The Marriage of Project and Management

By Stephen Carter

By now you should recognize this issue is devoted to construction and delivery methods (Editor’s Note—this article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Correctional News). Perhaps you have been inspired with new methods to deliver projects using artificial intelligence or more pre-manufactured building components. Regardless, I hope you are still reading and can endure another thousand words to consider the role of people as the glue that enables management to create a project.

The 54-year-old Project Management Institute (PMI) defines projects as being temporary efforts “to create value through unique products, services, and processes”. For most of us involved with corrections, this means a building, a new inmate management system, or electronic medical records. At the conclusion of our abbreviated or extended schedule, our goal is to have created value that began with a proposition.

In the final act of Mozart’s, The Marriage of Figaro, Susan says to Figaro: “Our Errors past, and all our Follies done, Oh! That ’twere possible you might be won, to pardon Faults, and Misdemeanors smother, With the same ease we pardon One-another! So should we rest, To-night, devoid of Sorrow, And hope to meet you, joyously, To-morrow.”

That’s what we hope for: to have all our errors, faults, and misdemeanors during the management of the project pardoned and to finally rest knowing our efforts will be well received.

Regardless of the scale of the project, typically more than one person is involved. When the legendary Adam was strolling leisurely around the garden au naturel there was little need to do much management but once Eve showed up while he was napping, both the project and the management process had to change. The key to getting out of the garden alive is recognizing and using the individual strengths in a collective decision-making process.

If there has been one, there has been 10,000 books and articles written on the topic of project management. For the most part, project management has been intuitive and just something some folks seem to have a knack for and others didn’t. But, according to the Project Management Institute, in the 20th Century owing to advances in aerospace, technology, pharmaceuticals, and the like, an awakening occurred. Management processes can actually yield better outcomes if the “right” people are chosen and given the tools, time, and treasure to move an idea to a valuable outcome.

The operable word here is “right”. I have been reading Gino Wickman’s book, Traction, because the shop where I work – CGL Companies – has started to embrace many of the recommendations for identifying the best “seat” for the “right” people that promote our core values. Next October, we celebrate our 50th year and since I was around at day one, I can say that as an organization, the identification of the right people for the right seat does require more science than I had initially thought.

Just a couple weeks back, I was participating on a panel in Mexico City at the annual Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference. The panel preceding ours was given by two design academics who spoke on creating teams using strengths. The basis of their presentation was the use of the CliftonStrengths  method to empower individuals by developing resiliency in four broad categories: 1) executing, 2) influencing, 3) relationship building, and 4) strategic thinking.

For those of you not familiar with CliftonStrengths , the assessment tool was developed by Don Gallop who founded the globally recognized Gallop Corporation. Without going into a long history of the corporation (Google it), what the founder discovered (and patented) was 34 “themes” universally identified the talents of most people and if the “right” people were aligned with others representing the same talents, something close to magic would happen.

In a very abbreviated time, I took the assessment and learned what my “strengths” in participating in the management of a project might be (full disclosure: connectedness, empathy, restorative, harmony, and strategic). Fast forward a few days when I returned to Traction, I was reminded that sustainable project management is all about assigning “seats” to the “right” people and that the identification of the “right” people involves more than intuition, as important as gut instinct is.

I also thought about what COVID taught us all about the marriage of project and the people to manage. To say the least: revolutionary. There must be authors readying manuscripts as I write that will articulate, edit, or modify what we thought we knew about project management and how achieving successful outcomes without ever being in the same space at the same time is the new now. From personal experience, I saw a multi-million-dollar project traverse from a design brief to design documents in another country during the pandemic without face-to-face meetings.

Look, I’m old school and prefer the tactile experience of spilling coffee over each other’s papers but connecting while doing so. However, what we learned from the pandemic and the rapidly advancing AI technology, project management in the future will become even more dependent on the assessment of talents and marrying these with those of others who may never actually share the same space.

As PMI says, project management is temporary, but the results aren’t. A lot of the projects we do will still be in use for generations not yet conceived. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if the cornerstone would say “the right people were in the right seats when this was created.” So, we could do as Mozart suggested and rest tonight devoid of sorrow with hope to meet again!

This was written on Independence Day in grateful recognition that the freedoms we have not only allow, but require, our appreciation of and generosity toward others.

Stephen Carter, AICP
July 4, 2023

Stephen Carter, AICP is the executive vice president and global strategic development officer at Miami-based CGL Companies.