ASK PM NETWORK
Projects inevitably veer off course at some point, so you better
be ready to bounce back.
BY BUD BAKER, Ph.D., CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
What one personality trait is most
essential for project managers? Q
Jack may have been new to project management,
but he was no rookie. Still on the shy side of 40,
his functional credentials were first-rate. Soon
after his early promotion to a leadership position, he was
handed a challenging project and told to make it happen.
In hindsight, that’s where the trouble began. With all
eyes upon him, Jack made every newbie mistake in the
book. A host of his hasty decisions had to be reversed by
his bosses, harming his credibility and that of his team.
Soon there was sniping from his peers, who evidently
failed to grasp the wisdom of his vision. Humility was
never Jack’s strong suit: He saw himself as brighter than
those around him, with his star definitely on the rise
within the firm—and he was probably right on both
counts. Why couldn’t these miscreants just accept that
and get out of his way?
The end came quickly for Jack, after a critical decision
slowed down his project. The setback was regrettable, but
ever go as planned. In our world of “unknown unknowns,”
project managers can be utterly certain that they will need
to call on their reserves of resiliency—probably early and
Where does that ability to recover originate? I’ve been
doing a little research and some informal polling of project
managers, and the results are intriguing:
Experience and Perspective. Watch the teenagers in
your life: See how it’s all drama and angst, with every hour
full of all the outsized joys and pains that mark those years?
The difference between us and them is just perspective:
We’ve learned that today is generally better than we feared
and likely not as good as we hoped. Most of all, we gain
perspective from knowing—better than those kids—that
tomorrow is a new chance to try it all over again.
Hardship and Struggle. Best captured in the 1888
Friedrich Nietzsche quote, “What does not kill me makes
me stronger,” this principle underlies a great deal of experiential training. The Outward Bound concept, in which
rugged outdoor experiences are believed to build character
In our world of “unknown unknowns,” project managers can
be utterly certain that they will need to call on their reserves
of resiliency—probably early and probably often.
not fatal, not even unexpected. What was unexpected was
Jack’s thermonuclear response, with his resignation
announcement e-mailed to all concerned the next day.
The aftermath has been ugly. When a project implodes
so spectacularly, it can be far worse than if it had never
begun. Jack’s team has been left to pick up the pieces and
wonder what really went wrong.
And I’m left pondering the concept of resilience, the
ability to bounce back from setbacks. It is, of course, an
absolute necessity for the successful project manager. One
thing we can be certain of is that no sizable project will
and resilience, resulted from an observation from World
War II: When allied sailors were tossed into the North Sea
after their ships were sunk, the ones who survived were not
the youngest, strongest or fittest. Instead, it was the older
and more experienced who hung on, leading to the conclusion that the crucible of life had prepared the older
sailors to endure.
One project manager I talked to had just returned with
his son from an attempted climb of the 20,320-foot
( 6,194-meter) Mount McKinley in Alaska, USA. They
didn’t make the summit, and he seemed disappointed