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Management By Walking Around


I met  a lovely old guy last week at a Fleetwood Mac concert at Madison Square Gardens who was an Attendant there. We got talking while I was getting a beer and he told me he'd worked there for forty years, he remembered when Fleetwood Mac first played there 20 years ago, Led Zeppelin filmed Song Remains the Same, Rolling Stones tours, he'd seen them all, I was very envious.

What does this have to do with Project Management you ask?

Well it reminded me of a Project Director on a very large defense project, a project that I observed from the outside, but had regular dealings with the Project Director and his team as I was working on the asset management contract that was being put in place post delivery of his project.

Now this was a massive project, many Billions of Dollars, 10+ year duration and the project had lost its way, then he was called in.

For those interested, he'd never worked on a military project before, but that's another story.

Local legend from his team had it he was the Red Adair of Project Management, a Fire Fighter called in when no one else could douse the fire and stem the leakage. He infamously had a sign post on his desk that confronted you as you were invited to sit opposite him pointing in two directions, one reading "My Way", the other "The Highway!" and believe me the highway only went one wayvery old school, but a very effective and charismatic leader.

Regardless of his style, he turned that project around with plenty of tough love and there are many stories that could be told about this guy, but one in particular that always stuck with me and the old guy at MSG reminded me of this last week.

Our charismatic Project Director religiously walked the project on a daily basis.

He didn't just look at progress or what was going on, he talked to everyone regardless of their role or their position.


Because the project was off track, he did not only want to rely on what "the numbers" were telling him or what his team were telling him, he wanted to draw his own conclusions, form his own views on what the issues were, where the roadblocks were and find the inefficiencies in the project.

He found out first hand why the people that were executing the project could not do their jobs properly, and importantly he listened to people like the MSG Attendant, those that had 10, 20 and even more years of  invaluable experience that potentially was not being utilized and was a rich source or reasoned opinion.

He took these findings, put them on the table to challenge his managers and the simple act of being visible and talking to everyone in the project improved the communications within the project.

Those on the "shop floor" felt like they were being listened to and the managers, who'd become somewhat complacent after years on the same project were similarly motivated to get back in touch and find out what the issues were and fix them, no one likes their boss knowing more than they do about the piece of the project they're responsible for.

So, like the Attendant at MSG, I'm sure there are many people in your projects that have a wealth of experience and knowledge, you just need to tap into it, do more listening than talking, but be sure to have a filter, it won't all be good or bad, but you may just uncover some nuggets that will give you some clues how to proceed, and getting out and communicating never hurt any project as far as I recall!

A word of warning: When talking to people in the project, be sure not to give instruction or re-direct their work, this is their managers job and if you learn something disturbing, be sure to give the person who it concerns a right of reply before you form a final opinion.

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