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  • Rick Ktorides

5 Inspirational Quotes - Applied in Project Management

OK, I'll admit I'm a total sucker for those on-liner inspirational quotes - YES, even the cheesy ones.

And WHY NOT - they are often these little gold nuggets of wisdom that could provide you with great outcomes when applied!

BUT how can some of these be applied in project management and do they actually work?

Here are my top 5 inspiration quotes ranked and how they have applied for me in project management:

At # 5: "Perfect is the enemy of good"

I got this one from a close friend as we were about to sit down and play a friendly game of cards. I believe it's originally an Italian proverb.

We were discussing reasons why people ultimately delay or hold back from actioning great ideas or getting something out there.

He argued the number 1 root cause was because most people aim for perfection and it's one of the worst things you can do as you'll never get there!

Applied in Project Management:

How many times has it been the case that you are 90% there, however it's that last 10% that blows out the budget / schedule?

Here are some examples where I've noticed this happens most frequently on projects:

Requirements (where almost every requirement seems to be 'mandatory')

Testing / solution acceptance (low/insignificant issues preventing production rollout)

It's certainly worth being agile in these areas where possible.

If you're stuck in this twilight zone, one thing that may help is to consider doing a cost benefit analysis of that last 10% to put things into perspective.

This can be done by working out the cost of delaying benefits of your project to your organisation + the cost of keeping the project going v.s value of those items holding you up.

You may find that the last 10% actually provides the least amount of value!

Another aspect to consider that is often missed is around the optics of having spent a bunch of money (especially on larger projects) and having very little / nothing to show for it.

At # 4: "Focus on what you CAN control - not what you CAN'T"

Am I going to lose my job? ... how's the economy going to recover? ... how am I going to pay my mortgage? ... is this the start to World War 3? ... how will my life change???

I was finding it terribly difficult to concentrate and do anything at work - almost like an action paralysis where my work seemed insignificant compared to world events.

It was early 2000s, the Dot-Com crash happened and coupled with 9/11, you could not help but get swept up in all the negativity.

I called my dad overseas to confide and he swiftly responded by giving me a HUGE lecture about focusing on what I can control ... rather than things I am powerless to change - otherwise I would find myself out of a job!

That certainly did the trick and snapped me out of it!

Applied in Project Management:

Project management is all about performance and delivering outcomes in a very visible and transparent way to your customers.

If you and your team are focusing on things beyond your scope of control, you can spend 100 times your budget and still not be better off than when you started.

Best to recognise the risk on what the project has no control over, make it well known, assign appropriate ownership and progress forward.

You also increase the likelihood of keeping your job especially in difficult times, by continuing to perform and delivering results that your organisation may need more than ever.

At # 3: "When it comes to failure - blame yourself first"

This one is from an old mentor who shouted drinks over a few hours down at an old pub in London's West End after I was having a bad couple of months and needed to talk.

Believe me, it was the very last thing that I wanted to hear and told him so - but found he was 100% correct.

I was focusing all of my energy blaming others and things beyond my control rather than assessing what I could have done differently to improve next time round.

He explained that it's a question of getting back in control and empowering yourself vs. leaving yourself feeling that your success is really in the hands of others.

Applied in Project Management:

If I told you that my project has failed due to the customer constantly moving goal posts – what would you think?

You may feel a lot of sympathy especially if you have been through this yourself. You wish for the day that customers simply stop doing so, so that projects could work out. (which you kind of know won't happen)

The problem with this line of thinking is that you are putting the solution completely out of your scope of control.

Is it not much more empowering to be of the mindset that the project failed because you failed to prevent this scenario from playing out?

Some customers will always want to move goal posts and you can’t change that - But what you can do is try to identify what you could have done differently to have achieved a better outcome!!

This will empower you to successfully navigate through this type of scenario in the future.

If it's not the customer moving goal posts, it could be an issue with the vendor or poor team member performance etc, etc, etc.

This advice is super tough to do in practice - but you at least maximise the value from the failure by better equipping yourself to deal with such scenarios more effectively in the future.

At # 2: "You're only as good as your team"

For the life of me, I just can't remember where I picked this up from. One thing for sure is that it's stuck with me!

The original quote I believe comes from Dominique Wilkins who is an American retired professional basketball player.

I don't know much about basketball, but this quote really inspired me to change my whole outlook and approach to how I interacted with my own project team.

Rather than having the mindset that my project team works for me, it became that I actually work for them!

Applied in Project Management:

This is pretty much a servant leadership approach applied to project management and one of those ones best explained by considering the reverse.

So if you reverse it and say - 'my team is only as good as me', then all my projects are in serious trouble. I hardly have any in-depth technical knowledge to make them a success.

I would need something like 200 years of combined specialist experience and expertise just to be at the same knowledge level as the team and do the work of 15 people to achieve the current level of output they are currently producing.

If it's a similar case for you - one of the best things you can do is to work for your project team to create an optimal environment where they can work as effectively as possible so you can take advantage of this leverage.

This could include some of the following:

  • Focusing on the needs of your team members - and asking them what you can do to help in your capacity as a project manager to help achieve their tasks

  • Establishing trust by being quick to follow up, being true to your word and involving them in key decisions that progress the project forward

  • Ensuring tasks and constraints are always visible, clearly understood and regularly communicated

  • Making sure it's easy to collaborate by providing regular forums to do so and taking note of what was agreed and outcomes

  • Being proactive and removing any obstacles that may hinder your team

It's about being an enabler and facilitator for your team - their success is your success and their failure is your failure.

At # 1: "The customer is number 1"

The owner of the butcher shop where I got my very first job when I was 16, instilled this on us on a daily basis. We used to call him the "old man" but he was as sharp as they come.

No matter what we were doing, as soon as a customer walked it, it was all about providing the best customer service we possibly could.

We were not the cheapest in town, but always one of the busiest!

Applied in Project Management:

I think this holds true and can be easily applied to just about any profession and industry where there is a customer component including project management.

The reason projects exist is to deliver what your customer wants within a set of constraints. Don't fall into a cycle of not regularly engaging your customer - they are the number 1 person whose requirements you need to focus on and satisfy throughout your project.

One area where it often seems to get a little muddled in project management is in the actual identification of who the customer actually is.

I'd argue that one of the very first tasks you need to do when first handed a project is work out and ensure that the customer is actually the person who everyone thinks and assumes it is.

Only once you know who the real customer is - are you then able to steer your project to success.

In closing...

The really great thing about a lot of these inspirational quotes, especially those that have stood the test of time, is that they not only hold true to life's lessons but can equally be impactful in areas such as project management.

If you've ever received some inspiring advice that's really helped you out - don't forget to pay it forward.

Consider that you could positively inspire someone for a lifetime and in areas you could not even imagine!

It would be great to know your thoughts - what other inspirational quotes do you find hold true in project management that have been a positive inspiration to you?


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