June 27, 2016 Mike

Project Management is Like Music

There are two things in life that I am passionate about — project management –the work that I do– and music. I’m a project manager at heart so you can infer that the work I do is project oriented. And when I was younger I studied and then played music for a number of years (at least until I realized I needed a job with health insurance).

I commented in a post the other day that “project management is like music –not everyone knows all the instruments or chords or the notes of a major scale, but we use it nonetheless in our everyday lives in ways we don’t even realize.” It occurred to me when I wrote this that I might be on to something and I promised to discuss further. So, here goes.

How is project management like music?

First, music has structure. Even when musicians are improvising, musical compositions have a key or chord structure within which the musicians generally play. And music notes chordsthere’s a reason for this: Dissonance. When someone plays or sings a note out of key, even the untrained ear can generally hear it. That dissonance means they are out of key. Well, structure is one of the hallmarks of project management as well. When things don’t go according to plan on a project, a project manager will face a certain dissonance or difficulty and will need to get the project back on track. Project management performed “out of tune” so to speak will lead to unnecessary problems and rework.

Embrace Change

Second, music and project management both embody change. Moving from a verse to a chorus, altering the tempo, modulating to another key – these are all changes in music. And think about how diverse music is, too, and how it has changed over the years. Project management similarly involves change. More importantly, the ability to adapt to change when obstacles, changes in scope, or other limitations arise. The ability to manage change is a critical skill in project management. It’s a learned skill.

Music can also be exciting and fulfilling. Think about the first time you went to a concert, or your anticipation as the Who or the Stones come back on stage for an encore to play your favoproject management graphicrite tune, or that solo in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. And there’s something about Coldplay’s Chris Martin jumping around on stage that is infectious. Seeing a complicated project through to its end, even when there were issues or changes, can be the most fulfilling work we do in the legal support industry.

Work Hard and Be Passionate

Lastly, music and project management share one more thing, particularly with respect to electronic discovery. To succeed in the music industry you’ve got to work hard and be passionate about your work. I suppose we could say that about any occupation, but the same is certainly true of project management in electronic discovery. It’s not always pretty and sexy; sometimes it is downright ugly. There are a lot of people who don’t “get” what we do. But to me, project management is about solving problems, and any degree of success or longevity in this business is going to require hard work, dedication, and yes, some passion for resolving technical and people problems.

Listen, I spent three and half years writing a book about project management in electronic discovery. The goal was to stay on key and provide some structure, to help the industry adapt to change, and to illustrate some of the hard work and passion that goes into successful e-discovery projects. It’s both exciting and fulfilling to bring Project Management in Electronic Discovery to the market.  So, go out and get the book—you’ll see what I mean. You can order the book here.


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