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And a one... and a two...

This past weekend, we took our older daughter to see the stage performance of Disney's The Lion King.  The performance is visually and technically awe-inspiring, even magical if you are a 6-year-old.  Later, my wife asked me about my favorite part of the performance.  The characters, costumes, and choreography were amazing, but they were not my focal point.  The talent and technical wizardry were engaging; yet again, those were not the attention-grabber.  Surprisingly enough, one of the two percussionists flanking the stage (as opposed to being relegated to the orchestra pit) was what held my fascination (don't worry, I saw the other stuff, too, and really liked it).  The percussionist was mesmerizing, as he varied his instruments and his rhythm to set the tempo of the activities on the stage.  His passion was obvious as he selected the right instrument to set the tune, the tone, and the timing.

African-inspired music and art lends itself to a focus on beat... on tempo.  That heritage has lasted for centuries:  through spirituals, through jazz, through blues, and yes, even through rap.  My wife recently introduced me to the poetry of the Harlem RenaissanceLangston Hughes' rich themes of a disparate, distant tempo almost scream through the lines...

"Subdued and time-lost are the drums -

and yet through some vast mist of race there comes this song I do not understand,

this song of atavistic land, of bitter yearnings lost without a place -

so long, so far away is Africa's dark face."

Music.  Drums.  Beat.  Time.  Tempo.

Why is a project manager talking about this topic?  Let me ask you something, what is the tempo of your project?  Your organization?  Your team?  Your department?  Are you, as the leader, setting the pace of activities or is somebody else holding that role?  Is the tempo constant, or is your team plagued with the jerkiness of stop-start-stop-start?  Are you all heading toward the goal at the same tempo, or are some team members slowing you down while others are speeding you up?  How are you handling issues that threaten the tempo?

Notice how Hughes' poem comments on the distance of the music and tempo.  How far away are you from your desired timing?  Lucia Mancuso recently posted a comment lamenting the same thing many project managers go through: Time...Where Are You Now?  It does seem to get away from us, but if we manage it just right, as eloquently put forth by Patti Digh's humorously stirring and insightful essay on taking life at just the right speed, we can hit it head on without destroying it.

As Carpe Factum Leaders, be we project managers or division heads or committee chairs, it is up to us to orchestrate and conduct the tempo.  I'm not talking about our schedule, but our tempo.  Our rhythm.  Our speed.  Our pace.  Our teams and our goals deserve that much.  So, who is setting your tempo?  If not you, then what can you do to regain ownership?

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Comments

Lucia

Ever since I wrote that post I've been thinking about how crucial our role is and how when we have an off day it can change everyones tempo and how critical it is to plan ahead ensuring that never happens. So I have put some systems in place to ensure that I am always a few days ahead setting the tempo for everyone else. Great post - it really makes me think of more ways to ensure my pace stays on target. I know this is all info that us PM's know and that we deal with all the time, however, reading posts like this are always good to remind us to think about how we can make things better.

Timothy

Thanks for commenting, Lucia. If you don't mind sharing, what are some of the "systems in place" that you've implemented to maintain your project tempo?

Lucia

As a person whose mind runs way too fast I keep a notebook in my purse, use an on line service called basecamp to write to do lists that I can access from any computer anywhere, I also use an on line service called Function Fox which allows all projects to be tracked by time, cost, employee productivity etc...
I have narrowed down my notes to 1 book - that is right 1 book, it is a sketch, to do list, client notes, doodle - everything book. I use to try to have different ones for different purposes and realized - it had to all be in one because the time to manage them all and reference them easily became a time crunch (and the simplest thing is that at the top of each page I write something that lets me know in future when I flip through I will find that info fast, and it has saved so much time.)
My new thing is keeping my inbox at 0 - making sure that I file everything daily so I can reference the emails painlessly.
I'll keep you posted on any new ones to come... I'm always looking for ways to save time... less time at work means more time for fun!!!

Timothy

Great suggestions, Lucia. In our PDA-driven society, we can either make things more complex or we may make them easier. I agree with you whole-heartedly on narrowing everything down. For me, it all goes on my computer or in my planner (13 years on the Franklin Covey system).

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