delivering value.  Instead of delivering a fixed scope to a fixed schedule, we’re iterating, focusing on time to value or time to market.  It’s not just Agile; we’ve embraced the Lean movement, minimum viable product, and “fail fast.”  In order to keep up, and give my fellow practitioners a useful resource, I read as much as I can get my hands on, and curate a weekly list of summaries on this blog.  Because simply being incredibly smart is insufficient; we have to continually refresh our understanding in order to remain effective.

As I write this, a few million project teams are scattered all over the globe, creating the future.  They work in every knowledge domain known to man, including a few that don’t have proper names yet.  Some will create the next iPhone, and some will create the next medical imaging device.  Some will build a new power grid, or air traffic control system, and others will organize disaster relief.  Some are working on things that are as utterly impenetrable to me as the iPad would be to the late Ambassador to France.  And they create these outcomes, these products, these new bits of our ever-evolving culture, in collaboration with people they might never have even met, had not some earlier project teams delivered the means for them to do so.  We stand, every day, upon the shoulders of teams of giants.  As a project manager, I am humbled by the opportunity to offer up my shoulders to the future.

P.S. This post is published as part of a first ever project management related global blogging initiative to publish a post on a common theme at exactly the same time. Over seventy bloggers from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, UK and the USA have committed to make a blogging contribution and the fruit of their labor is now (literally NOW) available all over the web. The complete list of all participating blogs is found here, so please go and check them out!

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About Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon is a project manager with over twenty five years of experience in implementing human capital management and payroll systems, including SaaS solutions like Workday and premises-based ERP solutions like PeopleSoft and ADP Enterprise. He has an MS in IT with a concentration in project management, and a BS in Business. In addition to his articles and blog posts, he curates a weekly roundup of articles on project management, and he has authored or contributed to several books on project management.

9 thoughts on “What Does Project Management Mean to Me? A Project Manager’s Sermon

  1. Dave excellent post I agree that as project managers we are building the future. I had not previously thought about the context of the project so thank you for providing the insight. Always a student, always learning.

  2. Glad you liked it, Barry! In your post, you said project management was the best job and the worst job in the world, both at the same time. It reminded me of a scene from “City Slickers” where Bruno Kirby’s character responds to a question from his friends on the best and worst days of his life. He goes on to describe his best day as, at 14, throwing his drunken, abusive father out of the house, and telling him to never come back. Worst day? “Same day.”

    Thanks for triggering that memory!

  3. Dave, really nice post. We all build, and definitely we as projectmanagers create something and influence now and the futere. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Hi Dave, thanks for taking part in the #PMFlashBlog initiative, it was great to have you around.

    As I am making my way through the large number of blog contributions I am attempting to find in each post that piece of insight that I could add to my collective ‘take away’ from this endeavor.

    In your post the paragraphs that touched me the most were:

    ” It’s been about the future. And ultimately, that’s what project management means to me: an opportunity to help create the future…We stand, every day, upon the shoulders of teams of giants. As a project manager, I am humbled by the opportunity to offer up my shoulders to the future”.

    I love the humility and acknowledgement portrayed through these statements.

    Thanks again, Shim.

  5. Pingback: The best of PMFlashBlog – The Take Away | quantmleap

  6. If yesterday was about delivering to time and budget, and today is all about creating value, I wonder what tomorrow’s project managers will be working towards? This article really got me thinking (although I don’t have an answer yet!). Thanks, Dave.

  7. Thanks for the positive feedback, Henny. I really liked the way you used the photos in your post to illustrate your points. I think I’m going to use more photos in my posts.

  8. Elizabeth, I think tomorrow’s project managers will be held accountable not just for what their projects deliver, but for what the results of their projects, the products and side-effects, deliver. We’re eventually going to be expected to function as extensions of our organization’s leadership. “You are me, when I’m not around.” It will take a while to get there, but I think that expectation of PM as leader is inevitable. At least, in well-functioning, well-led organizations.

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