Saturday, June 7, 2008

Muggling your way through PM

I was lucky enough to attend the commencement ceremonies at Harvard University a few days ago. The speaker for commencement was none other than J. K. Rowling, celebrated author of the Harry Potter books.

I suggest that you spend a moment and read (or listen to) her entire speech. You'll find a video of her speech here. And you can read her entire speech right here. What's the connection to project management? I think you'll see. Read on.

Her two main points were:

1. The benefits of failure

2. The importance of imagination

In terms of the benefits of failure, we all know as project managers that what doesn't kill you - makes you stronger. Lessons learned play an important role in our own set of potions and wands. Here's how J. K. Rowling summed it up:

"The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned."

In terms of the importance of imagination, we know that as a PM we are constantly needing to understand the worldview of all of our stakeholders to be able to understand their needs, to negotiate more effectively, and frankly, to get people to do what we want for the benefit of the project. I like the way J. K. Rowling put this into more dramatic terms:

"Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places. "

Rowling's speech focused intensely and passionately on the need for human compassion, also an important PM attribute, but for that flavor, I ask that you listen to, or watch, or read her entire speech. I just wanted to share these two main gems with you.

Since we don't have a magic wand, or an invisibility cloak, or a broom to fly around on, we need all the help we can get as regular muggle (non-magical) PMs.

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