Project Management Institute

The context of project management--where passion 'lives"


Experience, it is said, can be a teacher, provided that we pay attention to its lessons, but it can also be merely “yesterday’s solution to today’s problem.” So where and at what point exactly is the lesson learned? This presentation takes a look into the interesting and practical ways to use both experience and wisdom to achieve project success within the project management context of motivation and passion.

Value systems are demonstrated every day by people who are driven to add value. I see it around me in simple things daily.

Paying attention to these experiences teaches us how living one’s values not only gets you the results you want, but gets it done the right way. There is a fine line between giving value and living your values. I caught a taxicab while overseas on a business trip the other day and was very appreciative of the driver, who made sure that no one jumped the “queue,” so to speak. He went through a great deal to do this. When I thought about it and paid attention to what was happening, I realized that what was being demonstrated by the cab driver was in fact a value system in action. He was demonstrating true value by doing his duty. During the drive back to my hotel, I thought about compensating the driver for this rare demonstration of values. I hoped my payment would be enough to show my appreciation. (As it turned out, it was).

It is said that your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment. (Burg & Mann, 2007).

What has all this got to do with project management? Quite a lot, as it happens, for those who have a passion to provide excellence, and a passion to deliver on the promise. For those who value time and want to reduce waste and re-work, a value system of efficiency is a way of adding value in the context of a project. However, to deliver greatly, the value one delivers should align to the values of the recipient stakeholders. At the very least, it should meet their expectations in terms of scope, cost, and time, and one should go the extra mile to do ensure this and to live up to the value system of the team that has made a promise to do what it said it would do. Paying attention to the stakeholder expectations during project initiation and scope planning teaches us what they value and what will make their project a success. This will not always be apparent, however, because real values are held deep down. It takes a focus on understanding both requirements and value systems to make a project successful.

Passion and Motivation

Partnerships, processes, technology, industry—you could take each of these elements or a combination of them and think about your own motivational levels with regard to them (or your fit or passion for each of them). Do you love the industry you work in, the technology, the partnerships and the processes that keep things ticking? If a particular industry gives you a sense of purpose, if you feel “driven” by it, then it is fitting for you to stay in that industry or to move toward it at every opportunity. If you want to build partnerships at work or business to align your processes and technology towards a specific mission, there are myriad methods, skills, knowledge, and approaches for doing so.

Passion and motivation come from different angles, different dimensions, and different directions. Higher purposes, important purposes, short-term goals, long-terms goals—whatever the purpose, there are a common set of characteristics that will keep your spirit up regardless of the difficulties. This uplifting of the spirit, referred to by poets, sages, and philosophers as the indomitable spirit, is what allows you to get up again when you fall or miss your mark—when your project plan or work breakdown structure actually breaks down! It makes you bend down and pick up the pieces, and with the right disciplines and knowledge, you go forward again.

What are these characteristics? There is one 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 exactly what you say you will do. Project management processes are just one way of ensuring that you do just that—and passion, when wrapped up within this context, this framework, is what makes you get up at one o’ clock in the morning, make that one crucial phone call to the other end of the world, and have your job done by breakfast! Great endeavors, great expectations, great results: these come easily where passion “lives.”

Covering Our Bases—Lessons Learned

We all want to deliver greatly, we all want to deliver value, and we all want to deliver on the promise.

Lessons learned are a way to cover our bases, build on those things that have worked, and avoid those that have not worked.

Two Important Matters to Note

There are two matters to be aware of in using lessons learned.

  • A lesson that you do not experience yourself will not give you the wisdom of the experience. If you are instead a “third party” to that lesson, the lesson is open to interpretation or you may apply it in the wrong way.
  • The factors may be different in the two situations. You could be in danger of applying “yesterday’s solution to today’s problem.”

However, we do not have time to make all the mistakes again, so we must try to learn as best we can from those made before. A proper mechanism for recording, reviewing, inferring, and discussing is important. This requires a passion to excel, a passion to find out what has worked in the past and what will work in the newer circumstances. The right focus during these reviews is crucial to delivering value. Provided that we keep in mind the two concerns listed above, experience will teach when we give it the right “value” focus.

Solid Proven Enablers Crucial to Project Success (Passion Levers)

Three “passion levers” should be kept in mind: communicate, practice (training and readiness), and test., I would like the audience to remember these three passion levers at the appropriate stages of a project so as to be able to deliver greatly, because they align to important Knowledge Areas: Communication, Human Resources, Quality, and Risk Management.

These enablers can be aligned to the various knowledge areas within the context of A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)—Fourth edition (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2008) (See Exhibit 1).

Alignment of Enablers to PMBOK<sup>®</sup> Guide Knowledge Areas

Exhibit 1: Alignment of Enablers to PMBOK® Guide Knowledge Areas

Roadblocks and Obstacles to a Successful Project Result (How Passion Wanes)

When your motivational level reduces, and yes, when passion is lacking, this is an obstacle to project success. The lack of passion may be among the entire team, or among certain individuals who are part of the team, or among leadership and sponsors.

The most difficult situation would be to face or handle a project in which a sponsor or champion of the project has lost his or her motivation. I personally have never experienced this situation in my professional career; it was mentioned to me by a member of the audience during a Q&A session of a congress presentation, who wanted to know how one should handle this problem.

The second-most difficult situation is when the entire team lacks motivation.

The third-most difficult is when an individual or a few individuals lack motivation.

In the next section, we will discuss some possible approaches to these situations. First, however, we should discuss how to identify a lack of passion.

  • When checkpoints reveal milestones that are in danger, or deeper review shows that focus on a task is lost. At such times, other things may be occupying the space of these tasks— such as matters that the involved persons are more passionate about
  • When intelligent questions are no longer being asked.

The knowledge, skills, and confidence that come from asking good questions also require the courage to ask these questions at the right time. Passion gives courage—the courage to ask questions, and when good questions are not forthcoming, it indicates one of two things. Either there is nothing left to learn (that is, things are too simple), or there is not enough courage and passion to persevere and learn more. In both projects and history in general, asking important questions has led to astounding results. I would recommend this ‘communication’ approach in all three situations above.

When milestones are missed and checkpoints falter due to lack of passion (although there are, of course, many reasons other than lack of passion for these problems), it is usually because excitement is lost when things get too difficult or become complex. Some give up, some persevere.

When things get hard…people with passion will brainstorm, ask questions, learn. They will adopt all the passion levers (communicate, practice, test) and try their best to break through with the knowledge gained from the activity. They have the energy to “go the extra mile;” they have focus. They get results, they stay confident, and they stay in tune with their sense of purpose.

Passion Indicators

  • 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 energized 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 although it may need to take place at the most awkward of times, 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 down the line.


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.

I once received in an e-mail known as “Nugget of the Week” an excerpt with the following quote by best-selling author, John L. Mason (1995): “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 and 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 2).

Indicators vs. Great Endeavors Need

Exhbit 2: Indicators vs. Great Endeavors Need

Passion levers, passion indicators, as well as courage and belief add to the energy. In the absence of this energy, mentors, project leaders, and confidants (where appropriate) can help people to realize their unique talents that can help them add value—talents that they never realized that they had.


Where passion “lives,” where passion is embedded, a project does better. (It “lives” in a project whose team has passion.) This passion provides energy, staying power, spirit, and focus. Without it, the first obstacle that a project hits can lay it low. People who are capable of making the impossibilities of today into the possibilities of tomorrow are people with a passion to deliver on the promise. They pay attention to values, as well as other enablers, and they take appropriate measures to instill passion.


Burg, B., & Mann, J. D. (2007). The go-giver. New York: Penguin Group.

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

Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fourth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2009, Rohan J. David
Originally published as a part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Kualar Lumpur, Malaysia



Related Content