Project Management Isn’t About Tasks, It’s About Relationships

Crack open the PMBOK, the Project Management Book of Knowledge, and you’ll learn a TON about Inputs and Outputs.  You’ll learn about creating value for your stakeholders, with differing needs and priorities.  And you’ll learn about process.  The process of Project Management (PM) often attracts people and more so organizations to the field of study.  Have a large effort to accomplish?  Look to PM to help…it makes sense.  But PM is nothing on its own, it’s the people (us) that make PM live.  People build relationships.  When we SEE things that relate, we have the potential to take action to foster or prohibit that relationship.  That’s what PM is all about.

When we take action to foster a relationship, we see a new reality, an undiscovered pathway toward something larger IF we build on that relationship.  If we see harm based on a relationship, we also have the potential to take action to prevent that relationship from growing into an equally, less desired situation.  Notice, I haven’t mentioned PM as an effort to manage tasks.  There’s a reason for that.  While the PMBOK is about the driest read you’ll find, the value in the information is what you do with it.  If you can SEE that PM is about building relationships and not tasks, each paragraph can have a profound impact on your work and life.

Why is this distinction, PM as a relationship effort and not a task management effort important?

  •  We too often get stuck on what to do first.
  •   We  ask “Where are we?” more than “How are we?”

Here’s a great podcast from Todd Henry with David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done.”  They discuss the reality of how difficult it is to identify and act on the first thing we need to do to accomplish a larger effort.  If you’ve ever felt stymied when taking on a new project, you’ve been there.  That feeling of being trapped behind the “What do I do first”? wall is terrifying.  The effort seems SO big that knowing where to start seems impossible.  What I’ve learned over the years when creating something out of nothing (a project) is NOT to focus on what I believe are the first tasks, rather, focus on the first relationships that come to mind.  Who cares about this project?  A human relationship.  What systems will be impacted by this project?  Technical and/or process relationship.  What finances will be changed to address this project?  A cash flow relationship.  I could go on.  The point is, I think about the relationships as a way of helping decide WHAT (a task) needs to happen first.  The tasks evolve easily from this effort. Some would say organically. If the tasks aren’t developing, you haven’t thought enough about the relationships.  Keep digging, the tasks will come.

Last evening I watched Jurassic World for the second time.  Actually, a scene in the movie inspired this post.  Claire is flying in the helicopter with Mr. Masrani and he turns and asks “How are we doing?”  Claire being the stalwart manager she is proceeds to answer “Our year-over-year profits are up, while our visitations remain stagnant.”  That wasn’t what Mr. Masrani was asking so he asked her again, “Yes yes, but HOW are we doing? Are the guest and the animals having fun?”  Claire stumbles but offers the satisfaction rates of the visitors and explains they don’t have a way to measure if the animals are having fun.  Claire, responsible for managing tasks, had become SO focused on the WHAT and the WHERE (status), that she was blind to the “how”, the impact, the feelings, the RELATIONSHIPS.  In the end, glossing over those relationships would be the park’s doom.  Hopefully, that level of project failure isn’t something we all experiences in our work.

What can we do?

  1.  Adopt the mental model that as a PM you are responsible for managing relationships.
  2. Recognize you will oversee tasks, but those tasks should be built around relationships.
  3. Trust that HUMAN relationships are key in all PM efforts.
  4. Use practices and a PM tool that fosters relationships over tasks management.  My tool of choice, monday.com
  5. Use practices and tools to create ideas based on relationships.  My tool of choice, Plectica.
  6. Develop the skills to explain HOW your project is progressing by using storytelling.  (Feel free to email me for information on services and online courses I’ve built with my professional development partner.)

Thanks for reading.  If you have questions or additional thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

*****

Mark is CEO and founder of THINK’ID8.  THINK’ID8 helps organizations build transformative systems to help grow programs and internal capacities.

 

 

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