Project management guru Harold Kerzner once suggested that project managers should, after five years, be reassigned from the field of project combat to a kind of senior statesman/stateswoman role, no longer at the line of fire but providing information and counsel to their successors in the active profession.
Kerzner's point was that the five-year tour of duty is pretty much the limit for healthy and useful active contribution. Few project managers I know see it that way, nor do their organizations. As a result, there are veteran project managers available for examination as to the long-term results of living with the job.
Not surprisingly, some of the oldtimers have given up, projecting a grumpiness that keeps annoyances at bay, or they're just resigned to a life of low expectations. Some, though, are vigorous and assertive, having found competence with serenity. They are great project managers, and are great to be around. How do they do it?
I like to think these successful people, who have full, enjoyable lives both in their project work and in everything else, do so by applying sound project management practices to the way they live.
It's not quite as stark as drawing up a project plan for my life, accounting for the nine knowledge areas and five process groups and 42 processes to cover my yardwork, grocery shopping and visiting the children. But it's not a bad idea to step back from one's intense participation in life's unbroken chain of moments to reflect on what's happening.
When you do that, using an analytical, results-driven way of evaluating what you're spending your time on, and how and why, choices become clearer. You can plainly see how a few strategic decisions or opportune moments have gigantic effects. The river of life flows on, made up of thousands of small realities, and we are carried along. The lesson here, though, is that we can have as much control as our insight and courage command.
This process can seem largely involuntary, but it's not. The many factors thrust at us every day as inevitable, as required? Actually they are matters of free choice. We can have as much control as we want to work for, through developing insight and applying reasonable levels of planning and follow-through. If cultural norms or organizational practices stifle our actions, it is because we have chosen to allow that to happen.
And this habit of misjudgment generates much of the excessive stress in the life of the project manager. The active ingredient in stress is a conviction that bad things are happening to me and I can do nothing about them.
The competent project manager never accepts either the undesirable factors in the environment or the sense of helplessness in dealing with them. The antidote to harmful stress has two components: Management of the activities and circumstances in which the project manager functions, and management of the attitudes and beliefs by which the project manager lives. Organizing the exterior, controlling the interior.
The successful project manager thoroughly understands that. Competent planning, negotiating and leadership are good project management when applied to the organization, the situation and the stakeholders. They are good personal productivity management when applied to the self.
Together, they direct the natural stress of project management into fruitful performance within a balanced life.