Make It Personal

by Geof Lory

If you have never read anything by David Schmaltz, founder of True North pgs Inc., I encourage you to check out his material. David's writing is so unmistakably simple and undeniably common sense that it is almost embarrassing that we can't all come up with his insights on our own. Why I really like David's material though is because he challenges me as a project manager and a project coach to engage more of who I am in the work I do.

As I read one of his recent articles in his newsletter, "Compass," where he made comparisons between actors and the art of their profession and project managers and our profession, my mind quickly turned to how these same thoughts could be applied to my other profession - fatherhood. No doubt you have all read articles or books that talk about the art and science of project management, describing them as if they are two different realms controlled by different lobes of your brain. In one quote, David summarized the critical element of art in this way: "The art is not the performance or the performer, but a deeply personal practice which cannot be translated into any language except practice."

No question, there is no substitute for practice and experience in anything we attempt to excel at. This is true for both project management and parenthood. I believe that is why most parents struggle with their first child but then seem to have fewer problems with subsequent children. I know that I have. Every experience the first child goes through is not only the first time for him, but also the first time for the parents. Sometimes we guess right, sometimes it is a learning opportunity, and sometimes we aren't even aware of what is going on. If that doesn't sound like project management, I don't know what does.

Wouldn't it be nice if we were able to go to classes, obtain certifications and get imbued with the experience that comes with practice? Then I, too, could put those illustrious initials after my name, Geoffrey Lory, CPP (Certified Professional Parent). But I would miss all the fun that goes with earning that certification from the inside out. As challenging as parenthood is, I wouldn't give it up for the world, or wish it was any less demanding. But that doesn't preclude me from seeking the guidance and learning from those with more experience than I, just as I do in project management. I'm not talking teachers here. I want the real McCoy: war torn, battle-scarred parents. Not for their tips and tricks, but for their insights and experience.

A few months before my first daughter was born, seventeen years ago, my parents were in town visiting and I took the opportunity to ask my Dad for some guidance before becoming a father myself. No science, no art, just practical common sense. He said, "Raise your children your own way because there is no right way, but what ever you do, be consistent." Not an earth shattering comment, not the wisdom of a sage � not until you have practiced parenthood for a while and know just how difficult that is. Five years later, as a single dad to two girls, it became my mantra. As they looked for stability in their home life, consistency gave them the safety they needed.

I have had conversations with young couples thinking about starting a family just like I have had conversations with novice or schooled-only project managers. Some are looking forward to and relish the opportunities in front of them to have the deep personal experiences that come with producing memorable performances. Others prefer to spout the theory or tips and tricks without any understanding of the reality that only comes with practice. Mind you, I'm not an expert at raising children and I'm also not a project management guru, but they both touch me personally, and I believe that makes all the difference.

When I engage with a client, I can't help but get personally engaged. As a consultant for more than 20 years, this would seem to be an oxymoron. I was once even accused of "going native," which is consulting lingo for assimilating so much into the organization that you no longer maintain your objective perspective. Usually it just means you have succumbed to casual Fridays and dress the same as the "regular staff." Guilty by intent. I enjoy that level of engagement more than pretending to add value without personal skin in the game. It is one of the reasons I enjoy helping companies develop leadership competencies rather than tool competencies. A focus on the tools distracts from working on the real stuff.

I have helped a lot of companies install and use tools of project management. I even deliver training for some of them. Schedulers, portfolio management systems, budgeting tools, risk management tools, all designed to bring some order to the art of project management. They have their place and can certainly help organize the mountain of data produced in any project. I would never advocate throwing these away or that they are not useful, but they are not project management.

My teenage girls are both old enough now to have their own checkbooks. Their computers each have a copy of Microsoft Money on them (it came with their PCs). They understand the value of money and have had jobs, so they understand what it takes to make money and what things cost. But that doesn't mean they are money managers. Far from it. Their experience is very limited. In time, with practice, they will gain a better understanding of how to manage their money. They will take a personal interest in their money, particularly after it is not coming from their dad.

My belief (and this is what I like about David Schmaltz's writing) is that little of what we do that has any real meaning is a paint-by-number exercise. There is no more a set of step-by-step instructions for project management than there is an instruction book for raising children. Heck, I didn't get an owner's manual, warranty or gift receipt with my children or any of my projects. They were cash transactions, bought sight unseen, no returns allowed. Consequently, they have become what I have been willing to make of them. Ultimately, they were created from deeply personal experiences. I want it to be that way because I have come to realize that no one cares about my projects or my children as much as I do. I don't expect them to; that is for me to do. That's what I signed up for, and I'm having a great time doing it.

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