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How a project plan is like a musical score

An orchestra conductor uses a musical score to direct a piece of music. Every instrument has a different part to play. It’s in the way that these parts work together that music is created.

Each instrument has its own part. The sheets of music that each musician uses tell exactly when, and what, to play. The musician knows how to play already – after years of studying, practice, and performance.

The conductor uses the musical score to know all the parts. He knows exactly when, and what, each instrument needs to play. The conductor has spent many years, usually, studying music. His emphasis has not been on the in-depth study of an instrument, but on the interpretation of the music. And on how to lead the musicians who make up the orchestra.

In the same way, a project manager “conducts” the project. Using a project plan, each member of the project team knows exactly when, and what, to do. She is able to perform the required work because of her knowledge, skills, and education.

The project plan is made up of many different parts – all the specific plans like communication, risk, quality, etc. – so that the overall project accomplishes it goal(s). The schedule and budget are integral parts of the project plan, but not the only parts.

Each member of the project team is interested only in the part that they contribute to the project. The project manager is the one who’s interested in making sure the project dove-tails together at the end.

By using a project plan, the project manager is directing the project. Utilizing the knowledge and skills of the project team members, the project manager is able to successfully complete projects.

How is project management like conducting an orchestra?

Conductors of great symphony orchestras do not play every musical instrument; yet through leadership the ultimate production is an expressive and unified combination of tones.
– Thomas D. Bailey

How is project management like conducting an orchestra? In many ways.

A project manager does not need to be the subject matter expert to be able to lead the project team. Some people think that this is blasphemy.

But here’s why it’s not blasphemy.

Project managers must know:

– the technical and business requirements of the project product
– those areas of expertise and skills required
– the best process for producing those requirements
– the corporate culture and how to navigate it
– how to manage people and resources

Just like a conductor knows the musical piece that the orchestra is playing, the project manager must know the ebb and flow of the project process. A conductor doesn’t play every instrument, but he knows every note in the piece. He knows the phrasing of each movement. He knows the entry and exit point of each instrument – what instrument plays and when.

A good conductor also understands at a profound level how the instruments interact. Sometimes the strings carry the main melody while the brass provides a bed of deep, resonant notes. The percussion section maintains the foundational beat, keeping everyone together.

A good project manager knows when each member of the team needs to be contributing and what they need to do. The PM knows how to keep the project moving at just the right pace. That project manager understands that she is the foundation for the project – keeping everyone working together through her leadership.

A good project manager “conducts” the project. She doesn’t run herself ragged trying to perform all the parts.

Stolen Computer Found

The news was all good when the US federal government announced that they had recovered the stolen computer – and all the data it contained.

Although many of us suspected that if a stolen computer would be found – it would be this one. The Bush administration did NOT need one more reason for people to talk about ineffective leadership. Or even – gasp – incompetence.

I wonder how the investigation to solve this crime was organized. Was one agency appointed as “lead” (project manager)? And another agency assigned as the command hub (project controls)? And perhaps an entirely different agency as the communications hub (communication plan)?

While the processes that law enforcement uses are well defined, this was a project. The project goal: find one laptop computer in the Washington, DC, area. There was a definite beginning: when the press leaked the information that the data was missing. And a definite end: accessing the hard drive to make sure the confidential data was still there.

Now the prosecution begins – or not.

How does everything translate into project management?!?! 🙂

US Veterans Information Stolen

Recently, the US national news services have reported that a laptop computer with the identifying information for 26.5 million US veterans was stolen from a government employee’s home. The US agency that the employee worked for is the Department of Veterans Affairs, under the Department of Defense.

Although the theft was reported immediately by the employee, the DVA did not report it to the general public. Three weeks after the theft, the story was “leaked” to the press. At this time, the government can not figure out what to do about the information that was stolen.

Hopefully the thieves have no idea what they have. With names, birth dates, and social security numbers, they could pull off credit fraud at a level never seen before.

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by this theft, it’s easy to put a fraud alert on your credit report. Here’s how:

1. Call one of the 3 credit companies in the US. That company is required by law to inform the other two companies of the fraud alert.

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285;; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742);; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289;; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

2. You will be asked for your social security number, address, phone number, and/or other information to identify you and pull up your credit file.

3. You will be sent confirmation of the INITIAL fraud alert that’s been placed on your credit report. (There are two types of fraud alerts, initial and extended. The initial alert stays on your credit report for at least 90 days – and entitles you to one free credit report. The extended alert stays on your credit report for 7 years. You have to have already been a victim of identity theft to use this one.)

4. Check your credit report when you receive it and report anything that’s incorrect on it.

For more complete information, the Federal Trade Commission has an easy-to-read website at

Here’s hoping that the thieves don’t have a clue about what they got!


Project Managers as Leaders

The biggest failure that I can see – with the limited knowledge we have right now – in FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina was a failure in leadership.


Now that a new director has been appointed at FEMA, we’ll see if he has what it takes to succeed.


How do we know if someone’s a leader? And do project managers need to be leaders?


Someone’s a leader if the people around her/him are willing to do their jobs at 100%. Some of the characteristics of a leader are:


  • Able to communicate vision
  • Able to develop strategies to reach that vision
  • Able to develop tactics to support those strategies
  • Able to create passion about that vision


Think about leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy. Both of these men had vision. They were both passionate about their visions. And they were able to get other people passionate enough to take action toward achieving those visions.


As project managers, we need to have a vision for every project – no matter how large or how small. And we need to communicate that vision to everyone around us. That’s a 360 degree radius.


Project managers are great at developing strategies and tactics – those are the tools of our trade. But do we create passion in other people for each of our projects?


Write a comment here and tell me how you create passion for your projects. I love to hear what you’re doing.

FEMA Leadership

Let’s look at the qualifications of the most recent three FEMA directors.

The current FEMA director is Mike Brown. Before joining FEMA as a lawyer, he was an estate lawyer and worked for 11 years managing and adjudicating horse shows. He became FEMA head when his boss, Allbaugh, left and recommended him to the president.

Joe M. Allbaugh served as the second President Bush’s national campaign manager for Bush-Cheney 2000. Prior to that Allbaugh was Governor Bush’s chief of staff in Texas from 1995 to 2000. Allbaugh left FEMA in 2000 to run a Washington private consulting company to help companies make millions in Iraq.

Clinton’s FEMA director was James Lee Witt. Prior to his appointment to FEMA, Witt served as the Director of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services (OES) for four years. Prior to that he had a background in commercial and residential construction, and was, at age 34, the chief elected official of his county with judicial responsibilities for county and juvenile court. He was re-elected six times.

In 2003, he became the Chief Executive Officer of the International Code Council (ICC), a 50,000-member association dedicated to building safety. It develops the codes used to construct residential and commercial buildings, including homes and schools.

My friend, James Huggins, has also asked me which one of the three people described above would I choose to head FEMA.

My answer, after several days of thought, is none of the above.

James Lee Witt was director of FEMA when Los Alamos, NM, was burning due to a poorly planned, and even more poorly executed, prescribed burn done by the Park Service.

Even with his experience in emergency services in Arkansas, he was criticized soundly by the people of Los Alamos.(Keep in mind that we have to discount that criticism just a bit because the pampered scientists who work for the Department of Energy are overpaid and over-served by that department.)

In every emergency situation, grim realities slap survivors every single day – for a very long time. I won’t talk about those realities now – maybe in the future.

In my opinion, the director of FEMA must have enough experience to deal with the experts who work for FEMA.And not one bit more. I refer you to my story in the previous post.

In addition, the FEMA director must be a person who can communicate – directly, honestly, and often – with all levels of government bureaucrats, media, politicians, and the general public.

I listened to a brief out-take of a teleconference held between the head of the hurricane center, the president, head of Homeland Security, and head of FEMA that was held days BEFORE the hurricane hit. The head of the hurricane center warned them about the at least 20’ surge that would hit New Orleans and the Mississippi coast.

And I heard the head of FEMA say exactly what all of us would want to hear – we’re ready, we have people on the ground already, we’ll do whatever it takes.

This brings home the lesson that actions are more powerful than words. He said all the right things – but didn’t do all the right things.

What do you think?

FEMA Director

A friend of mine, James Huggins, asked this question about project managers being subject matter experts.

“While they don’t need to be SMEs, how much DO they need to know about the context, culture, processes, technology, etc.?

As an example, can ANYONE be head of FEMA? Or does it need to be someone with a background in disaster recovery?”

What an excellent question! And one I’ve been considering in the context of FEMA leadership.

In my previous posting, I said that a project manager should be leading the FEMA efforts for disaster recovery. I believe that good project managers have all the skills and knowledge necessary to COORDINATE, COMMUNICATE, AND LEAD.

But is that enough? Should a project manager also know the detailed requirements of disaster recovery in order to lead FEMA?

I’ll share one of my earliest project management experiences to answer those questions.

As an engineering co-op student, working my way through college, I worked as a civilian for the US Navy. In our command, we tested aircraft weapons and weapon delivery systems. I was put in charge of testing the side loads for a weapon that was mounted under the wings of Navy aircraft.

I was very pleased to get this assignment. It showed that the engineers I worked with trusted my judgment. I was also very scared. I didn’t know anything about side load or testing it.

I started out my first project meeting by telling the very experienced, active duty personnel that I didn’t know anything about what we were going to do. I also told them that I needed their help – not only to have a successful project, but also to learn. I reminded them that I was a student, and part of my work was learning engineering.

The rest of the meeting went very well. Each SME stepped up to my request and contributed the information I asked for. By the end of that first meeting, we had a work breakdown structure (every task required), a schedule, and action assignments.

Throughout the rest of that project, each of the SMEs would come to me with information that I needed – both on a project level and on a technical level.

So the short answer to my friend’s question is: ANY GOOD PROJECT MANAGER COULD HEAD UP FEMA.

The caveat is: Assuming the SMEs work at FEMA and want to do the best possible job. And are willing to work with a project manager who admits what she/he doesn’t know.

My only example is Elizabeth Dole as head of the American Red Cross. What do you think?

To find out more about James Huggins, visit his websites at:

Steaming Mad

I’m a bit surprised by my reaction to Hurricane Katrina, the category 4 hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast of the US on August 29, 2005.

I am angry.

I’m angry that the evacuation plans did not include everyone. I’m angry that the infrastructure has not been updated and maintained. I’m angry that the most economically active country in the world could not help its own people to survive this disaster.

I was angry even before the hurricane hit land. The mandatory evacuation of towns and cities had been started too late. Highways became parking lots. And there was no sign of public transportation for people who don’t have access to private vehicles.

And where were the shelters for the folks who did evacuate? With over one million people heading inland, were they all supposed to go to family? That’s not even a possibility for a large percentage of folks.

After the hurricane hit land, it seemed that our federal government went into slow motion. How many civil, structural, and dam engineers had to tell them that the levees in New Orleans could not withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane? And who decided that since the levees were holding on Monday night, there wasn’t a real hurry to get people out of the damaged Superdome? (Who didn’t see that coming with winds of over 150 miles per hour??)

Today our leaders in Homeland Security and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) say that the pictures they saw on television weren’t confirmed by their people in the field.


Do we have people in leadership positions who don’t believe their own eyes? Or do they think that the US media has some ulterior motive in televising the desperation of the survivors – in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama?

Even the president said that it was a terrible disaster after he flew over the Gulf Coast. Didn’t his hand-picked subordinates believe him?

So, to get this rant in perspective, what does all this have to do with project management?

It’s an excellent example of how project managers could have made all the difference between life and death.

  • A project manager has the skills to coordinate many different types of efforts.
  • A project manager has the skills to communicate effectively with everyone involved.
  • A project manager knows how to LEAD so that the team will follow – and make the right decisions about priorities.

But the fact that the leaders of the federal effort after the hurricane hit were not project managers – but had been put in that position – indicates that the top echelons of leadership in the US still do not appoint people for their skills. It’s still a political, back room, good ole’ boy system of political appointments.

After all the dead have been counted, maybe the US leadership – yes, the president – will think twice about appointments to positions that deal with life and death. And maybe we’ll finally get a project manager in charge of FEMA.

Self Coaching?

© Diana Lindstrom 2005 All Rights Reserved

I wrote a Letter to the Editor of PM Network magazine – one of the three publications from PMI (Project Management Institute). Here it is:

John Sullivan’s article, Coaching Yourself, in the April 2005 issue of PM Network, misses one very important point. If self-coaching worked well for people, everyone would be doing it. Professional athletes don’t do it, singers don’t do it, actors don’t do it.

The value of coaching lies in the fact that someone outside of yourself will be more objective than you are. Setting goals is your job. You and your coach will work together to define exactly how to reach those goals. Your coach is there to assist you in staying focused on what you want – even if that changes. And she/he will help you discover your real strengths – things you may not see about yourself.

Take a professional athlete like Tiger Woods. Tiger sets his goals. He and his coach define how to reach each goal. His coach observes his performance and gives him pointers for improvement. Could Tiger watch videos of his performances and pinpoint problem areas? Sure he could. But would he know how to make the necessary improvements?

In Mr. Sullivan’s article, he points out that one possible issue to finding a good coach is that she/he needs to have the “right combination of training, values and personal style.” I completely agree with this statement. And I wonder how many project managers know where to look for a project management coach that meets these requirements.

In Fast Company, May 2005, an article, Making Change, by Alan Deutschman quotes Dr. Edward Miller, dean of the medical school and CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University. “If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle,” Miller said. “And that’s been studied over and over and over again.”

Mutual of Omaha and Dr. Dean Ornish, professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, conducted a study of 333 patients with severely clogged arteries. They attended group support sessions twice a week, which included psychological support, as well as meditation instruction, yoga, and aerobic exercise classes. They had a program to quit smoking and to use Ornish’s extreme vegetarian diet (10% of calories from fat). With all of this support, 77% of the patients had stuck with their changes for three years.

90% of people can’t change without help. 77% can. Where do you want to be?

There are project management coaches out there, and there is a wide range in pricing, knowledge and personal styles.

Diana Lindstrom, PMP

What do you think about this issue?

Do Project Managers Have to be Technical SMEs?

© Diana Lindstrom All Rights Reserved

Now that I’ve taken a European-type holiday, I’m back. A lot has happened in the world during the holidays – and since. Joining the billions of people across the globe, I am saddened by the loss of life caused by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Back to project management.

Do project managers have to be technical subject matter experts (SMEs)? Is it better for a project manager to have expertise in managing projects? Or is it better for a project manager to have expertise in the technical requirements of the project product?

This question is often debated in project management circles. It’s also hotly debated at the senior executive level. Each one of us has an answer based on our own experiences and knowledge.

My answer: Project managers do a better job of management if they are NOT technical SMEs.

You may be shocked or stunned with this answer. So let’s look at the reasoning behind it.

When I’m managing an engineering design project, I pay close attention to the electrical requirements of the project. I spend time reviewing the details of the electrical design including the types of drawings, the exact specifications, and the drafting standards. The role I take on is that of final reviewer of the electrical design, or technical SME.

While I’m spending time and energy reviewing the electrical design, I am not spending time planning and executing the project. Now, I’m as fond of 70-hour work weeks as the next person, but there’s no reason for me to spend this additional time as a technical SME. I already have at least one on my project team.

By adding a layer of review, I’m also telling my electrical SME that I don’t trust him/her. Why else would I take the time to review everything he/she’s already reviewed?

And what about those times when my comments are directly opposed to the assigned SME’s comments? The engineer who’s actually producing the design gets frustrated – and rightfully so.

So now I have three people on my project team who are frustrated – the design engineer, the technical SME, and me. And all for no constructive reason. It certainly doesn’t help the project.

When I manage a project where I am NOT the SME in any technical area, I spend my time and energies doing the planning and executing of the project. I interview the technical SMEs in order to plan the project. I spend much more of my time educating stakeholders about the project. My priority becomes communicating with my team. I monitor the project more closely. All of this leads to a more successful project – on time, within budget, all stakeholders happy. So I am the project manager SME.

Now the question becomes, do you want a full-time project manager, or a part-time project manager? If the answer to that question is that you want a part-time project manager who is also a technical SME, then you must not want a successful project.