Project Management is Jazz

For me project management is jazz.  Yes, jazz is known for its improvisation, but it’s not a genre of haphazard anarchy.

I’m lucky to have talented friends who are jazz musicians.  Here are some of their defining characteristics that I try to cultivate when doing project work, be it a passion project of mine or a mission of my employer.

  • Big ears.  They study, enjoy, and incorporate music from many genres, moods, and sources.
  • Intense commitment to their craft. One of my best friends and project partners is Brad Gunson.  When I met him in college, he was known in our group of friends for sleeping in a practice room.  He had a dorm room but felt the need to drag a mattress into the music building in order to learn to play trombone the way he wanted.
  • Creative collaboration.  Jazz musicians are quick to find new partners.  They stand in for missing players, gig with multiple groups, lead their own groups, and play in other people’s bands.
  • Improvise.  After you’ve put in the work, you execute, and if the plan changes, it changes.   On the risk side, disciplined preparation doesn’t guarantee everything will go according to plan.   On the opportunity side, some of the best jazz and the coolest projects are the product of continued flexibility and openness to chance.