We are all products of our experiences. When I look back on my career, I can identify many people who have influenced my project management attitudes and skills. From each of these, I have taken away a key idea that we can apply to our day-to-day jobs.
I must start with my father, Gerald Clayton. When he died in 2010, I wrote four articles about what I learned from him. One lesson stands above the rest: the ability to recognise the importance of risk management in everything we do.
As a project manager, I am always cautious, alert and proactive in this area. It’s a way of life for me and no coincidence that my first project management book (Risk Happens! Marshall Cavendish International) was on the subject.
I spent my vacations in the early 1990s volunteering for a charity, Campus Children’s Holidays. There, I met Craig. One day, he had a simple idea to please the children. In addition to jam, peanut butter, ham and cheese, we offered them Nutella as a sandwich filling.
When we put the jars on the table with the bread, butter and other fillings, unexpected chaos ensued. Within minutes, the catering jars of Nutella had disappeared, along with a dozen or so children. The jars were later found empty. We discovered the children with Nutella all over their hands and faces. From Craig, I learned the law of unintended consequences.
My first employer after university was a small consultancy, where my boss was called Rob. Much of what I learned from him was the craft of consulting, rather than project management. But it was Rob who showed me that what I had been doing as a volunteer, an event organiser, and a consultant had a name, a methodology and a toolset.
Later, at Deloitte, I specialised in project and programme management. I worked with many excellent project managers; I will choose four. In Brian, I observed absolute project management professionalism in action, day after day. His calm, considered, collaborative and decisive manner remain a model for my image of professionalism to this day.
From Judith, I learned my most valuable lessons on communication. We had very different styles and, working together, we had to find a way to make them mesh. When we did, our ability to deliver results leapt forward.
It was George who helped me learn to lead a team. He taught me that, as a project manager rather than a project specialist, my job is not to ‘do my work’ but to help others to do theirs.
And from Rex, I learned to take this a step further. My true responsibility, when running a successful project, is to turn it into an opportunity for less able people to find success and thrive. When most of my team didn’t need much help, I used my time to help those who really needed it.
When I left Deloitte, in order to specialise in training, a project professional called David gave me my first opportunity to deliver project management training outside of the company. In developing that first course, I learned how to turn my understanding of project management into a story, and to transform project management from something that people feared, into a straightforward process.
Finally, I must mention Tony Quigley. He and I worked together: an ex-civil servant and a former consultant. We got on well, through a shared attitude to projects, from our science backgrounds. What I learned from Tony were many of his witty, pithy Quigleyisms. These sum up the wisdom gained from a lifetime of project management.
They are, of course, his to share; not mine. So I shall limit myself to one that has informed my choices since: “The alternative to incremental development is excremental development.”
This blog first appeared as an article in the Winter edition of Project magazine.
Other blogs by Mike Clayton: