by Craig Covello, PMP:

You may be too young to remember a blues song entitled, “The Thrill Is Gone.” It was written in 1951 by Rick Darnell and Roy Hawkins, and later popularized by blues guitarist legend B.B. King in 1970. Allow me to share a sample lyric:

The thrill is gone
It’s gone away for good
Oh, the thrill is gone baby
Baby its gone away for good
Someday I know I’ll be over it all baby
Just like I know a man should

I’m sure that Mr. King was referring to intimate relationships; however, let’s examine this from the context of project management, because there are some legitimate parallels.

When someone in the company has an idea, they typically embark on a campaign to solicit executive sponsors by generating some enthusiasm. It’s almost an evangelical process. But as with many ideas based upon vision, excitement and desire, the view is typically somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 feet.  Fortunately, or unfortunately depending upon your point of view, lack of detail is entirely compatible with the executive summary format used to pitch an idea to senior leadership. And once the project is given the green light, the very real process begins of putting together a plan to execute that vision into reality.

If you’ve been a project manager for any length of time, you know that the “project plan” is not synonymous with the project schedule. There are several other components to be developed, including identification of stakeholders and project participants along with roles and responsibilities. That’s where the concept of motivation may require little attention, because at the beginning of the project, most everyone is excited and engaged, or at the very least, somewhat responsive. But as the reality of project execution settles in, typically there may be signs of waning interest among some participants who have specific work to do, either through coordination of others or direct effort.

And that’s where the true, and sometimes underrated, value of the project manager’s role has tremendous impact. It’s no small feat to lead a group of individuals to the finish line, particularly when they have been temporarily assigned to you in a matrix organizational model, a model where participants know that you will not be writing performance reviews or deciding next year’s compensation. So perhaps it’s just human nature to sometimes ratchet down the level of attention and effort as the project progresses.

Here’s a case in point: Recently my wife and I moved to North Texas after 22 years of living in Northern California. We engaged the assistance of real estate agents on both ends of the transaction, selling our existing home as well as purchasing a new home. In both cases, it became obvious that the agents became noticeably less responsive once the offers were accepted for the California sale and the Texas purchase. Phone calls were not returned as promptly, details were forgotten and mistakes were made. In retrospect, the home buying experience was very anti-climatic and somewhat frustrating, all for lack of follow-through. In the real estate agent’s mind, it was all about closing the deal in order to receive the commission. In our minds, however, it was about a smooth transition from one state to another.

In the project manager’s mind, it should also be about a smooth and timely transition between project initiation, project execution and project closure. All details matter. All task due dates matter. That last mile in which many project deliverables are due may become one of the longest miles. Perhaps this is why so many projects, typically ones run by the government, are often embarrassingly late and significantly over budget.

How do you motivate project participants to stay engaged after the thrill is gone? That may be the subject for an upcoming article, because we don’t want the lyrics of BB King to become the prophecy of future projects.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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