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Managing a Project as a Complex Journey

I decided to mark a pause on my current series on the cornerstones of Lean Project Management to reflect a bit on my current journey to South East Asia and what it can teach us about successful projects and team alignment.

I often compare the management of a project to a journey:

  • the current situation represents the point of departure of our journey (point A),
  • the anticipated end-deliverables represent our final destination (point B), and
  • the project itself represents the itinerary from point A to point B, the journey

On June 24th 2008, I embarked with my spouse on a five-week journey (project or vacation?) to South-East Asia to visit Singapore, Bali and parts of Vietnam. Right from the start of this “project”, we have faced minor difficulties arising from bad communication among the “team members” of this new project and the resulting misalignment of the “project team.” Within the first three days of our trip, we have already experienced three unforeseen events with frustrating affects on our journey and its final destination (the meeting of stakeholders’ expectations!):

  • one team member delayed our flight from Beijing to Singapore by one day,
  • another team member had us leave the Beijing airport, to spend “contingency” funds on an unplanned stay at a Beijing hotel, and
  • another team member just forgot to load our luggage on the rescheduled flight from Beijing to Singapore

Everyone did his or her best and all team members were very considerate and polite with this stakeholder (me!). However, two of the main team members, The Canadian Airline and the Chinese Airline are in a new business relationship that has yet to be clarified in terms of communications between the two airlines, integrated tracking and management of luggage, local regulations and cultural differences. Both airlines did not have the same vision for this project: Canadian representatives had no clue on SOPs and rules used by their Chinese counterparts on transit situations. Actually, the Chinese faced a brand new situation for them when we arrived in Beijing unannounced by Canada (their databases do not communicate). The Beijing team members were unprepared and had different individual ideas on how to tackle this unforeseen situation. Beside this “new project”, “spontaneously assigned team members” had to cater to divergent priorities. Finally, everyone did their “project work” with all the best of intentions, but just ended up along the way failing to meet the expectations of this main stakeholder (me again!) and his now-distressed spouse.

Projects carry the same complexity and issues as a journey to foreign parts. You will have to deal with:

  • different organisational and “silo” cultures,
  • “spontaneous team members” who realise at the last minute that they have to contribute to the project, while having their own recurring concerns to live with and other priorities,
  • team members that are not accustomed to working together
  • communication plans that are, as a result, ill-designed and fail to ensure everyone is aligned towards the same global objective.

Those disturbing ingredients are found in many projects. We focus so much on the destination (the desired deliverables), that we forget we have a whole journey to live and manage together. This journey is only possible if everyone on the team is aligned and shares a common vision, not only on the end destination but also on the itinerary.

One of the major postulates of Neuro-Linguistic Programming is that: “The Journey IS the Destination.” You cannot separate the project itinerary from its end-deliverables. And, in order to achieve project goals, all team members must be aligned to see not only the same destination but also to embark on the same journey. If the journey is a great experience, the destination will be perceived as very satisfying; if it is not, then the destination cannot be savoured to its full extent. Projects are important change inducing journeys. And ultimately these journeys ARE the destination.

While I try to get my luggage back, I invite you to view the last Louis Vuitton publicity on YouTube ( Journeys, projects are all part of life. Good or bad, they are life itself. So let’s make the most of them by ensuring that team members are aligned and all embark on a same meaningful journey.

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