I saw an interesting quote from
golfer Phil Mickelson today.
If I ask anybody to think of their
favorite golf course and favorite hole, it's either a par 3 under 150 yards or
a driveable par 4.1
In other words, people want to
succeed. They don't necessarily want success handed to them, but they enjoy
situations where they have a reasonable chance of success.2
Yet golf course designers are
creating increasingly difficult courses, replete with holes that only the best
players, the pros and top amateurs, have any hope of conquering. The rest of us
slog through, not worrying about par, hitting too many shots with our biggest
(and hardest to hit) clubs in the hopes of finally getting somewhere close to
the green. We rejoice when we hit the occasional wonderful shot, we enjoy the
company of old and new-made friends on the course, and we get some vitamin S
Project management can be like a
150-yard par 3, or a 600-yard par 5. Think of a project manager as the course
The 600-Yard Project Manager
I've worked with project managers
over the years who thought their projects were supposed to be 600-yard holes.
That's the kind of par-5 hole where most amateurs would be happy with an 8 and
thrilled with a 6. Hit your driver, hope the ball's not off in the woods,
then keep whacking away with a 3-wood until, four strokes later (including two
flubbed shots where the ball rolls 50 yards because you're trying too hard),
you can actually see the hole you're aiming for.
It's a slog.
And the project manager likes it
that way. It's predictable - no one will be happy. There will be tears and no
shortcuts. He or she will see on every shot how much better you could have done
(and in the worst case will delight in pointing it out to you... even though you
already know how much better you could have done!)
The project manager is thrilled
because the hole (the project) is in control. It dominates your decisions and
limits your choices.
On the other hand, there are project
managers who want their projects to be 150-yard par 3s. One good - not even
great, just good - shot, and you're on the green. And there are multiple ways
to reach the green, too. Put the ball in the air and land it on the green, or
hit it low and let it bounce and roll up onto the green. Then an outstanding
putt even gets you birdie, but even if you miss it, even miss the next putt
too, you know you had a shot at it. You almost succeeded, and you had fun
trying. Next time you'll control the hole, not vice versa.
You had options, different ways to
approach the hole. You could do what made sense for your skills and that day's
confidence level; the hole (a/k/a the project and the project manager) didn't
prescribe your course. The goal was the same, and it was for once a reachable
That's the kind of project manager
you want to work with again, just as you can't wait to play that hole again the
next time you return to the course.
Work Is Not a Sport
In this analogy, the project is the
ground before there is a golf course. It's hilly or not, sandy or rich soil,
treed or open. The project manager can decide what kind of course to create
given the land she's working with.
In sports, it's good to challenge
the participants a certain amount - though not to absurdity, or the
participants won't play (or won't enjoy it if they do). A weekend softball
player might fantasize about batting against 100-MPH pitcher Justin Verlander,
but he doesn't want to stand in there in real life.
Work has its own challenges. Those
challenges in the end may strengthen us, and they afford us the opportunity to
As a project manager, don't create
additional challenges. The people working on the project have tasks they need
to complete. Don't add to the challenge. It's not a sport.
Remember Phil Mickelson. Strive for
the 150-yard par 3.
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1For non-golfers: A 150-yard par 3 is a hole where almost any
amateur golfer between the ages of, say, 12 and 70 (a so-called "bogey golfer")
can reach the green in a single shot. A driveable par 4 is a hole of 275-300
yards where the pros can hit the green in one shot and a bogey golfer can reach
it in two. In other words, these are easy holes where the pros have a good shot
at birdie (one shot under par), good amateurs will get some birdies and a bunch
of pars, and even not-very-good amateurs have a reasonable chance to make par.
2My two favorite holes on my regular golf course are, as it
happens, a 147-yard par 3 and a 298-yard par 4. I'm not a very good golfer, but
I par these holes about half the time. More importantly, I usually feel,
as I approach them, that I will make par. I don't feel that way about
the other holes on the course. I've parred them all at one time or another, but
I hope rather than expect to pull off the consecutive good shots
plus and accurate putts that parring these more difficult holes requires.