PM Articles > Carl Pritchard > PMs Just Want to Have Fun

PMs Just Want to Have Fun

By Carl Pritchard
Or maybe they don't...

I'm on a flight home from a client event in San Antonio right now, and the sun is shining, I got my favorite seat (Thanks, Southwest!) and I've had an amazing 24 hours. In the past 24 hours, I have played with my dog, spoken at a dinner outside Baltimore, caught a flight to Texas, slept in a warm, soft bed, conducted a keynote with 200 amazing people, and now am flying home. Wow. I should celebrate this morning. I read articles about horrific lines in airport security, and I was in and out in 10 minutes. I hear about 3000 pieces of lost luggage in Phoenix and know I was dragging only carry-on. My audiences were universally amazing (read: forgiving and understanding), and I am looking forward to dinner with the woman of my dreams tonight.

FUN! This definitely qualifies as a good day.

But it was only a few weeks ago when I learned that many people believe in the old George Carlin axiom: Inside every silver lining… there's a dark cloud!

I was talking with a peer about Lee Lambert's insightful book on earned value management titled Project Management: The CommonSense Approach. I explained how it simplified many of the complexities of earned value and boiled them down to their essence.

"But it's full of cartoons," he somberly replied.

"All the better!" I said. He went on to explain that he didn't need a cartoony version of earned value and that he wanted real "meat on the bones." And it was then that it dawned on me--he didn't want to have fun.

I like to believe that he's the exception to the rule, but I fear there are a host of people out there who really don't want to suck the marrow out of life. They want to suck the fun out of it! I hosted a training on a cruise ship a couple of years back, and was surprised to learn that even though it was dollar-for-dollar cheaper than a similar class in Cleveland or Des Moines, some project management organizations wouldn't fund their personnel attending for fear those staffers might have FUN! (Imagine that. FUN in Bermuda. Can't have that, can we?)

I was doing a client event recently when one participant approached me and said, "I can't believe they let you teach this!"

When I asked why, he explained that most of their events were painfully dry experiences without a lot of stories and humor involved. In his words, "Someone slipped you in under the radar."

When we have to turn fun into an "under the radar" experience, there's an inherent problem in how we're managing. We cannot be the enemies of fun. We should instead be fun's allies.

Creating an Alliance with FUN!

It’s not a matter of downplaying problems. It’s a matter of acknowledging that we have problems, and that we are the solutions!

If you want to be allied with positivity and good energy, you need to be the source. Rather than seeking out the ways your project is troubled or troubling, seek out the latest step forward. By identifying what's gone right and calling out that positive experience, we engender more positive attitudes. It's not a matter of downplaying problems. It's a matter of acknowledging that we have problems, and that we are the solutions! We are the answer! That's what project teams do.

One project manager I used to work with would always keep LEGO bricks in a pile on her desk and in her meetings. Invariably, some people would play with them during the meetings, as just a means of controlling their idle hands. While it rarely played into the meat of their team discussions, the bricks served a useful purpose by helping those whose thought processes are stimulated by tactile experience.

Another project team used to make the first person who was late to a meeting share a (very safe, politically correct) joke.

Another? Nerf balls were the order of the day. Whenever someone was complaining without solutions, you were free to ask them "What's the solution?" by simply tossing the Nerf at them. It became part of the culture.

Food. (As long as you don't get driven into obsessive food-fads, food is still fun).

A change of scenery can be fun, as long as getting there doesn't become a distraction.

Awards, prizes, acknowledgments…

Pick your poison. Fun doesn't have to be the focus of what we're doing, but it should be a core element. I was once taken aside by a client for wearing blue Converse All-Stars to a training event. I had to explain to the client that these were not only appropriate, but that it would be nice if all of their instructors were so clear on who they were. I pointed out that the shade of blue was the official corporate color scheme. And then, I flashed the back of my Chuck Taylor Converse to reveal the words: "Risk Guy" embroidered on the heel. These were not just sneakers. They were my "risk guy" sneakers, and since I was teaching risk…

Cpritchard-20160630 The client was not an attendee in my class, but upon seeing the shoes for what they were, she said, "Wow! That's GREAT! I wish I could sit in on your class. It sounds like fun."

We don't have to yuck it up constantly to bring fun to the fore in our project environments. We do, however, need to infuse a little more fun if we're going to get people to recognize that success is not simply borne out of deliverables. In many ways, it's borne out of deliverables relished, appreciated and enjoyed.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Perfect, I train procurement, a fairly dry topic. I too try to make it fun. Some folks don't "get it" but it sure helps make a day in an uncomfortable chair more palatable. Great article...

Good to go.

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