The context of project management

where passion 'lives'



Got any rivers that they say are un-crossable,
Got any mountains that they say “can't tunnel through”?
We specialise in the wholly impossible,
Doing the things they say you can't do.
(Song of the Panama Builders)

Organisations that make a positive difference have always started with actions that seemed impossible when first undertaken. Only after these projects have been successful is it recognised that these projects were, in fact, possible. How have these organisations accomplished this? They have coupled processes with passion. They know that the greatest passions provide greatest risk and the greatest rewards. They are willing to both enjoy the journey and address the risk, not for risk management or process sake but because it is the only way to provide a diligent response to passionate and challenging endeavours as custodians or stewards of the assets under their control.

As we journey towards the realisation of our goals, we need to plan our way, minimise setbacks, and increase our capabilities so that we improve our chances of reaching our goals. Adhering to certain process practices and methods are crucial to see these strategies through and can help us as challengers emerge. These practices conserve scarce resources, reduce waste, and produce a more effective result.

The desire for safety can stand against every great challenge. If you dare nothing you should really expect nothing. So then, how far would a team go to deliver on the promise?

There are some key criteria that are required on high-risk projects that have a high return on “emotion” as well as equity ratio. The following considerations will be helpful to those embarking on such endeavours.

Great Endeavours

What They Look Like

Since ancient times, people have marvelled at scientific breakthroughs. Be it a ship on the high seas or a satellite ploughing through orbit, all endeavours takes us back to the circumstances and people who have made them happen. The inventors, the physicists, the scientists behind these breakthroughs have at some point “run through the streets” shouting “eureka” because their persistence has paid off. As scientific methods and process mature, they give rise to sophisticated improvements that become a matter of everyday life.

I would like to begin by considering some great endeavours that the audience can easily relate to. Some of the members of the audience could well have been part and parcel of such endeavours, being involved in more ways than one.

  • Hosting the Olympics
  • Preparing a satellite launch program
  • A program to introduce a new aircraft
  • Building a dam, a township community, technology park or Eco-City
  • Implementing a major software project involving thousands of users
  • Your first major project.

There are some common characteristics expended by the team members that are associated with projects of this magnitude. They are delivered after great effort and dedication, as well as risk and vision.

These two pairs of words (effort and dedication - risk and vision) encapsulate the importance of process. A planning process in particular, forms the bulk of the effort - risk management planning keeps the vision in check.

There is certainly a great deal of problem solving that needs to take place as conflicts arise, and things do not happen as planned. There are techniques to handle situations when the project schedule is not going to plan to get projects back on track. The purpose of this presentation is to consider additional behavioural characteristics within the project framework that makes your project fly.

Just as an aircraft is guided through the air and clouds by virtue of its form, framework and structure, there are the unseen forces of lift and thrust that keep it in flight. Similarly, I would like to draw an analogy with the unseen forces that act on every project in addition to the project's form framework and structure.

The project framework—its form and phases—the knowledge areas and process groups—the techniques and tools are described in the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

In the context of project management, a successful project is one that meets the expectations of its stake holders. There is then the important need to engage the stake holders, understand their needs, and deliver on the promise.

The Extra Mile

There is a common characteristic that makes people go the extra mile. It is passion. A passion to see the job done— to deliver on the promise—to keep your word and do what you say you will do. Project management processes is but one way to ensure you do just that, and passion when wrapped up within this context, this framework, usually makes you get up at 1 a.m., make that one crucial phone call to one end of the world and have your job done by breakfast!

Great endeavours, great expectations great results—it comes easily where passion lives.

This Will Help You to Deliver Greatly

The stakeholders in a project from the team to those who will eventually be impacted by the project are involved to varying degrees throughout the life cycle of the project's phases. During this involvement there is an expectation to engage with stakeholders so that we understand the individual perspectives, and goals. If this is done properly you will never have a situation where someone does not know what is expected of them or does not understand their role.

Three Situations You Should Avoid at All Costs

There are three situations that should never happen once a project is implemented. It is okay if it comes up during a project—but never at a time when the project goes live or completes. It usually takes the form of a statement or situation like these:

  • “I did not know”
  • “I do not know how”
  • “It does not work”

If you are passionate about succeeding in a great endeavour, delivering great results, meeting or exceeding expectations, there are two questions to ask in relation to the project. These are:

  • How do we ensure we deliver on the Promise?
  • What can we do to improve on Process?

Ensuring We Deliver and Improving on Process

It would be best to reflect back on those three situations mentioned earlier—“the three situations to avoid at all costs.” One would note that each situation denotes or implies a certain breakdown of process. They can also be associated with various knowledge areas within the context of the PMBOK® Guide. See Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1

Passion Levers

There are many significant knowledge areas that could link directly to the situations that we are trying to avoid. Let's focus on communication, human resources and quality. One could say that with proper communication you avoid the probability of someone saying “I did not know: With optimum training, one would not necessarily face the situation where they would have to say “I do not know how”—they would have the necessary practice, and with the right focus on quality, well, it has to work because you would have tested your deliverable at various points in the process.

These “Passion Levers”—Communicate—Practice (training and readiness)—Test—are three things I would like the audience to remember at the appropriate stages of a project so as to be able to deliver greatly.

The 80:20 Rule of a Work Breakdown Structure

There are possibly many phases and many thousands of activities that roll up into the top level scope or statement of work of a large project. The activities and tasks will be of a varying nature. Some will require more attention than others due to their different characteristics and nature. Some, due to their potential identified risks would require careful management and would need to be identified in a risk matrix and properly managed in order to mitigate these risks. Usually, applying the 80/20 rule you may find that 20% of the tasks are crucial to the successful outcome of 80% of the results.

Zero Defect Delivery

It is common practice to focus on the complex or difficult tasks and make sure they flow. These tasks will require special communication, practice, and testing to come out with zero defect results. A result with zero defects may not be the quality goal. There could well be an agreed threshold expected, provided it is delivered within a certain cost or schedule or some other metric.

A Fine Balance

It is up to the project team to arrive at the fine balance of task, activity, scope, and expectation. Being complex may not necessarily mean one would meet the expected result of the stakeholders. It could well be the simpler tasks that have more weight in the making of a successful project. However, like all goods and services, there needs to be a certain expectation of the goods or service being “fit for purpose.” For instance, a business process using sophisticated technology and infrastructure needs to have users who are ready to use it, be robust when it is used, and provide users with the right reports or information. Like a three-legged stool, if any one of these falls short it throws the organisation off balance. Stakeholder expectation then shift toward stability goals and the original expectations change. Knowing what stakeholders want is a fine art, and experience and toolsets help. However, through communication, communication, and communication, this balance is easier to ascertain, and expectations, either explicit or implied, are better understood. The project team then plans for better change management or organisational readiness where required, and expected quality results. So we again see these knowledge areas covered within this context. See Exhibit 2.

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 2

Getting these three expectations right during the project life cycle that link to the project management knowledge areas of communication, human resources, and quality is a must-do and a basic minimum for a successful project.

A Fine Belief

Once you have mastered what the expectations are, you know you can deliver greatly by sticking with the plan. The truly passionate want to achieve the results and deliver on the promise. They believe the importance, the purpose, and significance of what is being initiated, planned, monitored, controlled, and closed. However, when you look at the many tasks, some simple, some complex, some routine, some interesting, the time line for the project is a long and arduous one. Nevertheless, you know that from the first step to the last, you will keep going and endure because of your belief in the reason for the project. It is in the Charter, it is in the Statement of Work—you endure because you have that significant ingredient—passion—it keeps you going to see this endeavour through and meet the expectations.

Five Questions that Indicate Passion

There are many questions project leaders should ask their team before setting out on a project—but there are five that we will consider here within the context of passion. Project leadership needs to confirm some key ingredients and indicators of passion.

  • Has the team taken ownership of the various tasks?
  • Are the commitment levels high?
  • Have the right team members shown initiative to take on certain responsibilities?
  • Does the team feel energised and enthusiastic?
  • Does the team feel empowered?

There is a time and a place for most tasks—it could be on the critical path or it could be outside the critical path. There are times when that one action or conversation could make all the difference. And it may need to take place at the most awkward of times but it is done because someone felt responsible enough to make sure it was completed, took the ownership to see it through and drew on the energy that was needed—they did this because they felt passionate about achieving the results that could lead to further dependencies later on.

How Far Will You Go?

A team will go as far as its values and beliefs will take it. If it believes strongly in the purpose and significance of a project's vision, it is capable of pulling together in the one direction that will make a difference.

The quote from an excerpt I once received in an email known as Nugget of the Week, by best-selling author, John L. Mason, goes like this: “When you add passion to a belief it becomes a conviction and there is a big difference between a belief and a conviction. Belief agrees with facts. Conviction brings persistence action to your beliefs.”

I have placed the words passion, belief, and conviction alongside the five questions as a reminder that the answers could well determine the level of passion within the project team. See Exhibit 3.

Exhibit 3

Exhibit 3

This profound link between passion and conviction best explains the difference passion plays in all great endeavours—those with purpose and significance.


A great vision needs to be supported by a great initiative or program of initiatives. Great initiatives require passion as well as attention to process. Results are achieved and expectations are met and exceeded, where passion lives.


Mason, J. L. (1995). You Are Born an Original, Don't Die a Copy. Tulsa: OK: Insight International.

Project Management Institute. (2000). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

© 2008, Rohan J. David
Originally published as a part of 2008 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Sydney, Australia



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