Using the five senses in project management


Hiroaki Funahashi, MBA, PMP

Project Manager, Corning Japan K.K.

Five Senses are commonly used in the Sports field for mental training. Many athletes use this form of mental training to achieve their desired goals. The ability to use the “Five Senses” in the field of project management should enable individuals to achieve better results. For e.g. meeting due dates during a project

This paper outlines the approach to reducing the risk for missing due date by using the Five Senses. The key outcomes are

  1. Understand the benefits of using Five Senses in Project Management
  2. Application of the Five Senses in project management
  3. Using Five Senses to find the focus area to make improvement in one's project management skills


When I was a managing a large size project, I found that certain specific individuals often missed due dates for tasks. In conversation with them, they clearly understood the due dates and the tasks but could not get it done on time. At the same time I learnt about the method used in sports by psychologists for mental training. The training involved using Five Senses to imagine the desired goal or result. It occurred to me that the same methodology could be used in Project Management as well. I have applied this method over the past five years on six different projects and this document describes the results.

What are the Five Senses?

Five Senses are well-known as human capability and listed as below.

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic
  • Olfactory
  • Gustatory

People receive the outside information through these Five Senses. Collected information by the Five Senses is delivered to brain and processed. As a result of these processes, people decide/judge many things on a daily life basis.

For Project standpoint, the Senses which are mostly used are first three senses, visual, auditory and kinesthetic. So, in this paper, these three senses are focused to study.

Also, these senses are different superiority for each person, therefore, when you communicate, it is better to use the sense that this person is superior. For e.g. following words are often to hear,

  • Visually superior: “I see.”
  • Auditorily superior: “I hear you.”
  • Kinesthetically superior: “I catch your point.”

All of them are the same meaning as “I understand;” however, the smoothness of communication would be different by using the superior sense for this person.

In summary, people understand the outside information via Five Senses. Using all Sense to deliver the information is important to understand. We are also careful to deliver that each person has different strength level on each sense.

Learning from Sport Psychology

People performance is affected by the mental condition very much. When he/she feels good, his/her performance becomes excellent. On the other hand, when he/she feels bad, his/her performance becomes worse (Orlick 2007).

The area that you can see this result more clearly is Sports field. You can recognize its performance by game result or split time. The top athletes physical capability are very close, therefore, the result can be affected by his/her mental capability. And this is the reason that Psychology is introduced Sports field. And I thought this is the same for business field. The typical mental training is to imagine the successful goal. For example,

  • Breast the tape
  • Hold up the championship cup
  • Hug each other at the end of the game

To have these goal images by using Five Senses is felt more reality than not using Five Senses. And brain misunderstands that image is the real world or achieved goal. Then, people work towards the goal that they are imagined (Orlick 2007).

I thought this can be applied to the business field as well. So, I started to use the same approach to business field, especially for Project Management where I was working. I used the popular approach which is to have a clear goal image for each person.

How to apply to Project Management Field

Project Goal is to deliver the deliverables by project due date. So, having the clear image for each members helps to meet the goals by due date, I thought.

Approach to Project Members
Conducting around one hour one-on-one meeting with key project members and I asked the following questions.

  1. Please imagine that you go to one month future using time machine
  2. You are in the office (or in the facility) now
  3. What can you see?/What can you hear?/And what can you feel?
  4. Please explain what you see/hear/feel as a “snap shot”.

This meeting held basically monthly basis. At later project, I asked to submit “next month report” using brief e-mail. “Next month report” means for e.g. submit June monthly report at the end of May.

Here is the list of projects that I have applied “Five Senses” to project management.


Exhibit 1: Project list using five senses in the past projects

Project A in 2009 was the first project that I thought to use the “Five Senses” approach to project management. At that time, there was no solid method or procedure to evaluate the Five Senses effectiveness. I tried several approaches to find the effective questions to use the “Five Senses”.

From Project B in 2010, I used “Five Senses” question to have a better result for project, such as budgets and schedules. The interesting finding was; persons who could not answer clearly for the future images missed budget target and/or schedule due dates.

This finding was very similar to other projects after 2011 as well. There were some people who could not clearly image the future goals using Five Senses. They were “need to follow up” people in order to success the projects.

As a result of five years interviews in five different projects, I found the following points.

  1. All people can explain what their activities are from now to future
  2. The people who can explain the future “snap shot” with their Five Senses can meet all due dates including budget, they are very capable project member and leaders
  3. The people who can explain the future, but not with Five Senses needs some assists to meet the due dates and complete the tasks
  4. The people who CANNOT explain the future as “a snap shot” and explain the activities from present (like a story) should watch carefully since they are very difficult to meet the due dates

Using simple questions, you can find key focus area in your project. Also, you can identify a person who you delegate your work.

The chart below shows the key findings from all six projects in five years.


Exhibit 2: Key findings from projects

In the first a couple of Projects, I thought that all people could be image the future using “Five Senses”, therefore, I tried to teach or train how to image. However, some people were not able to image the future using “Five Senses” and missed budget target and schedule targets. Especially for Project B, we had a serious schedule delay according to one person missed due date.

On the other hand, people who could image the future using the “Five Senses” deliver the excellent results. They could achieve under budgets and/or meet the target schedules. One person in Project B had an clear future view by using the “Five Senses”, therefore, I delegated all of responsibility to him and he delivered the result without any follow up after that.

After I experienced these situations, I realized that there were people who could not image the future using “Five Senses” at the later date. So, I changed the approach to follow up these non-imaginable people closely and find the outage at the early stage to resolve quickly.

Using above approach on both Project E and F, I could identify the persons who needed to follow up closely by using “Five Senses” questions. Therefore, I provided the additional resources to support or coach these people. As a result of that, the impact to the project was minimized. Project E was just to take longer time to close punch items than expected. Project F is still on-going and it is on- schedule, even the responsible person cannot submit the project schedule.


In this paper I have shared briefly how Sport Psychology field uses the human Five Senses in order to get the better performance, first. And I have explained the result for using the same approach to Project Management field. The result shows that Five Senses are powerful tool to brains to recognize the things, even the Project Management field.

Also, I have explained that asking project members status or progress by using Five Senses questions is easy to understand who and which area are the focus point for Project Managers. This will help for Project Managers to manage the project more effectively and successfully.


Orlick, T. (2007). In Persuit of Excellence – 4th edition. Human Kinetics



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