Two Rules for People and Project Management

People and project management go together like running uphill and Keith Moon. You probably had a different pairing for the end of that sentence, but I promise that one will make sense in a minute.

My best ideas about people and project management have come from being out on a run. There’s something about the exertion, combined with a mix of self-doubt, tenacity, and elation, that gives me clarity about whatever challenge is awaiting me back at my desk.

Rule #1: Run the Hill First

Let me be clear from the jump. I know there are folks out there who run simply for the joy of running. I’m not one of those people.

I am a bad runner. I go once or twice a week, short distances only, am remarkably prone to injury, and I stop to pet A LOT of dogs along the way.

But I love it and it clears my head like nothing else. Which brings me to my first rule of people and project management: run the hill first.

When I’m out on a run, the first straightaway is usually where I think I know everything. And I’m almost always wrong. It’s the hill that tells me what kind of day it’s really going to be.

Starting From a Place of Grace

When a new project gets underway or you’re starting in a new position, the first straightaway can be deceiving. Smooth terrain on fresh legs can give the impression that things are easier and simpler than they are.

New beginnings are exciting and adrenalin is pumping. Resist the urge – just for a little while – to upend existing systems. Run a stretch of the first hill and take some time to question and observe.

Look at what’s working so you can avoid reinventing wheels unnecessarily. Notice the patterns that begin to emerge. That data will help you encourage the productive patterns and minimize those that are detrimental to the process.

If you’re busy making changes immediately, without a full understanding of the lay of the land, you run the risk of missing the mark and causing undue stress and anxiety for your team.

Use that first hill to assess what’s happening around you. Take note of what you’re experiencing and let it inform your next steps.

It may be unsettling to feel like you’re quietly observing instead of running full tilt, but this is an invaluable exercise in leadership. It’s how you get focused and also how you stay humble.

This approach to flowing organically from idea to implementation honors the transition time needed for you, your team, and the beneficiaries of your work.

In short, the people. Which brings me to Keith Moon and my second rule of project management.

Rule #2: Your Playlist Matters

I’ve just about mastered the art of cultivating the perfect mix tape playlist.

It kicks off with an interchangeable mix of poppy singles that get my energy up and make me smile. Next up are a string of favorites from David Bowie and James Morrison to The Black Crowes and Smashing Pumpkins.

Each one has a special place and serves a different purpose. Keith Moon’s drums on Baba O’Riley fly into my ears right about the time when I’m questioning my life choices near the top of the first hill.

Florence and the Machine provides all the motivation I need when my mind is solid, but my legs feel more like noodles.

And there’s nothing like Queen or Blue Rodeo to fuel a celebratory final push toward the finish.

The people you work alongside on teams and projects become your professional playlist and they’re value can’t be overstated.

Building Your Workplace Soundtrack

As you launch into a new project or position, get to know the people in your playlist. Take the time to learn their strengths, talents, and history. Look for their innate gifts, the things that don’t show up on a resume. Be deliberate in your efforts to build a strong team.

My Dad was an electronics engineer and logistics wizard on paper. He also had a memory like an elephant. He used it to remember the names and interests of every person who volunteered alongside him at church bingo. Hard to quantify in a project meeting, but unmistakable when witnessed in real time.

Your people playlist needs a good blend of energetic folks who keep the wheels turning, thinkers willing to share honest encouragement and dissent, planners who can see the whole picture, fixers who can adapt on the fly, and doers who can bring ideas to life.

To make the most of your people playlist, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in some areas. Value the range of lived experiences of the people on your team. And open the door to genuine collaboration so each person can thrive and shine.

My Playlist

My real-life Who song is named Jeanne. Whether we’re working together or not, we are each other’s biggest fan. I can always rely on her for a confidence boost, a shift in perspective, or a side-splitting round of laughter that helps me stop taking things so seriously.

My Florence and the Machine track is named Kate. Just as Shake It Out results in my best running, being around her brings out the best in me. She keeps me from being too cynical, too siloed, and too serious. She reminds me of the importance of having a village and I’m so glad she’s in mine.

And the role of James Morrison’s raspy warmth and rhythm is named John. This is the music I come back to time and time again. He’s the music that keeps me going when things are good and puts me back together again when the world crashes in. The one that feels like home.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

People and project management: two distinct skills that are exponentially better when managed together.

I hope your current and future projects are filled with a playlist of people who make the work and each other better. Here’s to doing productivity…differently!


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