where passion "lives" and lessons learned


“You can do anything if you have passion. Passion is the sparkle in your eye…the swing in your gait, the irresistible urge of your will, and your energy to execute ideas. Passion is at the bottom of all progress. With it …there is accomplishment, without it there are only alibis.”

(Henry Ford 1863 – 1947)

The people who are capable of turning the impossibilities of today into the possibilities of tomorrow are the people with a passion for delivering on their promises. They pay attention to values, they use the “levers” or “enablers” necessary to help them to do it, and they continually apply lessons learned to this process.

This paper will address the following questions about obtaining and keeping this passion:

  • How do you maintain passion throughout a long-term project?
  • How do you implement a strategy for passion, inspiration, and motivation?
  • How do you measure passion?
  • How do you leverage lessons learned relevant to motivation levels, “attitudinal altitude,” and project outcomes?
  • What do chief executives expect in terms of passion? Do you have the passion to provide value?
  • How do you combine process frameworks and passion?

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).

Value systems are demonstrated every day by people who are driven to add value. Paying attention to these experiences teaches us how not merely having values but actually living those values gets the right results—and more importantly, gets them the right way.

What does all this have 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 example, for those who value time and want to reduce waste and rework, a value system of efficiency is one way of adding value. However, to deliver optimally, the value one delivers should also align to the values of the recipient stakeholders. This means meeting their expectations in terms of scope, cost, and time, going the extra mile to do so, and living up to the value system and promise of the team. Paying attention to stakeholder expectations during project initiation and scope planning teaches us what the stakeholders value and what will make the project a success. This will not always be obvious, however, as it requires understanding both the requirements and the value systems to make a project successful.

Passion and Motivation

Partnerships, processes, technology, and industry: Consider your own motivational level with regard to any one of these. Do you love the industry you work in, or is your passion for the technology, the partnerships, or the processes of your work? If the particular industry you work in gives you a sense of purpose or fulfills your “drive” to succeed, then it makes sense for you to stay in that industry. If, on the other hand, it is the partnerships you build at work or the processes themselves that you find fulfilling, then there are myriad methods, skills, and approaches to enrich these aspects of your work.

As we can see, passion and motivation can come from any number of different dimensions and directions. We all have the capacity for the energy and enthusiasm needed to keep one's spirits up regardless of our difficulties. This spirit, referred to by poets, sages, and philosophers as “the indomitable spirit” is what allows us to get up again when we fall or miss a milestone. For the project manager, this “fall” may occur when the pieces of a project plan or work breakdown structure actually “breaks down”! This is when we, as project managers, bend down and pick up the pieces and, with the right discipline and knowledge, go forward again.

A passion to see the job done—to deliver on one's promise—to keep your word and to do what you say you will do is greatly aided by project management processes. These processes and this passion, when interwoven within the context of a project framework, lead to the accomplishment of great endeavors. Great results come more easily where passion “lives.”

Covering Our Bases—Lessons Learned

We all want to deliver optimally, 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 what has worked, and avoid what has not worked. There are two things to keep in mind when using lessons learned:

  • A lesson that you do not experience yourself does not give you the wisdom of the experience. As a “third party” to that lesson, it is open to interpretation and you may apply the learning in the wrong way.
  • The factors involved in the earlier project situation may be different than those of your current project. You could be in danger of applying yesterday's solution to today's problem.

However, because we do not have the time to make all of the same mistakes again, we learn the best we can from those made before. A proper mechanism for recording, reviewing, inferring, and discussing is important. This in turn requires a passion to excel—the passion to find out what has worked in the past and what will work in the new circumstances. The right focus during these reviews is crucial to delivering value. “Experience teaches” when we provide the right value focus.

Combining Process Framework and Passion (Passion Levers)

The “passion levers” are: communicate, practice (training and readiness), and test. To “deliver optimally,” we should remember these three levers at the appropriate stages of a project, 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 the Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK® Guide)—Fourth edition (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2008) (see Exhibit 1).

Knowledge Areas and their corresponding “enablers” or “passion levers.”

Exhibit 1: Knowledge Areas and their corresponding “enablers” or “passion levers.”

Measuring Passion

What indicates a lack of passion?

  • Checkpoints reveal milestones in danger, or deeper review shows that focus on task is lost. Other things are occupying the team's attention—usually more “interesting” items that they are more passionate about.
  • Intelligent questions cease to be asked.

Knowledge, skills, and confidence come from asking good questions, but courage is required to ask good questions at the right time. “Passion gives courage—the courage to ask” and when good questions are not forthcoming one of two things is indicated: Either there is nothing (or nothing left) to learn—that is, things are too simple—or there is not enough courage to persevere and learn. Throughout history (including the “history of projects”) asking questions has led to astounding results.

People usually lose passion for their work when things get too difficult or become too complex. Yet while some give up at this point, others persevere. They brainstorm, they ask, they learn. They adopt the “passion levers” (communicate, practice, test) and try their best to break through with the knowledge that they gain in this way. They have energy for going the extra mile; they have focus. They get results; they achieve confidence. 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 carried out because of our sense of responsibility. We take ownership to see the task through and draw on the energy needed. We do this because of our passion for achieving results that could impact other dependencies down the track.

Strategies for Maintaining Passion in Long Projects

Anyone who has been involved in projects that take many years to complete will have noticed how teams and themes can change. At my last congress, I was asked how one maintains passion throughout a long project. In my own personal experience I have seen a project that has been up and running for 11 years! The great thing is that the passion, too, has lasted to-date. What are the lessons?

  • Be very clear about the vision, and communicate that at every juncture of team change.
  • Chunk a big project into smaller manageable bits.
  • Celebrate the wins at each logical stage of the project and revisit the vision.
  • Grow with the team, inspire each other, and enjoy the experience.

The main “passion lever” or “enabler” to focus on is communication. Hang in there—it all becomes worthwhile…because you have at the onset clarified and understood the vision, and then aligned the efforts of the team with that vision in the form of deliverables and metrics.

What are Chief Executives Expecting? Do You Have the Passion to Provide Value?

If you were to ask chief executives today the role that passion plays in their visions, success, and life, you will get many answers—all of which tend to mean the same thing. Namely, that passion is important and that one cannot do anything worthwhile without it.

In the course of my research and interviews with various chief executives on this subject, I have heard often of difficult projects staying within budget and on schedule only because of the passion of the team. Company leadership is well aware of the power of achieving sustainable goals through this passion.

Ask some of your team members or the leaders in your company what part they think passion plays in their initiatives, and jot down the answers. Feel free to share them during the Q&A at the end of the presentation.

What Can We Learn From Attitude and Project Outcomes?

Attitude plays a significant role in a project's success. Teams that function within an environment of positive attitudes are in a better position to find solutions to difficult obstacles and stay “in play” longer.

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

An excerpted quote by bestselling author John L. Mason (1995) that I once received in an e-mail known as “Nugget of the Week” goes as follows: “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).

Passion indicators

Exhibit 2 Passion indicators.

Passion levers, passion indicators, as well as courage and belief add to our energy. In addition, mentors, project leaders, and confidants (where appropriate) can help people to realize their unique talents and help them add value. This, coupled with structured tool sets and frameworks, provides the best chances of favorable project outcomes.


Where passion “lives” and lessons are learned, and where passion is interwoven with key process frameworks, a project does better. Passion provides energy, staying power, spirit, and focus. Without it, the first obstacle that a project hits can lay it low.


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®)—Fourth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

© 2010, Rohan J. David
Originally published as a part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Melbourne, Australia.



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