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5 Reasons Why a Great Project is Like Good Chicago Style Pizza

Comparing project management to a Chicago style pizza may be quite a stretch, but you need to first understand how much I like pizza.

When I’m in Chicago, I always need Chicago style pizza like Giordano’s, Pizzeria Uno or Lou Malnati’s. Once when I was in Boston for a week long training session with my manager who happened to like pizza as much as me -early in my professional career ended up eating at probably 5-6 different pizza places… In a week. So, when people say “I could eat that morning, noon and night”… With pizza I literally would be ok with that. When we first moved to Las Vegas I came first and stayed in the Luxor Hotel and Casino for a month and looked for a house for us while working in the IT department managing the corporate IT application development team, I ate at the food court every day in there. And there was a pizza place… So, I did literally have pizza very nearly every day for a month. I was ok with that.

Let’s take this very odd analogy a step further and consider these five ways or reasons why a great project is like a great Chicago style pizza… bear with me here… you may or may not enjoy this – who knows but please do let me know through feedback.

The crust is the foundation of a good project.

The crust sort of makes the pizza, right? Bad crust is hard to overcome. Everything else can be great, but on soggy crust it’s still just a bad, unsatisfying pizza. And sometimes crazy good crust can bring a pizza back from the dead if the other ingredients are so-so. You know what I’m talking about. For me, the crust is the leadership of the project. Yes, an easier project can have a “fake it till you make it” project manager who is still barely experienced at leading teams and projects. Everyone has to start somewhere. But not many organizations – unless they are so startup or so startup with their PM infrastructure – are going to put a brand new project manager in front of a $1 million project customer. You need experienced project managers in your infrastructure or project management office (PMO) to lead most of your projects – especially the more visible and high priority or complex projects. You can’t just phone in the leadership of these projects… They require the solid leadership and communication skills of the seasoned and proven successful leader of projects to keep those important customers satisfied and happy and coming back for more work and adding more revenue to the organization.

It’s all about the sauce.

For me, the sauce is a critical ingredient of the pizza. Bad sauce, bad pizza. In this scenario, the sauce is like the project communication. Communication is Job One for project leaders and poor communication can and will definitely bring down any size project. The project manager must be an effective and efficient communicator for the project and the team and the customer. That’s meetings, email, adhoc calls, regular weekly status meetings, team meetings. Any and all communications and follow up on key communications is very important so as to ensure that everyone that was part of that communication is on the same page afterwards. If a weekly status call with the team and customer happens, then follow up afterwards with notes asking them to respond with feedback or changes within 24 hours to ensure everyone understands and received the same information. One mis communication can lead to missed last assignments, tasks not being completed or even worked on when you thought you had everyone on the same page, but they weren’t. Never take understanding for granted.

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What toppings do you like?

The toppings are big because each pizza has different toppings and add different flavor to the pizza. The toppings are the project team members because they vary with each project and with the skill needs for each project. Some projects actually need two business analysts – I’ve had several projects like that – so that’s like double pepperoni, right? Seriously though, some ingredients are just critical on nearly every project and I believe that – especially on tech related projects – cyber security is becoming one of those ingredients… At least as an input to risk planning and management. So that may be the cheese – hard to have a good Chicago style pizza without cheese! And yes, some teams always have the same types of skill sets because they are similar projects, but the great thing about projects is you can have a huge variety of skill set needs – you just need to understand the needs of the project and obtain the right resources and associated skill sets accordingly.

Perfection takes time.

The perfect pizza takes time to perfect and then it takes time to plan for and repeat that success. Likewise, with projects. Planning is a critical aspect of any good, successful project and lessons learned – just as you learn to make the perfect pizza – must be part of the process if you want to add to your skills and become better managers of the projects, customers, and teams you lead along the way.

Better than the imitators.

The best Chicago style pizza is going to be better than its imitators through hard work, great ingredients, a good team of workers, and a proven recipe of success. And there will be imitators just as there will always be competitors for the work you do or the software you make or the products you build or whatever you are doing for your project customers. You must work toward excellence and remain better than your imitators – your competition. They will always be trying to gain on you and take your customers away from you. Stick with your proven best practices, always be learning and improving and perfecting, and you’ll keep your customers and keep winning on your projects.

Summary / call for input

Building great pizza takes skill… And building the perfect project for your customer and their end users takes skill, planning, learning, time and the right teams. Very different yet very similar. But both take key ingredients to come out great at the end.

Readers – what’s your take – what would you add to this or do you even agree with my pizza obsessed comparison. I know it’s a stretch, but thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts on this.

Brad Egeland

Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. He has been named the “#1 Provider of Project Management Content in the World” with over 7,000 published articles, eBooks, white papers and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at

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