From the category archives:



I wrote about the project I am doing for the Strategic leadership course and how I have decided on a topic. Of course things have changed – I think the most shocking thing that could happen at work is if one day I complete a project that is the same as when I started.

I think this is where the art of project management, or really any type of management, comes into play. A lot of people seem to think that project management is about Gantt charts and budgets, but that isn’t it any more than time tables and cost centres are what school management is about. Or maybe that’s the difference between management and leadership?

It seems to me that some of the difference between leadership and management comes down to how you handle the unexpected. There are lots of options when something new comes along:

  • Panic
  • Ignore it (are these the same?)
  • Minimise the disruption and aim to get back to normal
  • Work around it
  • Embrace it and embed it in your new vision

Several of these are positive, and I certainly don’t want to say that there is a ‘best’ way of doing something – it always depends on the circumstances. But I find the last idea the most exciting. It’s a spin on the old saw that we have opportunities, not problems. It can only be done with a very clear vision of what you are trying to achieve, because you have to ask yourself if a new pathway is going to move you towards that or not. If you don’t, your new and improved project will not achieve what you want, but will meander along ineffectively.

I’m probably getting repetitive on the importance of what rather than how, but this is a good demonstration. I was asked to be a guinea pig for something, which was relatively easy. But in the process and speaking to others, we realised it could be much more. If we’d stuck with how we’d been asked to do it, it would have worked. But by going back to what we were trying to achieve, we made it more effective and gave more control to the people who will be responsible for the work.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, consultation, feedback, change of format, change of program and testing with several examples, we have a visioning template that can walk people who’ve never done it through the process, or let experienced people fill it in quickly and move on. It ensures they hit all the highlights, and automatically pulls the important pieces together and prepares them for the next step. Now it’s ready to be used by other people, and hopefully we’ve bomb proofed it enough that it will do what we want.

It’s the same type of work I was intending to do for my project, but in a different context. Rather than trying to get back to my original plan, I think I’ve achieved something bigger by running with a new opportunity.

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Post image for Project – Finding a topic

One of the things we have to do for the strategic leadership course is an ongoing project. I think this is great, I love projects as a way of tying things together for long term practice and experiential learning. But what to do? Projects are my bread and butter – Project Manager is right there in my job title. If I’m going to learn and develop my leadership through this it can’t be one of my normal projects.

Funneling the mess mass

It needs to:

  • develop my leadership – something that is for my unit or the schools I am working with.
  • be a natural part of my position
  • use my strengths
  • contribute to sustainability, through well being and distribution of leadership.

I was originally thinking of doing something on how we work with outside stakeholders and contractors, as that was an area I was new in at the time.

I knew I wanted to do something on how we work as a unit – I love creating processes and structures. I see it as giving people the freedom to be creative, if they don’t have to go back to the beginning all the time and waste energy thinking of what to do. All they have to do is follow the process and they can go wild with how to do it. It plays to all my critical thinking, learning and analytical strengths.

Thinking time

I find it really necessary to mull over things in the background, it allows me to tie everything together and find the connections, in this case between my work and what the course is trying to achieve. It also allows time for serendipity to turn up, which it did on schedule.

My work unit has had some staffing changes and my Director took the opportunity to do some group strategic development, reviewing our ways of working.

The topic

This  has made my topic bigger, but at the same time given it more coherence – rather than looking at one part of our work in isolation, it is firmly centred in our priorities.

As part of our re-organisation and ongoing improvement as a unit we are capturing our ways of working and developing some internal policies. We are trying to build our corporate knowledge and capacity, rather than being dependent on individuals.

My project is to capture some of our procedures and tie together project management theory, the experience of people in our unit, and the needs and culture of our workplace. Then review and refine these procedures as we use them, so we end up with a responsive system that gives us the structure to be free.

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