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Putting the Drama in Project Management, Part 3

By Cristofer Munson

Drama Part3 Hero Image

In Part One, I discussed the importance of having a concept of the final project outcome, and also a concept of how project execution can influence that final outcome. In Part Two, I explained how great project managers and great directors engage with each team member and support them in doing their best work. Today, I’d like to conclude this series by talking about why an effective project schedule is more than just a series of dates.


Part Three: Moving from dependency to coalescence

While I hope it hasn’t happened to you, I’ve had my fair share of projects delayed or cancelled for a host of reasons (e.g., a higher priority project took over, the software development schedule accelerated, or business leadership changed). As I reflect on my theater experience, however, I realized that I have never had an opening night delayed or cancelled. Certainly, there are times when a cast and crew wished they had more time to be ready, but in most cases opening night arrives and “the show must go on!”

Whether you are a project manager or a theater director, you must create a project schedule that ‘works’ for the goals of the project. That’s basic. What I learned over the course of my brief life in the theater, however, is that the real trick is to craft a project plan that considers the coalescence of the different components of the production. A successful opening night is not just dependent upon great actors; rather, it is the culmination of multiple disciplines that execute the details of their work independently but must unite together at the right time. A smart director understands both the creative processes and logistical steps needed to ensure that the actors, the sets, the lights, the sound, the costumes, the crews, and the ‘everything else’ all converge at the same time. They must be ready, trained, and tested for the ‘go live’ that is known as ‘opening night.’

The real trick is to craft a project plan that considers the coalescence of the different components of the production.

A project manager has the same responsibility. The project plan is intended to ensure that everyone working on the project knows what they need to do, and when they need to have it done. Very often, though, the whowhat, and when overshadow the why. When that crucial step is ignored, individuals and teams can miss the opportunity to see how their work fits into the broader scope and context of the plan. They won’t see how the different parts and deliverables of the project coalesce into a greater, more important whole. 

Too many times I’ve shown up to test a new system only to find out that the test logins haven’t been set up yet. That’s because no one told the person responsible for system security why the test logins needed to be ready on that date. Now, admittedly, as a project manager you’d think it would be a safe assumption that if you need logins on a certain date, it’s because you want to use them on that date. That’s clear, right? Well, it may be clear to you why that date is important, but if the people doing the work aren’t privy to the broader picture and how their work fits into it, no assumptions are safe. 


Bringing it all together

If you are intentional in developing and articulating your overall concept for the project, attentive in communicating to team members in a manner meaningful to their role on the project, and artful in creating a plan that demonstrates how all the pieces of your project coalesce into a greater whole, you have the opportunity to do something truly remarkable. You can collaborate with others while leading them on a journey they otherwise would not have experienced. This is the essence of theater. This is why I enjoy designing and managing projects and programs in the business world. Project Management is, indeed, a creative act.

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