Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What does project management mean to me

Fun is what project management means to me. Period.
But I better explain what I mean by fun first. And then I'll tell you a real story where I had a huge amount of fun along with my team: yes, while working and while being paid for! Isn't it great?
The other part of this "fun" attitude is that others, namely your project team, could benefit from it too.
Keep on reading to check out how!

What does fun mean?

Let me start the other way around and tell you what fun doesn't mean. Fun doesn't mean being silly or irresponsible (although silly can be fun). But if you check Wikipedia for fun you'll see that:
"Fun is an experience - short-term, often unexpected, informal, not cerebral and generally purposeless."
This is not what I mean by fun. Later on, on this same Wikipedia page, you can also read:
"When a person is challenged to think consciously, overcome challenge and learn something new, they are more likely to enjoy a new experience and view it as fun."
Now is this more like it. This is what I mean by fun: it can be silly, yes, but it must be cerebral and a challenge of some sort.

Having Fun While

I want to focus now on fun within Project Management. There are 2 ways to it, being the first how to have fun while managing a project. Just let me drop some topics at you to consider when you can choose what project to manage next:
  • A bit of stress: not too much, not to little - a project that will give you something between a heart attack and a yawn makes a good candidate for a project. Fun, like a roller coaster, requires some stress.
  • A challenge: if the project you're considering makes you wonder "can I do this?", than you have yourself a good candidate for a project for you to manage.
  • Outside your comfort zone: it may look like an aggregation of the previous points, but actually it's a bit more,  and it can be something with no stress and no challenge involved. For instance, just change the people who the project is to benefit (supposing most of your projects are to benefit the board, have a project to benefit the front office of your company).
  • Learning possibility: Learning is always fun for me. I find some topics more fun than others, but the process alone makes it worth while. For me.
Did you miss something on this list? Were you expecting career development or such on this list? Well, that depends. Career development is no fun for me. If it is for you, you add it to your own list, OK?

Make Your Team Have a Good Time

The other aspect of fun within Project Management is how to make your team have fun while they're working in the project. Each person will have a different answer approach to this and I'm really not able to make some kind of a fun anthology in Project Management, so let me try to expand on something I've written before on this article "How Rituals Impact Project Management".
Once upon a time there was this very demanding project where people were systematically working late. Does this sound a bit too common place for a project? Believe me, this project was no common place: some technical breakthroughs, high stress levels, anxiety, and pressure, and even power struggles; these were all part part of this particular project. The problem for me was that productivity was dropping by the hour. So I decided to give a try to something I've been considering doing for sometime: a fun way to make everyone leave the office on time for the weekend. The objective was clear for me: leaving on time for the weekend would make them disconnect from the project more time and so it was more probable that the team would probably recharge their batteries. So here's the recipe:


  • The worst music you can find (check below for example)
  • Permission to play the music (according to context, that might be someone like your boss or from the Board)
  • Loudspeakers connected to your laptop (the more powerful the better)


  1. 5 minutes before leaving time for the weekend (that would be Fridays at 5:55 PM for me, it might be some other time/day of week for you), add the playlist to a media player of your choice
  2. At leaving time for the weekend (Fridays at 6 PM for me): start playing the music, adjust volume as needed and don't let anyone stop the music; in principle, the louder the better!
"The worst music you can find"... well that's a challenge in itself. You probably have no idea how bad this can get. Check this example for a taste (this one is in Portuguese but you won't lose anything because of that):

Impressive how bad it can get, isn't it?
But just let me tell you how that worked for me.

Stage One

The reaction was really bad when I played this at the office for the first time. Some even took offense (comprehensively) because there was just so much to do and it was impossible to work while these songs were playing (which was, in fact, the objective of playing them in the first place). Some didn't react so bad, but even those were begging me to stop the music so they could work.

Stage Two

The following week the team was prepared. And it became some kind of a ritual for that project: Just before 6 PM, on each Friday, someone would remind the entire team and they would be packing their stuff so at 6 PM the office was empty,. Hurray, my win! Actually, their win! Better still: our win!

Stage Three

Gradually, things were changing:

  • some asked me for those songs so they could take home and show their friends;
  • some would contribute, bringing me some songs they've found in the hope I would find it "worthy" for our next Friday's selection;
  • and some were curious if I added any song to the list during the week.
Nevertheless, it was fun. Even those who took it badly at first were now playing along with this and the all thing actually brought the team together, it was our songbook and they were... well... I'd say proud, lacking a better word for it! The all thing was pretty amazing! This was something I didn't really expect: I just wanted them to recharge batteries during the weekend and go at it already in "fun mode". I wasn't expecting to grow the team with it, but it did!


My bet is that if you ask 100 Project Managers this questions, "What does project management mean to you?", you're going to get 100 different answers (*). My intent with this is now advocating that fun is what Project Management should mean for Project Managers (although I think I could give it a try sometime). But for me, fun is central. Worst case scenario: which of the situations your prefer when the only difference is that you're having fun in one of the of the possible scenarios?
I explored fun within Project Management. So if you'd like to give a try, I've set some initial criteria that could work for you to select the projects where you'll probably have more fun. And I shared an experience where my team had a huge amount of fun while working on a very demanding project.
I hope this was some fun reading for you!

Image from

(*) This article is published as part of a first ever project management related global blogging initiative to publish a post on a common theme at exactly the same time and I'm proud to be one of the almost 100 Project Management Bloggers participating (credit for this initiative goes to Shim Maron). The complete list of all participating blogs is found here so please go and check them out!


Rich Maltzman said...

Thanks for your post! Nice job. I am going to buy a whole new jar of earplugs, though...

Luis Seabra Coelho said...

Music is really an international language, I'm glad that you... err... enjoyed it?


Elizabeth Harrin said...

Great article, this is probably not something I'll try in my office, but I'm sure I can adapt it and build in fun. We already do quizzes and games when I can find the time to organise them.

Shim Marom said...

Hi Luis, thanks for taking part in the #PMFlashBlog initiative.

As I (slowly) make my way through all blog contributions I attempt to find, in each, the message I would like to take away. In your case the key message for me is hidden in the following paragraph:

"My intent with this is now advocating that fun is what Project Management should mean for Project Managers (although I think I could give it a try sometime). But for me, fun is central"

Love the concept of integrating fun into the workplace and it seems like to actually made it happen.

Well done.

Cheers, Shim.

Thomas Juli said...

excellent and cool example of "fun" music. :-)
Fun is important as it reminds us that projects are first and foremost about people. Hence, we must not neglect the human aspects of projects.
To me, the term "happiness" has an even stronger connotation. Fun can be part of it, i.e., help you feel happy. Consequently, my formula for project success is:
leadership + happiness = project success