Too often project managers focus on process instead of the end goal, missing opportunities for motivation and innovation.
I had the pleasure of attending the Australian Institute of Project Management 2014 National Conference the other week. The closing keynote speaker was Dan Flynn, founder of the Thankyou Group, which is a social enterprise that channels its profits into various community projects. You may have heard of Thankyou water, which supports clean water projects around the world. The group now has a range of products, such as food and body care items, that goes towards different causes.
Flynn didn’t talk much about the projects, which at first I thought was an odd choice for a project management conference, but focused on some of the teething problems he and his founding group came up against when they were starting out. It turned out that this was exactly the right thing to present on: after three intense days of examining projects from every angle, it was time to talk big picture.
The group members were all university students when they started out, and as a consequence weren’t taken seriously when they went into business meetings with potential suppliers and distributors. But Flynn’s attitude—”impossibility is an opinion, not a fact”—and the fact that he was so determined to execute on his vision to fund water projects eventually made it work.
I won’t repeat Thankyou’s origin story here (you can check out the website) but I will say the key lesson I took from Flynn was the importance of focusing on the end goal. “The ‘why’ behind what you do is so important,” he stated, and I couldn’t agree more.
Project managers easily get caught up in the minutiae of managing a project without adequately using the end goal—all those benefits the project will bring—as a motivational factor. It’s the difference between ‘managing the construction of a hospital’ and ‘improving healthcare for thousands of people’.
But motivation is only the start of what ‘why’ can do: the follow-on effect is that when (not if) obstacles arise, it’s easier to get creative, to innovate your way around roadblocks. If you truly believe in the project, if you understand that your project exists 100% for the cause, you will find a way. As Flynn quipped: “Sometimes you have to high-5 the status quo in the face with a chair.”