“All styles require adjustment, partiality, denials, condemnation, and a lot of self-justification. The solutions they purport to provide are the very cause of the problem because they limit and interfere with our natural growth and obstruct the way to genuine understanding. Divisive by nature, styles keep men apart from each other rather than unite them.” – Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee was the founder of the martial art Jeet Kune Do. His movies Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon are kung-fu classics. Lee’s role as a movie star led to him being considered one of the most influential martial artists of all time.
His skills are not the only curiosity worth exploring. The man’s philosophy is as significant. Like the above quote states, styles require adjustment. If you have been doing something the same way for decades, something is drastically wrong. Technology has changed. Techniques have been refined. Theories have come and gone.
A staple of Jeet Kune Do is its fluidity. A rigid curriculum does not exist. The basis of the martial art is minimal movement with maximum effect. Real combat is spontaneous, much like projects. A good martial artist should be like water moving fluidly without hesitation.
This style of martial arts can be mirrored in the project management profession. The most popular forms of management have rigid guidelines that need to be followed. These processes are step-by-step guides to ensure you stay on track. This rigidity creates exclusivity, either you are part of the group, or you are not. Do not dare combine techniques for you will make both parties upset.
I am proposing to create the Jeet Kune Do of project management. Let’s explore how to do this:
- Research your own experience.
There is no one path to success. Blueprints and plans are great for guidelines, but taken literally, create robots. A process or style works for one person or organization does not mean it is a universal truth. Based on your experience, you may have tried that technique, and it failed miserably.
Your background and experience need to be accounted for in the style you approach management. Some people are no-nonsense, straight shooters because they came up in that environment, and it worked. Others find that atmosphere difficult to work in, so they create something else.
This first step is subjective. Objectivity is great for academia and theory. Your specific experiences are the focus. No one else’s path should be included in this step. You are exploring your skill set and knowledge base to determine what works for you.
- Absorb what is useful.
Coming up in an experience-based industry, I see the value in seniority. Having decades of experience helps in problem-solving where books have blindspots. Seeing and believing have more of an impact than storytelling. However, solely basing decisions on experience has its downfalls. Again, technology is improving exponentially, and older workers may not be aware of the benefits.
A computer model may have a better algorithm than a human with experience can provide. This second step in Bruce Lee’s approach is to see what works and what does not. Some techniques are flashy, new age contraptions that will pass in the night. Others work no matter what the situation.
More than likely, you will resort to basics in this step. Foundational teachings are just that because they work no matter what the circumstance. In a project, you have a budget, scope, and schedule. The triple constraint is present at all times, hence the emphasis placed on it. If you can manage the triple constraint effectively, your projects have the best chances for success.
- Reject what is useless.
This step may seem obvious. Who uses something that does not work? Too many people. They see an organization using billboard advertising thinking to be successful they need to use the same model. This approach does not work for everyone.
Team members can be placed in this category as well. Some people do more damage than good. The classic saying ‘addition by subtraction’ describes this situation. Cut the fat. Whether it is an internal process, a team thing, or organization-wide, cut out the useless activity.
Start to quantify processes. Show how marketing on billboards has led to nothing while sending out specific emails to groups is working. Present data to express a program’s effectiveness. Ego becomes part of this step. If you created something and it does not work, it becomes difficult to eliminate.
At the end of this step, your approach to project management should consist of effective techniques in any situation. If it does not work, it goes away.
- Add what is specifically your own.
Now that you have techniques and styles that work and you have cut out everything that does not, it is time to start adding your flavor to the recipe. Your personality should shine in whichever approach you take. If you are a straightforward, no-nonsense person, develop a style based on that characteristic. This style may contrast to someone who is more extroverted. This difference does not make either style wrong, just different.
Do not be somebody you are not. Eventually, the facade wears off, and people start to see who you really are. Plus, being someone you are not is tiring. Your personality is unique to you. Take advantage of that.
Bruce Lee was onto something when he suggested these four ways to look at martial arts. Nowadays, mixed martial arts is a sport where an individual combines elements from Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Boxing, and so on to become the best fighter. While one-dimensional fighters still exist, the most successful in the sport have mastered multiple elements.
A project manager should look at their careers in a similar light. Instead of staying in the pocket and recreating the same project over and over again, start to develop a style of your own. Take the best elements of waterfall, agile, PMBOK, and so on to create a super approach to projects.
Remember, applying a static technique to a fluid situation does not work. Projects are fluid. Trying to keep the project within your arranged style may only have negative effects. Instead of holding true to the technique or style, remain true to the project.
Be like water.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.
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Over the past 10 years, Chris Cook has spent his career in the construction industry. He has a Bachelor's of Science in Industrial Technology Management with an emphasis in Building Construction Management and Master's of Science in Project Management. He is an accredited PMP.
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