When Project Management is Fun

Posted by Brad Egeland

Ok, “fun” may be a stretch…but not really. When do we dislike our jobs the most? When they are dead ends. When we’re micro-managed. When we don’t feel leadership is leading us. When we feel that we aren’t given the tools or authority to succeed.

I’ve had one or more positions where all of this happened….maybe not all in one job (though I can think of one specific job that encompassed most of these). I’m sure we all can think of a job where we were pushed down and we were unhappy. We tend to not be at our most productive selves in these types of jobs and under these types of conditions.

I’ve always found that I am at my most productive when the work is fun and when I have a great deal of control over that work. The same goes for the projects that I lead. If I have executive management that has a great deal of confidence in my skills and basically lets me run the show with the understanding I’ll shout out when there are needs as well as keeping them up-to-date on status, then I usually truly enjoy.

In fact, I find that managing projects with the some or all of the following 6 characteristics end up being the most “fun” for me to manage:

  • Job Autonomy – This basically means being allowed a great degree of freedom and discretion in a job. When I’m allowed to lead a project and do the job well, make the right choices, and decisions and lead the customer without an excess of executive involvement, work is more fun, more productive and I can form a much better relationship with the customer.
  • Focused Resources – Having skilled, focused resources that you know you can count on to get the job done certainly makes managing the project with confidence a lot easier. Knowing those resources are focused on your project tasks when they should be gives you the confidence to make appropriate promises to the customer and have your word stick.
  • No Micro-Managing – Somewhat similar to Job Autonomy. I’m at my worst when I’m micro-managed and second-guessed. That’s for managers with nothing better to do. I once was leading a team onsite with a customer and had 5 other projects I was also leading. I was onsite with this team for 2 weeks – meaning I had 10 other weekly status meetings during those two weeks, 10 other status reports to delivery, 10 other project schedules to get out, etc. Unfortunately, I also had a senior manager there doing nothing more than walking around trying to make sure my team was focused on the onsite customer – I think because HE was being micro managed as well. It made it difficult to serve my other customers for this company with this individual constantly trying to get me back to focusing on the onsite customer – even though the technical resources on the project we engaged in the tasks we were actually there to perform (I was mainly there to just oversee that…which doesn’t require 24/7 oversight – and I could certainly afford 2-3 hours per day to devote to other projects).
  • Requires Some Innovation – Leading a project that isn’t just a slam-dunk is more challenging to me and therefore more fun. One that requires more out of the box thinking definitely gets my attention – and usually challenges my team even more and keeps them excited and engaged.
  • Cool Technology – We’ve all been here…any project that requires some cool technology makes the work more fun, right? What’s more fun…a project that requires an out of the box CRM system to be tested and implemented or a project that calls for a slot machine load testing simulator to be built from scratch, heavily tested, and implemented?
  • Some Technical Hands-On – Coming from a technical background, I appreciate the chance to get my feet wet sometimes rather than just ‘manage’ resources and project deliverables. Even if it’s just cleansing and manipulating data and loading it into the final solution. Anything technically hands-on that changes the pace for me adds to the fun of managing a successful project.

Summary

There are projects out there that are cool and fun and cutting edge and there are others that are as dull as burnt toast. The best we can hope for is that we get a decent mix of both. We need some easy ones once in awhile – especially if our load is usually heavy. But the really challenging projects involving some and cool technology can help keep us fresh and having fun in our Project Management positions that, let’s face it, can be somewhat dry at times….at least that what my wife always imagines.

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  4. Project Management: The Art of Keeping it Real
  5. No One Likes a Micro-Manager

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13 Comments to “When Project Management is Fun”

  • [...] is the original post: When Project Management is Fun 12 Jul 09 | [...]

  • Hi there,
    Not sure that this is true:), but thanks for a post.
    AlexAxe

  • Great post Brad and an excellent description of what makes a good project, and project management on the whole, fun. I would say that having focused and skilled resources teamed with a good challenge (i.e. one that is manageable, especially if it stretches the PM and the team) is the #1 priority, but absolutely agree that the combination of circumstances you describe create the ideal atmosphere for growth and fun.

    Too bad that these don’t come around often, but at least they do so often enough to keep one enthused about being a PM!

  • Kristina- I agree with your comment on the #1 priority. That definitely helps a project run smoother and thus is usually more enjoyable to manage. Mixing it up with some of the items I described helps to keep things fresh, change the PMs involvement a little and sometimes make it a little more fun overall. Keeps things from getting too mundane. Thanks again for the comment.

  • Hi Brad,

    I like your posts and for me the most important priorities for making PM “fun” is definately working with skilled resources, on innovative projects and having a chance for some “hands on” myself as a resource person.

    I know that most books do not recommend project managers working as resources, but in small and medium sized companies this is often required.
    And being a technical person, it keeps you on the pulse of technology.

  • Alex- Yes, many would probably not say that PM is fun. However, it can stay more interesting when what you do as a PM changes a little here and there to keep things fresh. And if you’re a techie or former techie like me, it’s fun to be able to get your hands dirty on a project with some hands on work as long as your not allowed to break anything! Thanks again for the comment.

  • Peter- I agree – thanks for the comment. We seem to be cut from the same mold on this one. Having a little hands on work here and there forces you to stay in that mode of thought and remain somewhat fresher on the technology front that would otherwise be the case. And for me, just being able to write these articles for PMTips for you people to read is a very refreshing challenge as well. It requires me to go back in the past, examine projects I’ve led and think about what might be relevant to share with others (good and bad). Thanks again for the feedback.

  • [...] Knowing this, I was delighted to come across this excellent article by Brad Egeland from the July 13, 2009 PM Tips called: When Project Management is Fun [...]

  • [...] When Project Management is Fun | Project Management Tips || Project Management, Collaboration and Kn… pmtips.net/project-management-fun – cached page Ok, “fun” may be a stretch…but not really. When do we dislike our jobs the most? When they are dead ends. When we’re micro-managed. When we don’t, Ok, “fun” may be a stretch…but not really. When do we dislike our jobs the most? When they are dead ends. When we’re micro-managed. When w — From the page [...]

  • [...] been doing this for years. But the idea for the article. I was thinking of the article entitled “When Project Management is Fun” and the concept of how keeping things edgy keeps people focused, energized, etc. That’s when [...]

  • Success can be fun, failure rarely is…

    The Lazy Project Manager http://www.thelazyprojectmanager.com

    “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
    Douglas Adams (Author of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’)

    You have to laugh; well I think you have to laugh.

    Without a little bit of fun in every project then the project world can be a dark and depressing place.

    Setting a professional but fun structure for your project can really be beneficial for when the problems start to rise up to challenge your plan of perfectness. And problems will inevitably arise.

    In the years I have done many things to encourage team bonding, lighten the darker moments of project hell, and diffuse difficult project related situations. I have even accepted the full and complete blame for every problem, issue and challenge to a project in front of a room full of project team members, before walking outside and firing myself (in a loud voice, well voices – one mine and one me pretending to be my boss). The net result was a diffused situation, where it had previously been extremely confrontational between teams and individuals.

    Done well this does not damage your status or authority but can actually be a very positive act in people seeing you a human being, and not just a project manager, and thereafter wanting to share a smile and a laugh with you during the day.

    It is just the same in that hotbed of confrontation, the home!

    Try looking at one of your children when they are in a really bad mood. Look them in the eye, with a serious face, and point a finger at them and say’ Don’t laugh! Don’t you dare laugh! If you laugh you will go straight to the naughty stair!’. I bet at the very least you will get a smile out of them.

    My family finds that, even in the most stressed out, aggressive, emotional and ‘in your face’ moments, if you can make the opposition (and I use that term loosely) laugh then the war is soon over.

    It is hard to kill someone when you are laughing.

    Well I guess that is true except for some of the more extreme psychopathic types (‘No, I expect you to die Mr Bond’ … cue maniacal laughter).

  • Nice… I definitely agree! Executive Sponsors or even Business Owner’s who have nothing better to do than follow you around can take the joy out of joyful! I find that laughing at the craziness works pretty well, also!

  • Veronica-

    Yes…you are dead on! Running the project, fighting the fires and progressing toward the goals of your organization and your customer’s organization can be energizing and even fun. But dealing with some of the other ‘drama’ that gets in the way of doing your job well is what sucks the fun right out of it..and sometimes the productivity, too. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Brad

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