The "Back Lawn" Project Vs The "Everest" Project

September 30, 2011 by  Filed under: Management 

Once, I worked for an outdoor retailer, and I found that there were many different customers with different commitment levels to any one outdoor activity. For example, there were people that went on a hike once a summer and people that hiked every day. Because of this, people were often unaware of the varying costs of gear. Once, a woman who wanted a back lawn folding hut for her five-year-old looked at our tent supply in disbelief; she could not comprehend why anyone would spend a thousand dollars on an Everest-grade excursion tent.

“After all,” she said, “plastic is just plastic, right?”

Wrong. There are certain technical specifications on fabrics and design that are not found in the cheap backyard tent. I won’t go into the details here, but the most important thing to know in outdoor sports is that one’s life depends on being prepared. In fact, most people that encounter serious dangers or death in the wild do so because they are not equipped with the gear or knowledge required for their environment.

In project management, having the proper tools and knowledge is fundamental to success. Projects are not the same as a life threatening situation of course, but the same principles apply. Some projects are simple and require little skill while others are very complicated, requiring a very specific set of skills as they go through strict processes of planning, governance, approvals, etc. For the complicated projects, there is a huge difference between the “back lawn” manager and the “Everest” manager. The same goes for project management software.

However, just as most outdoor enthusiasts are engaged in activities somewhere in between “backyard” and “Everest,” most project managers are working somewhere in between simple and extreme. Most projects are difficult but not grandiose and dangerous. That said, I think what sets a true project manager apart from the others lies in his or her ability to survive in that middle ground area. It is in the power to improvise when tools and methodologies don’t produce the expected results. Like the mark of a true backpacker who knows how to survive off the land or off the minimal, the project manager knows how to manipulate equipment to best serve the needs of the project and the project team.

Ultimately, the most important part of management occurs independently of the equipment and methodologies. It starts with the team. It starts with individuals. Even with the best tools and methodologies, the project manager can only be successful when he or she is able to inspire and empower the team. Whether it is a “back lawn” project or an “Everest” project, without the team’s creativity, support, and shared excitement, the project manager is not going anywhere.

Combining his personal experiences, social observations, and a variety of philosophies, Robert Steele provides easy-to-understand explanations of the basics of business management. He currently focuses on explaining the modern implications of project portfolio management (PPM).

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