I learned all I need to know about project management by playing the banjo . . .

In addition to being a dedicated and passionate project manager I am also a dedicated and passionate musician. I can play a range of instruments moderately well but the instrument of choice is the last seven years has been the only recognised American musical instrument – the mighty banjo. With the banjo hanging like a pendulum from my shoulder I have been lucky enough to play in a band that has released five CDs, a live DVD and visited the USA on two on three occasions. Although on the surface my twin passions of project management and music may seem to be separated by a large gulf they are in fact very similar and I have learnt a lot about project management from my time playing banjo in a band.

I have learnt that it is extremely important that with any team or band there must be clear, defined and documented roles and responsibilities for everybody. Our band has clear roles for all members which extend beyond their musical contribution. We also take on roles of music director, manager, and songwriter and of course, band members who are there to provide support. Just as in a band it is essential that any project team you have clearly defined roles and responsibilities for without them not only will you have conflict and dissension but you will also have a lack of direction and the ability to reach your full potential.

Playing in a band requires a clear vision of what exactly it is that we are trying to achieve. We regularly revisit this vision to ensure that everybody’s views are taken into account and that everybody agrees this is the correct direction for the band. In relation to projects it is necessary for the project manager to create a guiding vision of project success, whatever that means, for the project team to follow.

I have definitely learnt the value of compromise. When you are playing with four other musicians each with their own strengths, weaknesses and desires, you learn that the band comes first and you have to sometimes put aside your desires in order to achieve what is best in the band. Sometimes compromise involves conflict and I’ve learnt that respecting the other people’s position and trying to understand how they see the world has helped me contribute to positive team dynamic in the band. These skills are all easily transferable to project teams.

I’ve also learned that the band is bigger than one person. We have had three changes to the original line-up and each time we feared that the band would not be able to continue. Our fear was misplaced as we learnt that there is a real synergy that comes from a group of people that simply cannot be found in a group of individuals. It is important to remember with your project team that if you’ve done your job of developing the team to a high performing level it will outlive the departure of key personnel. This has also been a lesson to some key personnel that left and thought that they would be able to continue the very moderate levels of success the band had. Without the support and input of the band they had not been able to achieve the same very small the success.

I have learned the value of stakeholder expectation management, a very project management oriented term. In the band, the stakeholders are the band members, our wonderful supporting family members, our very small but passionate fan base, and even people who haven’t heard of us yet. We have had to develop different strategies for discovering and managing the different expectations of different stakeholders and sometimes this has meant focusing on one group of stakeholders at the expense of others. It’s been a difficult balancing act at times. This of course is what we spend a lot of time doing as project managers.

When developing my technical skills as a musician and more specifically a banjo player I have chosen to study techniques of others and then develop my own style based on my own strengths and abilities. I could see no point in trying to simply copy the techniques of others as this will make me a poor facsimile of them. Some say my style is unique, others politely say raw, but at the end of the day it’s my style and works. Keep this in mind as you develop your own project management skills that you should observe and learn from others but that you should always strive to develop yourself and stay true to who you are.

Anyway, these are some of the lessons that I’ve learnt from my music that I be able to directly translate into my project management career. I would be very interested in hearing what lessons you have learnt in other parts of your life that you have managed to use in your project management career.