The Joy of Project Management by Jo Swaine #trpm12

This one is also part of the series wrapped round the TR PM Unconferences, though with a difference. The author doesn’t work for TR, nor will she attend either event as a guest. Jo Swaine is an old friend, a fantastic PM, PMO leader and PM trainer with an infinite capacity for work and having a ball. For Jo the two seem to to just merge into a love of life. Saying that, just writing this self indulgent preamble I am developing a psychosomatic hangover…

She had never blogged, I nagged her until she decided it was easier to say yes.  My overall view with this slightly accidental series has been the more the merrier. With Jo on board, it just got a whole lot merrier. I should confess that she wrote this a couple of weeks ago and I have been tardy in getting it out, back then we were buzzing about the Olympics and Paralympics. Half lives…


I was asked [Repeatedly, through every channel – AA] to write something about the joys of project management by Anthony. Clearly he has a track record in this area.  I’m worried about the request for a couple of reasons.

a) I’m a blogging virgin, having until now managed to keep my opinions within the boundaries of my own circle and the wonderful clients who have over the years paid me to be a project manager or to train their people in project management, or to set up their PMOs. I am (probably unreasonably) horrified about sending my personal thoughts out there, unchaperoned, without me. I wonder if they’ll have fun let loose? Or cause trouble? Why do I wish they might?!

b) The topic.  The joy of project management….?! After a long wonderful summer…playing with my children and my other half, camping, hiking, holidaying on the Mediterranean, and to cap it all enjoying the incredible sporting spectacle of London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics… I haven’t been thinking about project management as much as usual (ok, not at all). Being asked to write something ‘sensible’ was a bit like taking another of the ice cold campsite showers my kids & I shuddered (& giggled) under this Summer.

So.  Where to begin. I mused on the thought of ‘joy’.

Joy is swimming in the sea, anywhere. It is playing with children on the beach. Dancing to live music in a field on a warm Summer evening. A chilled pint of something after a busy day at work. The view from the summit (of a mountain not the corporate ladder). An ice cold shower under a tree in a field after sleeping in a hot tent (honestly, try it). I could go on, but better not. Take a moment to mull your own personal joys. (Go on, indulge yourself).

If you’ve been responsible for delivering a major project recently, (with the ubiquitous constrained budget, organisational resources stretched to their limits, and often heavy pressure from superiors to deliver as quickly and cheaply as possible, without a flicker of compromise to quality or objectives), you can be forgiven if joy isn’t the word that you’d immediately choose to describe your feelings.

When people think about project management the first things that usually spring to mind are project plans, Prince2 theory, risk logs, budget controls, status reports. Some people also think about agile approaches, scrums and so on.

But these are just techniques, tools, procedural supports. Useful yes, mandatory at times. But so very far from the full story of project management in reality.

What about the real magic that gets projects defined and delivered?

  • Creative thinking and innovation.
  • Novel problem solving.
  • Skillful negotiation for every crucial resource.
  • Nurturing of the project team and the honing of their skills.
  • Passionate spreading of enthusiasm for the cause.
  • Meticulous attention to every detail.
  • Lying awake pondering ‘what if?’ and ‘what then?’.
  • Resourceful winning over of the skeptics and troublemakers.
  • Finding the right approach to use to suit the culture of this organisation / department / team.

Creativity. People skills. Management experience. These are absolutely crucial. You can’t buy them off the shelf. And in engaging our creativity and originality (for some people very un-project management) and our potential in using these aspects of ourselves, we are most likely to feel joy. And bring joy to our teams, and success to our organisations.  Not necessarily in that order.

Creativity, teamwork, dynamism, enthusiasm, empowerment, moments of brilliance, objectives achieved, opportunities grasped, threats managed, stakeholders delighted, the sense of having accomplished something worthwhile. Satisfaction. Joy. This is project management, done well.

My proposition is this. Project management done well, creatively, originally, with touches of brilliance is fun, and yes can be joyful.  Not easy, but satisfying, and successful. And ok, I’ll grant, perhaps nearly as much fun as dancing in a field on a warm Summer evening….


Thanks to Jo ( for this, it really put a spring in my step. Most of my project briefs these days end with a requirement that we enjoy ourselves, especially on those projects I know will be fraught.



One thought on “The Joy of Project Management by Jo Swaine #trpm12

  1. I must agree that “joy” and “project management” is not an association that I would immediately make. Funnily enough my daughter had to interview me about my job the other day and she asked me to describe what I do in a couple of sentences. This was quite a challenge I must say (I rarely say anything in just a couple of sentences). I used various words; challenging, long hours, people, solving problems, influencing, talking, meeting, people, finding ways around obstacles, people again,learning from mistakes, success… (it was way more than a couple of sentences) but I don’t think I mentioned the word “joy”.

    But there is joy. There is the joy of achievement when it goes well, or the problem is fixed, or you take a risk and it works, or somebody agrees (yes it does happen sometimes), when the project delivers, when the customer likes it, and when the team celebrate that achievement. So there IS joy and that joy is usually about the small details during the project, and more importantly it is usually about the people involved; be it the team, the customer, or the stakeholders.

    Well done Jo for writing your first blog – I know what a leap in faith it is to go public with your words. Anthony has a talent for introducing the “Joy of Blogging” to those who have not yet taken that step. Who will be next I wonder….?

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