Author: Sebastian Dutkowski PMP
On January 22nd the chapter held an event at the HWZ in Zürich dedicated to discovering how Tai chi could possibly relate to project management.
Tai chi, as some of you might know, is a Chinese martial arts sport, but some of its schools focus primarily on health effects and aesthetic appeal. This is similar to Japanese Kata, which is mostly known due to Karate. Those schools of Tai chi, because of its slow movements, can sometimes be perceived as closer to yoga and as a form of dance as a pose to martial arts. Practitioners of this kind of Tai chi will try to keep physically balanced while doing strenuous exercises. For example, they might try to do a particular exercise while standing on one foot only. Practitioners will also try to perform all of their movements with finesse.
So is the work of the project manager. We project managers make moves, we encourage and push people when we stand behind them, we pull them when we are in front. We embrace them when we are with them. Sometimes we leave them on the ground and go high above the clouds to understand the big picture. Project management, from the moment of project initiation until project closure is a dance where project managers are making sure that things move forward, that his/her people do the right things and that his/her stakeholders help, if possible, or in some cases, stay out of the way.
The night was moderated by Julia Posselt who is an independent coach with plenty of experience from Banking and Pharma, by Norun Laahne Thomassen who is a coach with tons of experience in coaching individuals and also whole teams in the corporate environment, and by Gail Corbett-Smith who coaches in the corporate environment and individually, as well as working with people experiencing trauma and overwhelm.
When we entered the room we saw empty space divided into 5 areas labeled “front” for the front area, "behind" for the rear area, "beside" for the area on the left, "field" for the area on the right side, and “within” in the middle. As you might guess those fields are the places where a project manager might find him/herself while doing their work. Some people assume that the project manager is always in front leading his people. This is correct most of the time; after all we speak about leadership, leading, followers, resources and so on.
But this is not always the case. Just as a general officer plans his/her next battle, so is the project manager often beside his people who are at that moment marching towards the battlefield. The general will assume the position on a hill overseeing the battlefield shortly before the battle far behind his/her troops, and sometimes will charge the enemy using his/her most valued soldiers when the time comes to use them.
For project managers there is time to do planning while the team is prototyping and trying to understand requirements. Later in the project, the project manager is positioned high enough to see the big picture of the ongoing project, assess events that might have an impact on the project like discoveries, breakthroughs or opportunities and threats due to other projects. Sometimes it is even necessary for the project manager to work hands-on with project deliverables, should it be documentation, testing or programming.
We started the event sitting in a U-shaped row of chairs. We did not spend much time sitting, however, and in fact we only actually sat during the introduction of the moderators. From then on we had to walk, chat, make gestures, and engage in discussion all while standing and usually far removed from our initial starting point.
Our first task was to position ourselves in the field where as project managers we feel most comfortable. It was a tough task and not only for me but also for some other people. In my project management style I do not have any comfortable position, I change depending on the situation, people in my team, requirements, deadlines and phases of the project.
I feel good when people know what to do and do it with only minimal input from my side. I do not hesitate to jump in to help solve difficult problems. I can make technical decisions when needed while at the same time I try to have dedicated experienced technical leads make such decisions. I will conduct testing myself if we are short on testers but also to better understand the solution we develop.
The session took about 90 minutes to complete, but honestly it felt as if it were only 10 to 15 minutes. Most of the participants were quite surprised when it ended. It was not the end of the event though, we all went to chat and do some networking during the follow-up Apero.
If you think that a project manager’s place is not always in the front but sometimes in another position, and would like to have more information about the topic I encourage you to read the following material here (dimensional leadership, PDF) and here (book recommendation) and check our event announcements. It is possible that we will have something on this topic again sometime this year.
If you think that you or your team might need some coaching I encourage you to contact Julia, Norun and Gail
Big thanks to the Zurich event team for organizing this great event.