The Project Manager with the Magic Touch

“Ze girl? She seems like a very nice girl. She “plays” monsieur, like a very nice girl.  However, it ztinks! Is not so hard to understand: Her playing, very polite. Mistake, no. It says E-flat, she plays E-flat. Ping-ping. Hit the right note, always, very proper.

Look, monsieur, play the piano,  is not about the fingers. “Done”  with the fingers, yes. But the music, she is inside. Inside, monsieur. Ah, but that is just what I cannot teach. I cannot teach her to have a soul.  

Then you listen to me, for I am expert. Ze girl, she give me a headache. She cannot play. Nice girl. Very clever hands. Someday, I think, maybe, she make a very good typist. Ping-ping. Voila.” 

The Man Who Wasn’t There (film), The Coen Brothers

magic-hatHave you ever seen a Project Manager, that you would describe as someone having the magic touch? It would probably be someone that has demonstrated the ability to pull things off (even small things) that you don’t understand exactly how they were possible to achieve. Producing good results repeatedly, thought decisions and actions that come together in a mysterious way to contribute to (project) success.

You were surprised by the results themselves, but perhaps, also, left in wonder as you were not able to see how these results were possible (at least given the information available to you at the time). You had questions, perhaps many. Maybe you got some answers, or you simply chose to accept these kinds of results as pleasant surprises and moved on to focusing on your own work.


The Magician

What is magic? It’s a phenomenon that describes that which cannot be explained by the visible, the apparent, the perceived; that which cannot be explained or understood with the information available. Nothing metaphysical about it…

The legerdemainists (magicians) perform their act with admirable skill and ease. But how do they do it? First of all they know its possible, and they have a unique ability to visualize and design their act. Then, they develop the skills needed to perform the act and shift all lights to the effect (keeping their actions in the dark). And there is one more important factor: above all, they want to do it – they have a strong motivation to bring all of the above together and deliver their magic/result.

The Project Manager

There is nothing metaphysical about the magic of the Project Manager with the magic touch, as it is nothing more than the result of the many small (seemingly insignificant) decisions and actions which allow the Project Manager to do the right things, at the right time, and for the right reasons, and in line with the project management goals. In other words, there is a lot of hard work involved in delivering project management magic.

Quote-Like-art.pngProject Managers with the magic touch distinguish urgent from important and achieve a productive balance between managing (short term) horizon 1 activities and (longer term) horizon 2 and 3 activities. Their actions are strategically prioritised, tactically pertinent, and aligned with lower and higher order goals which come together in synchronicity producing “the magic”.

Project Managers with the magic touch:smart_stick_idea_pc_400_clr_4984

  • Have the ability to relate to the goals of the project.
  • Have an agenda – the right agenda.
  • Work on the big picture while appreciating the fact that small actions and decisions contribute to the big picture goals.
  • Are able to create a big picture from synergistically associating seemingly independent small pictures, facts, and relationships.
  • Can make connections, create scenarios, extrapolate and “see the future”, the consequences and the benefits of decisions/actions.
  • Apply timely and intuitive decision-making.
  • Correctly identify the project’s Critical Success Factors (CSF) and prioritise management actions strategically.
  • Have negotiating skills and take calculated (smart) risks.
  • Get to know the right people and create deep symbiotic relationships; they maintain  balanced credit/debit relationships.
  • Are passionate about producing (more) value.
  • Balance WIIFM with WIIFT.
  • Scan and correctly decipher the stakeholder and power structures.
  • Work with or around “office” politics.
  • Surround themselves with the right people and seek the advice of competent advisors.
  • Avoid false efficiency – they seek efficiency only in the context of effectiveness.
  • Achieve synergies and optimise available resources based on the strategic value of goals.
  • Add the necessary spices for creating the ideal project mix in terms of both goals and team members.
  • Expand the boundaries of their responsibilities and influence to the right level.
  •  They manage to strike the perfect (artistic) balance between:
    • tactical and strategic.
    • purpose, people, process, plan, and pleasure/pain.
    • upfront planning and Just in Time adaptive planning.
    • transactional and transformational behaviours.

“Big decisions turn out to have much less impact as a whole than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones.” – The Decision Trap, Terence J. Tollaksen

On the other hand, Project Managers with the un-Magic Touch:

  • 96f0f954b7caea20b5bf27fae84ea413Work primarily on small picture goals and achievements.
  • Seek quick gratification, quick wins, desire instant recognition and visibility.
  • Are  reactive and trigger happy; they take (seemingly correct)  small picture decisions and actions with great confidence and on the spot.
  • Show false proactiveness.
  • Cannot manage complex problems. Create oversimplified, flattened, models of reality.
  • Trivialise complex situations and provide quick solutions to small simplified problems lacking holistic considerations.
  • Do not consider the negative side-effects of their actions/decisions as they are unable to see their negative effect on seemingly unrelated and unconnected systems.
  • Cannot create and exploit high-value synergies.
  • Pursue false efficiency (i.e. minimising costs/effort at the expense of big picture goals and reducing overall value (or potential for value creation).
  • Do not seek to create new relationships but rely on using only existing comfortable relationships and structures.
  • Have “broken” feedback loops or misinterpret feedback in a way that reinforces their unproductive perceptions.
  • Do not involve the right people (just the ones that are convenient to manage).
  • Lack some key intellectual and ethical virtues (such as wisdom and courage).

“I prefer to accept only one type of power:  The power of art over trash, the triumph of magic over the brute.” – Vladimir Nabokov  

Effective Intelligence (FI) and professional and ethical virtues such as judgment, practical wisdom, courage, generosity, friendliness, honour and magnificence are critical in enabling Project Managers to achieve the many effective balances and behaviours necessary for managing projects with a bit of a “magic touch”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s