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Don’t manage projects like Cary Grant

My wife loves old Cary Grant movies. She loves all the over-acting, melodramatic plots and perfect “movie star” looks of all the actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I, on the other hand, cannot sit through more than 10 minutes of any film from that era. It is all so obvious and over done. The acting, cinematography, editing and even the writing seem to take a “one size fits all” approach compared to today’s creative standards. Film making, as an artform, has come a long way in the last 50 years.

I took a few film study classes in college, and I remember learning about the advancement and maturity of film making, as writers, actors and directors slowly began to realize they weren’t simply capturing a stageplay on film. All of the exaggerated delivery of lines and dramatic physical acting needed to reach an audience member in the back row of an auditorium weren’t needed any longer. Quite the opposite. A director could capture what a character was thinking and feeling simply by zooming in for nice, long tight shot of an actor’s face. The industry had to completely rethink their approach to how they created their product even though the basic elements remained the same. A movie was still executed by a team of writers, actors, directors and technicians. But, the audience had changed. They had moved past the obvious and were looking for something more. They were looking for real meaning…looking for truth.

I feel this same evolution has taken place in the project management industry, yet some professional PMs haven’t taken notice. The elements haven’t changed. At it’s core, a project is still a long list of activities that have to be done by a group of people in a given timeframe for a set amount of money. Unfortunately, I still see many projects that are managed in such a way they remind me of an old black & white from the 1950s. There is melodrama, over-acting and cheesy plots. Some project managers continue to focus on overstated presentations intended to illicit applause from their audience versus the subtle approach of a nice “tight shot.”

Today’s best project managers have realized that to successfully manage their projects, they need to do more than put on a great show once a month at their status meetings with their project stakeholders. They take a “close-up” of their project on a daily basis, looking for those subtle hints of risk or traction. They are not enamored with creating a dramatic Powerpoint presentation in order to impress their colleagues, they are focused on the four or five key metrics that are indicative of the success of the project and are always prepared to demonstrate the consistency in which the project is being managed, at a moments notice if necessary.

The best professional project managers look deeper into cause and effect, and they understand that an agile approach is necessary and that all projects cannot be managed in the same way using the same tools that have been used for decades. Today’s project directors create a unique vision for their cast and crew and then they help bring that vision into focus each and every day. They realize that even similar projects for the same client or department have their own storyline and that the plot for each new project will have it’s own twists and turns.

Whether your a PM, a stakeholder or an actor with some small role in a project, understand that the success lies in the details and those details aren’t necessarily exciting or dramatic.

The most successful PMs will be the ones that suppress their inner Cary Grant and seek to be the best James Cameron they can be. The audience is looking for the truth.