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~ 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

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)

Continue to: the next level.

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


The Spiritual Side of Project Management ~

Balancing Honesty and Good-Will

I've been on lots of projects, and some were very high-tech. When suddenly assigned as
engineering manager for a support team on a very large and complex electronics and
software development project, I wondered if I would be able to assimilate the technology
quickly enough to add value. After three months, I learned a lesson I'd learned before. No
matter how technically advanced a project is, the hard part is not the technical part, it is the
people part.

Projects need special people skills since they often involve people with conflicting priorities
and high stress. It helps in such projects to have some reliable principles to rely on in dealing
with people issues. Project leadership, especially in a matrix organization, requires that the
project manager build informal relationships with the members of the project team. About 30
years back, when I had just started going with a new girlfriend, a professor told me that
relationships are built through communication and consideration. Now whenever I want to
build a relationship, I consciously look for ways to increase the communication and
consideration I am putting in that relationship.

Project environments sometimes require a great commitment to truth, and this is sometimes
difficult to reconcile with the interpersonal demands of getting along. Such demanding
environments call for the application of sound spiritual principles. Here is one such principle
that I have found useful in project work.

I started thinking about this last year when reading the Bible from the beginning. I watched
carefully to see the emergence of the spiritual message as it evolved from the first stage of
spiritual discipline and obedience and then gradually grew to a larger sense of the spiritual
principles of goodness. I was interested to see that some advanced spiritual principles
appeared quite early in the text.

I was struck by the phrase "kindly and truly" that appears several times in early books of the
Bible. Even four thousand years ago, it was deemed by some a worthy standard to deal with
each other kindly and truly.

It seems we have not always remembered the simple practicality of dealing with one another
in this way. We often hear people justifying their positions by saying, "Well, I was just
brutally honest. I told them just the way it is. I can't lie." And they think this is somehow a
recipe for success. It turns out that honesty and good-will need to be balanced together to
bring success to our dealings with others.

Our practice of truth and love go together. Our love isn't really love if it isn't true. And the
truth doesn't have the positive affect we want unless it is also loving. I learned a few years
back that being brutally honest can be, well, how do I put this - an act of brutality?

Someone once said, "I want neither unloving critics nor uncritical lovers." That reflects the
reality that truth and love need to go hand in hand. We value honesty as an ethical principle,
but we need to couple honesty with good will. If we have only honesty without good-will, we
simply end up as a "whistle-blower" in our organization or as an abrasive "Chicken Little."
This may be ethical in one sense, but it is not the sign of a healthy, progressive organization.
Success is achieved when we make sure our honesty is balanced with good will and that our
good will is really true. Only in the combination of these we can make real progress.
You might think of these two forces as vectors, and the
success vector is the resultant of good-will and honesty
exercised in balance (as shown in the figure). It is not our
exercise of one or the other, simply trying to be nice to
people or being brutally honest, but the vector sum of
these two factors that is a solid principle for success. The
resultant vector is a cross-product of honesty and good-
will. There is a good reason for calling this a cross-
product, since while either one by itself may be relatively
easy, increasingly exercising the two in balance can be a
real struggle.

These spiritual principles can be communicated in the work place by simply holding up the
standard of honesty and good will, dealing with one another kindly and truly, and best of all,
by acting this out ourselves. I will be glad to share with you a few stories about how this can
be used in the workplace.