~ The Spiritual Side of Project Management ~


Having spent many years in both spiritual pursuits and project management, I have been intrigued to see how a number of areas overlap. Because spiritual principles seem to have a bearing on running projects successfully, it seems that there ought to be ways to communicate these spiritual principles to make them accessible and practical in the work place.

Some years ago, I was impressed by a need to more completely embody and act out some spiritual principles with which I had been growing increasingly familiar. It was almost a surprise to me, because I had been thinking that my spiritual inspirations would just eventually embrace my actions. I got to the point where I realized I must simply stand up on my mental hind legs and do it.

Later, I was talking about spiritual things with someone, and they said, "When I hear you say those things I say, 'Yes, I know, I know', but I want them to be more real to me." My response was that they most often become more real to you after you do them. As we act out our spiritual principles we gain a growing perception of their reality.

Not long ago, in my project management consulting work, I was brought into an on-going information systems project. I asked if they had applied some basic principles of project management, like "first understand and clearly document the requirements." The people around me said, "Yes, we know that is what we are supposed to do, but we didn't do it, because we were too busy and the requirements changed too often."

As the project progressed, this team became even busier, because they hadn't understood and clearly documented the requirements. The project was restarted, and then it dragged out for months longer than it should have. I was struck by the parallel to the spiritual principle: "Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only..." (James 1:22 KJV)

When the next similar project came along, I put special emphasis on clearly understanding and documenting the requirements, and reviewing it with the customer for approval. Then I put these requirements under informal version identification and change control process and managed any changes methodically and ceremoniously. It was not easy, and it took persistence to nail down all the ambiguous issues and get agreement. The result was that project went much, much more smoothly than the previous one, and it was a widely acknowledged success.

In considering what I brought to that project, I realized I didn't tell them anything they didn't already "know." I simply did it.

The difference was in being a doer of the word and not a hearer only. I am still trying to describe that quality, because it is so fundamental to success in my area of work.   The only word that seems to fit is "gumption," which to paraphrase my Webster's is "common sense, actively applied." It seems that the "actively applied" is the hard part. It involves paying attention and discipline and belief and understanding. I think understanding isn't just knowing something, it is standing up for something. Until you stand up for something you don't really understand it at all.

It is interesting that in the Bible, some of the verses that speak of this quality use building projects to illustrate the principle. See if you don't think the first few phrases of the second verse sound a little like your project environment.

"Therefore whosoever heareth these saying of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock."  (Matt 7:24 & 25 KJV)

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© Copyright 1997, 2001,  James R. Chapman.   All rights reserved.