Project Management Institute

The cerebral project manager


Project Management has been described as up to 80% communication in some form. My view is that project managers are 99% cerebral. Nothing physical is ever done without thinking ahead—except in emergencies when, hopefully, instinct takes over for well-trained PMs. We “do” only after careful thought of the consequences. Thus, we are 99% cerebral. Per Webster, “cerebral” means in the mind, brain, mental processes, not recorded.

This cerebral activity results in communication. The success of this communication is attained by the sum total of our personal development in project management. What we know and what we can do plus what we can get others to do both with us.

The Cerebral Project Manager carries mental pictures that play in the mind like a silent movie. We are always thinking in the basics. Basics are really mental checklists or images. Mental pictures may be in different forms in each of us. This is due to the way our individual mind works, but certainly because of how we have loaded that mind over our lifetime.

The intention of this paper and the subsequent presentation is to share with you images, topics and personal development suggestions. Each reader's goal should be to evaluate and accept what is best for him or her. Consider your mind to be the silent movie projector, or the home video, or DVD, or wireless, Web-based, cosmic cerebellum. Untethered, you walk, talk, think, communicate and take action we hope) in the correct order

Project Management

So what are “things” to carry with you? For the literary-inclined, my favorite is:

I keep six honest serving men

(they taught me all I knew);

their names are What and Why and When

and How and Where and Who.

Rudyard Kipling, 1865–1936

Using this couplet as a prompt, your cerebral process will be something like this:

Why is it on my mind? What is the problem here? Why is it a problem? How can it be fixed? Who is the best person to fix it? How fast need it be fixed? How much will it cost? What is my plan? Where will it be carried out?

Another version for those few who are mathematically inclined is a formula:

P (5W + H + HM) = AP

Where “P” is the problem being mentally worked via who, what, why, when, where, how, how much, and resultant is “AP” an Action Plan to fix a problem.

Obviously, we devoted PMI members should carry the nine topics under active mental management [Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resources, Communication, Risk, Procurement, and Integration], plus know where we are in the project life-cycle—initial, intermediate, final as it applies to a particular issue. We will talk to ourselves in a more detailed way.

What is bothering me? Why am I concerned? Is it a Risk issue? Is it a human resource issue? How should I address it? Who would be the best person to address it? How quickly must it be addressed, etc?

NOTE: As project managers we have projects and programs. Programs are just lots of projects under one program. Projects have projects within projects because—guess what?—everything can be viewed as a project. The elegance of the project management discipline in all its permutations is that it is quite simply a mental discipline that hopefully results in a plan of action. Beyond that the discipline is tools and techniques being researched, taught, tested, and shared among practitioners.

In my view, everything in life is as a project that may be subjected in some way to this cerebral discipline.

Human Resources—We Are One

To go from this cerebral cogitation to some manner of success requires action by oneself, or, more generally, action by another party. This action results from the manager communicating the desired action in a manner that obtains “buy in” by that “human resource” that you wish to take action.

“Buy in” is obtained when those involved want to do it. They may do it for you because you are “the boss.” They will do what you ask with greater success if they enthusiastically wish to do it. Their attitude toward you and what you communicate as a total person creates enthusiasm. This applies if they are your employee, a project stakeholder, an interested public official, your employer, or even a member of your family.

Your success in any project endeavor results from the total image you project, and, in fact, represent. That person (you) is not born fully developed, but developed over many years. Consequently, we address your development as a human resource via the ABC's of Personal Development.

The ABC's of Personal Development

To grow and prosper as a Project Manager in this ever-changing world, you must commit to your own continued personal development. With the increased empowerment of the individual, each of us must not only understand and practice the basics of modern project management, but also develop in ourselves the personal characteristics needed for our happiness and success. To assist you in the continuing journey of self-development, I have recorded my version of the ABCs of a developing project manager. Consider each and add to or modify it, as appropriate to your individual needs. You will soon enhance your individual and unique style of management and Supplement your project management skills.

A is for Attitude

All things considered, attitude is 90% of life. The correct attitude will overcome one's limitations in intelligence, education and experience. If you are positive, interested, happy, enthusiastic and open to suggestion, most people will overlook your inexperience and offer to help. If you are negative, dour, closed off or just uninterested, you will be avoided because you are not fun. People want to be with fun people. Remember that a positive attitude is mandatory in your dealings with people.

B is for Bosses and Billability

All of life's endeavors have metrics of accomplishment. This is vital to project success. It may be individual productivity, goals attained, or personal billings to specific projects. Accept the measure of accomplishment that is required by your boss, understand it and make it work for you. The ultimate goal is to make you and your boss look good.

C is for Consideration

Nothing offends like an inconsiderate act. Whether it is rude, selfish, gross, or just plain unthinking, it offends. Listening to others, even when you are not interested or otherwise occupied, is a considerate act. Considering new ideas is a sign of respect. New ideas will often benefit the listener. Be considerate and listen.

D is for Determination

Success eludes many of us because we give up at the first sign of difficulty. What seems impossible will suddenly become much easier because a particularly difficult condition has changed or you have finally found a way to get around it. Never, ever give up if there is something you really want to accomplish.

E is for Energy

Activity breeds activity. Nothing energizes one more than being part of a busy group with a common goal. Always project the image of a person on the move, in your bearing and your every gesture. When you cannot do this, it is time to step back and discover why. You may need a break, a new direction, or it may simply be that you are at a metabolic low. Listen to your energy level and, when necessary, reenergize yourself.

F is for Fun

The ultimate goal in life is to find something to do that you consider fun and then get paid for doing it. A continuing objective is to have fun, no matter what dismal job you are doing. Having fun makes the time go by quickly, reduces your stress and makes people enjoy working with you. If it's not fun anymore, it's time to make it fun or to move on.

G is for Gregarious

To build relations at work and at play, people need to know you as a person. Sociability is important. It will enhance team efforts. Your ability to participate in large groups, while feeling comfortable and relaxed, is mandatory. This is a skill that many of us must learn. Get out and mix with people, even if you would rather not. The effort will be worthwhile.

H is for Honesty

Life is all about relationships. Relationships are based upon trust. Trust is built upon confidence in the actions of another person or group. Confidence is shattered when honesty is questioned. Honesty is well served if you do the right thing.

I is for Integrity

Without your personal integrity, you have no compass to guide you. Understand the moral principals of your culture. Think out your positions on the issues of our times. This is part of becoming a complete person. It is hard work, but vital to your success. Integrity contributes to honesty and doing the right thing.

J is for Judicious Problem-Solving

Decisions must be both timely and judicious. To make no decision is a decision in favor of the status quo. Managers are known by the problems they solve and the decisions they make while solving the problems. Decisions regarding problems must be based upon the best information available. There are three kinds of problems requiring decisions:

1. You have the information you need. You know what the solution is to the problem. Proceed!

2. More information is needed to solve the problem. Gather the information. Make the decision and proceed.

3. Some problems defy solutions no matter how much information you collect. Ignore them, as 90% will be overcome by events and disappear. This is called the “do-nothing” alternative.

4. Continually assess unresolved problems. They may change categories.

Be sure your decisions are timely, just and fair. Avoid procrastination on problems you can solve. Remember: no decision is a decision.

K is for Knowledge

You will never have enough. Learn the basic principals. They will usually suffice. Continually seek to update your knowledge. Read broadly and voraciously. Look around. Listen. Ask “why.” Lifelong learning is a valid goal for every project manager.

L is for Love

Do what you love. Love what you do. Love yourself and love those around you. Seek a higher value in God, family, or humankind. Without love, you become barren and boring.

M is for Modesty

Seldom do we achieve success alone. The credit for success must be shared with all those who helped us along the way. Recognizing the help of others and giving credit accordingly is modesty. Modesty and sharing credit is a great way to motivate your team. The last thing you want to hear from your team is: “They get all the credit and we get all the blame,” or “They get all the glory while we do all the work.”

O is for Opportunity

“Problems are opportunities in work clothes” is a wonderful aphorism. This is the positive versus the negative approach to life. Are we 50% complete or do we still have 50% more to do? Viewpoint is the key, and a positive attitude is the necessary reinforcement. “Every cloud has a silver lining.” These sayings help us adjust to perceived adversity by changing our perception from negative to positive. If you seek opportunity within adversity, you will usually find it. “Seek and ye shall find.” The number of aphorisms pertaining to attitude adjustment is amazing. They all help, so collect your favorites. They trigger attitudinal changes.

P is for Proper Pride

“The few, the proud, the Marines” or “Pride goeth before a fall.” Which do you subscribe to? What is the message? The message is to seek balance. You should have pride in your ability to be a success, but not so much pride that you fail to recognize your shortcomings and your dependencies. You should be proud of your team and its ability, but not so proud that you become arrogant and thereby fail to mitigate known risks.

Q is for Questioning

Always question. Never accept anything at face value. How else will you understand the basis for an order or a decision? Ask why and listen carefully to the answer. That is how you learn. When all is said and done, ask yourself, “Does this feel right in my gut?” If it doesn't feel right, ask more questions.

R is for Resiliency

There are many stories about “just one more try” finally leading to success. Believe it. Results come from continued, unrelenting efforts, i.e., by just plain not giving up. Resiliency is physical and mental stamina in the face of what may appear to be a totally impossible situation. Resiliency is always regrouping your efforts and trying yet another approach. Resiliency is never giving up, no matter what the hardship. To endure is to win.

S is for Sincerity

Life is full of hypocrisy, dishonesty and various forms of guile. You need not add to it. If the best you can give is a sincere effort, then say so. If you are sincere, your clients will always know where they stand. Surprises are never appreciated. Surprises can be avoided by a sincere discussion of potential issues and concerns, i.e., project risk.

T is for Timing

Timing is not the same as schedule. Timing is when the event should occur to achieve the desired results. One hears: “Timing is everything!” or “The right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time.” There is an element of fatalism in timing. Truly great stage actors utilize superb timing. Timing is part of any sound project management strategy. Of particular importance to the project manager is ascertaining the optimum time to implement an action.

U is for the User

All too often, the viewpoint of management is, “We know better than you” (with an unstated implication “We also know what is good for you”).

Under this axiom, all manner of projects have been implemented unsuccessfully. As we flatten organizations and empower individuals, we must also seek out and carefully consider the end user as a full partner. This is what democracy is all about. Equally important, you obtain the user's acceptance and approval or “buy-in.” This leads to success because the user then “owns” the solution and wants it to succeed. Always consider and fully involve the user.

V is for Vision

Whether you call it “Vision,” “Goals,” “Objectives” or a “Strategic Plan,” it is important to have an overall view of what you intend to accomplish. It should be stated succinctly, i.e., a carefully crafted sentence which is easily remembered. If you cannot state the overall vision succinctly, you do not see it clearly in your mind. Without a clear vision statement, you will not have a benchmark against which to evaluate progress. The vision statement will typically have a scope, schedule and preferably a budget. “Within 18 months we will design and construct by ourselves an 800-square-foot cabin in the foothills for not more than $80,000” is a vision.

W is for Wealth

Wealth of some sort is everyone's goal. My version of wealth is:

W =Work that is fun.

E = Enthusiasm for life.

A = A positive attitude.

L = Love given and received.

T = Tenacity to accept and endure.

H = Health above all else.

X is for the Unknown

“X” stands for your continued development into a known quantity with unique qualities. How are you progressing? What have you not accomplished? Get started today!

Y is for You

At times the world may seem dismal. You must trust in the future and believe in yourself to overcome life's obstacles. No one can do it for you. You are the only one who can succeed. The tougher it gets, the nicer you should be—to you!

Z is for Zest

A zest for living will keep you moving along when all seems lost. Zest will increase your enthusiasm as things get better. Zest will return you to sections of this book and remind you of the areas that need more development, a different focus, or subtle reinforcement. Have fun! A successful and personally rewarding life is your most important project.


Cerebral project management is all mental and seldom recorded except via cryptic written notes to oneself. The results of this process are expressed via your communication method and style toward others. This style is the sum total of your personal development. PMI membership and participation is a unique and beneficial part of that personal development. 99% of your project management activity will be cerebral. Recognizing and developing the process of cerebral project management, which is communicated via your personal style, will enhance your success. Think of your personal development as a project. The silent movie in your head plays on.

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.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA



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