IPMA International Project Management Association
27 April 2016 / 10:14

Making Projects Sing – A Musical Perspective of Project Management

Recently I was asked to write a foreword for a book providing links between music and project management. I was very much inspired and wrote the following: “If you read the book title you might think – how does music and project management go together? They do, in a very symbiotic way! I have benefited a lot from my musical education, starting to play flute at the age of 5, switching to clarinet at 9, playing in an orchestra at 12, and starting a career as conductor of an orchestra with 17. But how can we make use of all this in project management? Very simple, as a musician you learn to experience a world of harmonies, beat, rhythm, and teamwork. Each piece is unique, it develops a melody over time; you feel the rhythm and develop the music into the future, together with your colleagues of the orchestra. You are not alone, you are dependent on others, you need to listen to them, you need to notice them about your next moves, sometimes you are in the middle of the piece with your solo, sometimes others are, and you move into the background. Music requires the players (or singers) to be passionate, patient, disciplined, and highly cooperative. Transfer this into the context of projects, and you will understand the great synergies.

Sometimes we can read comparisons between the conductor of an orchestra and project managers, mainly highlighting leadership and communication. Often this comparison is building on a strong, sometimes authoritarian, leadership style. However, a conductor with a poor orchestra is not performing at all. The conductor is choosing the piece, interpreting it to fit the context and the audience, and guiding the orchestra through. Each member of the orchestra is important to perform. All are linked through self-organization and close coordination based on harmonies, beat, and rhythm. Once, we organized a conference in Germany under the motto “Beyond Agile Management.” We chose the improvisation in music to make clear, how difficult it really is to be agile, and reach better performance in a dynamic and complex environment. As a musician, you may understand the difficulties to ignore all the harmonies, beats, and rhythms you have learned so far, and finding a new way forward. Now you need to use intuition, all sensors, and create your own, unique way. It is very difficult to write about this in such a foreword, I strongly recommend you to experience it in person. Certainly, musicians can profit from our know-how of managing projects. Each performance needs to be organized, the way of studying and learning can be managed in a systematic way. However, the project management processes and methodologies may be too sophisticated for this specific domain. We need a more pragmatic way of managing projects, programs, or portfolios, easy to apply in education and music.

Daniel Defoe, famous author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote in his first book, An Essay upon Projects in 1697 about the skills needed: “the honest projector is he who, having by fair and plain principles of sense, honesty, and ingenuity brought any contrivance to a suitable perfection, makes out  what he pretends to, picks nobody’s pocket, puts his project in execution, and contents himself with the real produce as the profit of his invention.” This brings me back to the book and why it is such a great bridge between the field of music, the project management domain, and the way of learning. Music is great to explore your own capabilities, to set a theme into scene, to be co-creative with other people and express yourself in an emotional way. It is a great way of personal development and holistic growth. Through the experience of music we can also overcome the formal processes, methods and tools of project management, imposed by industry and challenged by the complex environment we are faced with nowadays. People are not a means to projects, on the contrary, projects are a means for our own development. This is why I strongly recommend to read this book, perform more research on the topic, and advance the concept of project management from the industrial into a more humanistic era.”

Link to the book http://businessexpertpress.com/books/making-projects-sing-musical-perspective-project-management



1 Comment

  • Stacy A Goff says:

    Reinhard, what an excellent commentary! You are helping to show, as Longfellow claimed in the 19th century, that “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Interestingly, 23 million Google hits come up in agreement. Thank you!

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Author of this post

Dr. Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 35 years in the field of project-related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Automotive, Engineering, and Consultancy, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, a leading PM Consultancy in Munich/Germany, he supports executives of industrial clients in transforming their companies towards a project-oriented, adaptive and sustainably successful organization. He has published more than 40 books as well as several hundred articles and blog posts in the field of project management. In more than 20 years of voluntary engagement he served the German Project Management Association (GPM) as well as the IPMA in various roles and was granted for his international commitment with the Honorary Fellowship of IPMA and several of its member associations. He received his doctorate in the field of projectification of society and continues to be active in it through his research and lectures.