Friday, April 10, 2009

The Tao of Project Management

I thought I'd do something different for Easter so I've dusted-off this short piece I wrote about 10 years ago after being asked to deliver internal project management training around the DHL Asia Pacific region (those were fun times!).Here it is...

We're all Project Managers. True, some of the projects we've managed might be nearer the gluing-autumn-leaves-in-a-scrap-book type than the launching-a-space-shuttle type, nevertheless, most of us would claim we have project management skills - after all it's just common sense, isn't it?

Taoists, of course, would agree - projects should be run simply, honestly, holistically and with a sense of fun.

A few thoughts that you are unlikely to come across on a Project Management training course:

Creating and managing projects is as much an art as a science. That is not to say that we should abandon tried and tested methodologies and techniques - just that balance is required - a 'Whole-Brain' approach to project management.

Taoist teachings emphasize the need for balance and unity - yin and yang.

Engineering and organisation alone do not guarantee success. I've witnessed well engineered and administered projects fail - the most significant of which ran to more than US$500 million before it was stopped - with very little to show!

The key to success is in the softer issues of business vision, people and flow. Much has been written about left and right brain and more recently 'whole brain' thinking. I suppose that's what I'm talking about. The most common representation of this thinking is the yin and yang symbol. Two opposites live together in a circle: one feminine/ right brain and the other masculine/left brain.

Projects are about people. People respond best to a balance of left and right brain - so projects are best run with a 'Whole Brain' approach.

Here are some key words that might help to stimulate a 'Whole Brain' approach …















Given that you believe like I that people are the primary concern of the Project Manager, Communicate must be at the top of his list next to Deliver. I leave the reader to judge the relative importance of the rest of the list.

Tao teaches us that neither side is more important. Balance and harmony matter most.

Thanks to for the image


Jack said...

Ah yes, Nigel -- those were fun times!! Hong Kong in '94 or so? Seems you've come a long way since the early mind-mapping on your lap-top (and the back of beer mats) in the pub beneath the hotel.

Jack Armstrong
ex-DHL Systems

Nathaniel @ project management course said...

This post is awesome!

You have effectively compared Project Management to Taoism and it gives us some good deal of learning, such as communication.

Great work!