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The Holy Trinity Of Project Management

Originally Published in Iowabiz.com in April 2008

Cooking_holy_trinityIf you have ever been in a New Orleans kitchen, then you know that many a good Cajun dish starts with the "holy trinity":  celery, onions, and peppers.  Saute them until they are just right, and they become the cornerstone of many excellent meals. 

But you need all three to achieve just the right flavor balance.

As I learned from one of my early mentors, project management starts with its own "holy trinity":  Communication, visibility, and accountability.  All three of these together serve as the starter recipe for any successful project.

Communication is key.  As any certified project manager will tell you, a good PM will spend upwards of 90% of his or her time communicating with the team, the stakeholders, the users, and the executives.  As Emily Foshee notes,

A good project management system will provide a valuable mechanism to streamline communications with your customers and between your employees. It will help your employees complete each project phase on time and on budget, which will increase customer confidence and ultimately increase your company’s revenues.

Visibility is a forgotten element of project success.  If your project isn't hitting the right radar screens, then there will be nobody there to protect it when it hits road blocks.  Having (and using) a project dashboard report to demonstrate what projects are being tracked means that the focus will be on the right projects.  Chris Spagnuolo's dilemma on Agile/Scrum projects drives home the importance of visibility:

...Because the metrics are based on actuals being provided in near-real time by project team members, executives and customers can "peek" into the project at any given moment and know exactly what the situation is.  They don't need to wait for the weekly or monthly status reports.

Accountability is becoming a rare commodity in the workplace today.  It seems there are more and more excuses, acting in inverse proportion to results.  Creating a culture of holding people accountable for results (both in a positive and negative sense) is critical to getting things done.  As Bob Mitera comments:

As a former business owner and project manager...what if I was tired when I was supposed to be approving your pay check? Yeah...I thought so. Get to work.  If (your people) are accountable to themselves or their family...they will take action with or without you. Don't mistake passion for a job as loyalty.

Again, just as a Cajun cook needs all three elements of the holy trinity to make a successful meal, the project manager needs to channel all three elements of this holy trinity to make a successful project.  Missing any one of the three leads to something less flavorful.

Carpe Factum!

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