Unlikely Project Management Inspiration

When I look for inspiration on ways to do my job better, I find them in the unlikeliest of places. While we’re pretty familiar with standard Project management methodology guides like the PMBOK  and Prince2, sometimes project management lessons can be found when and where you least expect them … like reading best sellers!

For example, I just read a fascinating book -a New York Times best seller called “The Checklist Manifesto” (penned by a surgeon named Atul Gawande  … check it out).  It should be required reading for all Project Managers (and not just IT PMs).  Gawande’s book addresses an issue that is fundamental to what we do every day: How to deal with the increasing complexity of professional responsibility.  Gawande’s book describes how the simplest of tools – the checklist – is helping save lives in operating rooms around the world, build immense skyscrapers, and enabling pilot’s to increase the safety of commercial flights. It is process optimization at its best: writing down the steps required, in the order required, just to make sure that failures caused by errors of omission are eliminated. This is basic project management 101 and makes for fascinating reading (really!). Though it is always great to read about success, sometimes failure can be the greatest teacher if only to tell us what NOT to do. “Into Thin Air” is Jon Krakauer’s  (Doubleday, 1999) account of the 1996 Mt. Everest debacle that left eight climbers dead and forced the climbing community to reexamine standards that allowed inexperienced climbers with money the chance to climb the greatest mountain of them all, regardless of the risk. The book is a cautionary tale of how unexpected circumstances can test even the most experienced leaders, as well as the importance of knowing when to stop a doomed project.

Similarly, “Apollo 13″ , the 1995 Ron Howard film , that recreated the disastrous Apollo 13 Lunar mission that almost took the lives of three Astronauts, is a great study on how to manage disasters. Teamwork, diligence and strong leadership are all demonstrated – what an inspiration to any Project Manager!Most of us do not deal with life and death situations in our workplaces. But sometimes the issues we face in our projects can seem to be insurmountable. While there is definitely a need to hone our professional skills by catching up on standard project management texts, sometimes looking a little further afield for inspiration can teach us valuable and lasting lessons, while motivating us to give of our best.

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