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Don't Just Do It. Do It Right

(This completes thoughts expressed November 8, 2010 in a post at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com)


He's a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his nowhere land,
Making all his nowhere plans
for nobody.

                                                                                    -- The Beatles

     The Beatles lyrics display a bitterly cartoonish – but not entirely unfamiliar – figure. You get the impression that the “hero” of the song has no idea of what a loser he is.

     That’s not so with your typical project manager. When you’re a project manager, you can’t hide from the opinions of your stakeholders. They are the final judges of your results even as they depend upon and/or collaborate in your managerial process. They’ll tell you, one way or another, what they think of you and your plans.

     As a project manager, you must aim everything you do at getting other people to do things they would not otherwise do. Some of those things are not particularly pleasant, and many of them get in the way of what your stakeholders may consider higher priorities.

     The last thing you, the project manager, need to battle is a conclusion on your stakeholders’ part that you’re not really into it, or not really on top of it.

     So maintaining one's own motivation is a fundamental requirement for the successful project manager. But MS Project can’t do it for you, and it’s a fatal delusion to act as if it can. In fact, however formal/detailed/comprehensive your planning process and product are, they are worthless if they haven’t resulted in action in the real world. Management thinker Peter Drucker said so about decision-making, and what is planning other than decision-making?


This is the hardest part


     If effective action is the aim, then planning must account fully for human motivation. The project manager must take responsibility for generating the intent in the minds of all the stakeholders to actually carry out the project plan. The plan must have wheels under it, or it will just sit there, as the project sinks in the mire.

     This is the hardest part. Planning is at base a rational process, in which some desired new result or state is identified as a goal, and steps to reach it are defined. Strictly on this logical level, there are countless excellent plans that go nowhere. We’re talking about how to make the process realistic, how to ensure actual implementation of what is intended.

     And that, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, is a hugely emotional matter. If you don’t want to do it, never mind how “good” the plan is. You won’t carry it out.

     In everyday life, this usually isn’t a flaming crisis. Most of what we do is familiar routine, patterned behavior that doesn’t require a lot of serious planning. Whether we should take life more seriously or not, we usually don’t. How often do we develop and follow a rigorous strategy that demands serious discomfort to attain worthy new results?

We occasionally dream a bit about how nice it would be to have more money, more status, better health, some other items symbolic of greater happiness than we now enjoy. But these thoughts frequently fall well short of real intention, stopping at the wishful thinking level.

     At times, we are bothered by our lack of movement toward these desired improvements. We know it’s up to us, but there are a lot of other priorities that fill up our days. Our self-image may be clouded by frustration at our shortfalls, but we move on, pretty much the same way. We can live with it.


How do you get yourself to do it?


     You can’t do that in your role as a project manager. You’ll fail. Yet, many of us allow too much of that unthinking behavior to encumber our performance in our leadership/management role. It limits our success and, paradoxically, adds to our workload.

     So how do you get yourself to do what you know you should do? For that matter, how do you get yourself to do what you want to do? How do you get yourself to want it enough to bestir yourself, behaviorally?

      The answers are surprisingly simple, but they are NOT easy.

      Fuel your approach with a conscious perception of the rewards you will reap from being a good project manager. For example, you want the respect that comes to people who take responsibility for tough challenges, and pull them off. You like the feeling that you’re known as one of those people. You thrive on challenges that most people want to avoid.

     Make it routine, often, to explicitly contemplate that. Paint some mental pictures.

     You often remind yourself that you enjoy doing difficult things you feel confident you can do. And you continually prove to yourself that building your confidence is your own responsibility – and you do it by studying, tuning and practicing the skills of competence.

      So, as project managers, we consciously shed the behaviors that are accepted in less-demanding work. We carefully prepare our projects. We thoroughly research the background and issues, intents and expectations of the initial stakeholders, particularly those powerful people who directed that there be a project. They also are the ones who control the resources it needs as it unrolls.

      We devote all the time necessary to establishing, maintaining and strengthening the relationships and communication practices that assure support of our projects from the top, the bottom, the outside and the inside.

      We directly engage the real working parts of project management early and often, so there is full clarity and mutual commitment to expectations and responsibilities. We anticipate and head off problems through wise and thorough planning and negotiation. We promptly engage any variances that arise despite our prevention efforts.

       Man, this is fun!

       There’s your definition of true motivation: Not Just Do It! Instead, Do It Right. Takes some time, some discipline. But it works. Fun is a superb motivator, and so is success..



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