How to Start with Humor

The key to project management is a sense of humor. 

Do you doubt the statement above?

I believe the key to managing a project of any size, large or small, is having a sense of the ridiculous, the ability to thrive in chaos assures us we will come out the other side successful and with all our hair still firmly attached by the roots. Projects have a way of teaching us that no matter how well planned, somewhere along the way we are in for a surprise. Nevertheless, to the heart of the basics, truly they are straightforward, following rules for controlling chaos.

Don’t skip the small stuff, don’t even rush through it; instead sit down and take the time to understand what needs to be done and why even if it seems mundane or not applicable on the surface, check the box. It is easy to do and there are many activities during project start-up that might seem on the surface to be repetitive, especially with modern conveniences such as project scheduling tools. Believe me skipping steps will cause tribulations later in the project; taking the time up front will prevent painful mea culpa’s later. Checking the box is easy, the simple step of identification with the project sponsor, knowledgeable team members and other organizational resources of what key Activity Groups, Work Products and Deliverables’ will or will not be required for a specific project with a reasoned justification for elimination will let you move forward during planning within controlled parameters. Everyone understands and agrees with the project parameters and what the project will deliver, everyone is happy for now.

How often have any of us as Project Managers sat with our customer and supported a software methodology while agreeing we are also PMP compliant? Did we ever stop to think the person we were talking to didn’t understand the difference or truthfully just didn’t care? Worse, did we stop to consider we were applying our own history and values into our customer’s environment without stopping to ask if they aligned with their  requirements, needs or approach to projects? I know I have more than once and my customers have taught me a great deal over the years because I was willing to listen and learn from them. A sense of humor was only one of the qualities that got me through a couple of projects where my views on project management were in direct conflict with my customers. Some of those times I had to learn to relax, others times I just had to learn new ways to operate in my role as Project Manager within their PMO.

Is it possible to create mountains out of molehills? It is if we are married to our own views of what makes for sound project management, if we are rigid in our adherence our methods and methodologies we our bound to fail. What is a better approach? The ability to self-audit and create an environment where our teams, our sponsors and our business partners agree we are working toward common goals and information flows in the right manner and at the right level. As project managers, we are responsible for creating order out of chaos, managing information and managing risks to the project in a way that mitigates them before they happen. One way we do this is insuring our teams can get work done because they have time rather than be busy doing make-busy drudgery created by the PM to satisfy a checklist.

I use lots of checklists; in fact, I love checklists they are one of the staples of my work and personal life. Checklists keep me from regularly planting my face in my palm in utter embarrassment at having to failed to remember something important, like my wedding anniversary or my son’s birthday (yes, I have indeed forgotten each of these at least once). Like so many of us who have been working in project management, IT or consulting for any amount of time I have my own set of favorite oft used Templates and Tools that serve me well in new projects, including checklists. When new clients ask me I always offer them, if they don’t I simply use those that are adaptable and do not undermine the client environment so that I am able to perform the role they have hired me to do.

One of my key checklists is the Project Kick-Off List, I won’t put everything here as it has close to one hundred items on it, but some of the key items from my PM Project Kick-Off list are:

Name & Type Responsible Include
Requirements Validation (WP) PM


Project WBS PM


Final Budget Sponsor


Staffing Approval Sponsor


Change Control Plan PM


Quality Plan PM


Status Report PM


Project Schedule PM


Communications Plan PM


Issues Management Plan PM


Risk Management Plan PM


Test & Acceptance Plan PM


Document Management & Control PM




Is having a checklist going to assure you or the project of success? No, absolutely not, it will though allow you to work with the business, your team and if you are a consultant, your client to check off those items that you all can agree accelerate start-up and mitigate risk. It will give you a sense of control within the always chaotic environment of projects, that you have taken all the steps necessary to provide your team with the very best standard possible to deliver what the customer has set down as ‘required’ or ‘desired’ as a project outcome.

Initiate the project correctly.  Know your audience and your stakeholders.  Set up the project to succeed by taking the time up front to lay the foundation.  Don’t skimp during commencement you will regret it during execution.  Use a checklist to ensure that all of the necessary steps are taken and your planned approach to execution is validated by your stakeholders.   Leave nothing to chance that you are able to address up front.  Communications is the key!  It is impossible to over communicate.

Keep your sense of humor, without it you won’t have fun and ultimately this is the best part of the job. I asked a client once what they saw as my most critical role during a very difficult phase of the project, their answer:




(c) Linda Valentine-Dean 2012

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About lvalentinedean

Twenty years in the trenches hasn't stopped me from being passionate about the profession of project management.
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