Issue 24

Why Is It That Our Children Do Not Dream Of Becoming Project Managers?

Laurenţiu Toma, PMP
Project Manager


This was the question Jon Duschinsky - keynote speaker at the PMI Global Congress EMEA 2014 - asked the audience. I had the privilege to attend the Congress in Dubai, UAE, at the beginning of May. Jon was truly amazing and I will try to convey some of the bright ideas that stayed with me long after his speech.

Duschinsky, recently voted as the world"s second most influential communicator in social innovation (the first being Bill Clinton), has a strong background in philanthropy and social innovation. In 2012, together with a team of some of the world"s leading creative thinkers, Jon co-founded "The Conversation Farm". Hired by companies and charities alike, The Conversation Farm solved problems by creating ideas that engaged millions of people in conversations that challenged and changed attitudes and behaviours. They believe that the driving force in business today is not what you make, but what you are made of. Their clients include a consortium of the world"s largest cosmetic companies (L"Oreal, Unilever, LVMH, Coty etc.), the World Alzheimer"s Association, Nascar, NFL and many more.

Jon talks a lot about "conversations" and he does not refer to the social, face-to-face conversations that our predecessors had during their meetings, parties and other social events of their time. What he refers to is something much bigger: virtual conversations that could not have happened ten years ago when people were only starting to talk about Web 2.0, at the same time when Mark Zuckerberg together with some of his colleagues from Harvard University were only founding Facebook and Twitter was nowhere in the picture! The breadth of today"s conversations is incredible indeed, due to the technical developments that allow the "creation of the Internet" in real time combined with easy Internet access from mobile devices. Equally important are the huge communities developed by the popular global and regional social networking sites (only Weibo and Vkontakte reaching close to a billion users).

Going back to the question raised at the beginning of this story, Duschinsky believes that part of the solution is to start conversations. "What kind of conversations?" - one would ask. "About what we do?" Not in the least! If you tell your children that your job is to work with your team to deliver on scope, time and budget, monitor risks, write reports and negotiate with stakeholders, will they understand anything? Improbable. They most likely will not even be able to pronounce "Project Manager"!

The problem lies in the message that we want to convey. Our work by definition means focusing on the details, on the process, instead of the end result, which is visible and hopefully appreciated. What should we say, how could we touch a child"s heart so deeply to make them want to be just like us? Also, how could we influence our team and an entire organization to make them understand what we truly do and therefore gain their support - as this is critical to our success?

The answer is quite straightforward: we need to talk to their heart and soul, to their emotional rather than rational self.

The first step to achieve this is to understand what we - ourselves and our organization - believe in. What is it that we do every day? Why is it important to start that project - why is it so important for our organization? When we manage to answer these questions it will be so much easier to convey the message to our team and work together to achieve the same goals!

It is not enough to do a project only for its immediate, pre-determined goals, as it may become irrelevant even before completion. A project should fit in with the genuine values of the organization that is initiating it, as we should identify ourselves with these values. If we truly believe in our project, it is very likely to be successful, while the opposite is also true.

As an example for the importance of values being genuine: there were oil companies trying to lead people into believing that they were close to the communities they were working with, but in reality there was a large number of lawyers working in these companies" legal departments with the only purpose of bypassing environmental laws. As they were promoting fake values, these campaigns eventually failed.

However, if we manage to identify these genuine values and link our project to them, the team will not only work on a project, but they will also contribute to a grand goal while maintaining the relevance of the project in the organizational context.

The second step is to understand who the real customer of our product or service is. Let us identify ourselves with the ones using it, let us understand their real needs and motivation in using it and we will understand how can we change their life with it. If we manage to do this, it will become so natural to deliver what is really needed and we can be sure that the conversation we are starting will be positive.

The third step is to give people the tools to get involved, something real that they could do to join in the conversation and influence others.

In order to match the theory above with reality, Jon talked about one of the important causes that he contributed to, i.e. raising substantial funds needed to start research on treating and curing ALS - a neurodegenerative disease that, although discovered during the 19th century and affecting millions of people globally, did not receive any attention from researchers.

Duschinsky believes that the main reason this disease did not receive proper attention is that there were no conversations about it, even though it is similar to many other diseases, like Parkinson"s (known since 1817) or malaria (affecting one million people every year). To confirm this theory, Jon mentioned that HIV/AIDS, although discovered recently (in 1981), only had a treatment developed for nine years after its discovery. The HIV/ AIDS chief researcher confessed that the main reason for having started working on this was that "everyone was talking about it back in the 80"s".

Jon and The Conversation Farm were asked by Steve Gleason - a formerly famous American football player having ALS - to change the conversation about the disease during the 2013 NFL Super Bowl. Aiming to touch the emotional side of people, Steve created a one minute film where ex-team mates and coaches from New Orleans (Steve"s home town) speak in plain but powerful words about what ALS is and how it steals people"s life away bit by bit.

Nothing innovative so far, there have been many similar campaigns that did not cause any significant outcomes. The unbelievable part of this story is that the film was not broadcasted on any television! The link to this film was only sent by email to four journalists from New York Times, CNN, USA Today and ESPN. Through the power of social media in today"s world, the film was viewed by tens of millions of people in a matter of hours.

This conversation triggered the posting of over 8 million tweets during the NFL SuperBowl alone! The end result was astounding, millions of US Dollars being raised during the first 48 hours after the game. Shortly after the event, 150 researchers gathered in a room to talk about the steps that needed to be made in order to start the research and less than a year later, some of world"s most important universities were creating business cases to support finding a treatment for ALS.

To conclude, the ones working for this campaign believed in it, identified themselves with the ALS cause, created a simple but powerful message directly addressed to people"s hearts, offered them the means of getting involved - forwarding the message to their communities and contributing financially - and in this way changed the conversation about ALS. The breadth of the conversation motivated researchers to start their work on finding a treatment for the disease.

We need to start changing the way we talk about Project Management. We need to change the conversation and make people see our world differently. If we succeed, we will achieve much more than initially planned: our teams will be more motivated because they will have a clear understanding of what they need to, why and for whom they are doing it; the other stakeholders will get closer to the project and support us better and we will understand what kind of organization we are working for, why we are doing the project and what our ultimate goal is.




  • Accenture
  • BT Code Crafters
  • Accesa
  • Bosch
  • Betfair
  • MHP
  • BoatyardX
  • .msg systems
  • Yardi
  • P3 group
  • Ing Hubs
  • Colors in projects