The Secret Sauce of Project Management

Sharing food and project success

Source: Time

Have you ever wondered how some projects get done? From the outside they seem complex with many conflicting stakeholders, yet somehow are a success. You can’t help but have a little bit of professional jealousy/envy/respect going on. We’ll get to that in a minute. The way you can find out what really happened in a project is go to their Post Implementation Reviews (PIR). Better still, offer to run them. If you are not going out of your way to run or at least attend other Project Managers’ PIRs you are missing out on learning. Big time. You see, there’s only so much you can learn from your own projects. You can only have a limited amount of them for starters. By volunteering to run others’ PIRs you are not only doing them a huge favour (they can fully participate) you are tapping into a resource of learning that would otherwise be unavailable to you. It’s an opportunity to find out the secret sauce of project management.

Secret Sauce?

Yes. Because even if the project didn’t go well, you learn all the reasons why – reasons that MAY have tripped you up in your project. And if the project went well, you can pick up some tips. If I haven’t already convinced you to run PIRs yet, I’m not sure what will. Oh, wait, they are mostly catered. Do I have you yet? Yes, food.

And that is exactly where I’m going with this. In all my experience of running PIRs (I think I started ‘volunteering’ in 2003), there are many and varied reasons for project success. And there are many and varied reasons for project failure. I could share many lists, but it all comes down to this. The Project Managers who provide food to their teams are generally successful.

I ran a PIR a few years ago, and to be honest, I was really excited about going. It had been a complex project with a technology I didn’t understand that was done in very tight timeframes with lots of dependencies. I didn’t know the PM very well at all, and was expecting a bit of a legend to walk in the door. Instead he was a pretty ordinary looking guy, no super hero outfit going on. We talked through a lot of aspects of the project and gathered great feedback, mostly positive, about the general running of the project. I asked a question I often ask, and that was: “If you could put it down to one thing, what do you think got you through this? What made the project so successful given the circumstances?” The answer, unequivocally, from all present was: “Pies”. Yes, pies of the meat variety (there may have been vegetarian in there too, I’m not sure). Whenever there was a team meeting where the PM needed everyone onboard and getting things done, the he would pick up a whole bunch of hot pies and bring them to the meeting room. Soon the smell would permeate the office, and people would come.

Bonding over Food

Why do you think most of our most auspicious life occasions are celebrated over food? It’s because we bond over food. Food is the ultimate social lubricant. As we ‘break bread together’ we form connections at a level that would not be possible otherwise. I was at a networking event with Business Chicks once, and they explained that the table set ups at their events were done specifically with bonding over food in mind. The way the food is presented means we need to pass plates to each other – someone might have the danishes in front of them, and someone else the fruit. There’s always that awkward small talk at the start where we’re all like “swap you?” And it works. It works or it wouldn’t continue to be done. It works because how many celebrations have you been involved in that have not involved food? Of course, the timing often falls around a meal, but can you really count morning tea, afternoon tea and after work drinks meal times?

We connect over food and drink, so when you think about it, a project team working to get something done in a tight timeframe needs to connect. They need to be working together like a well-oiled machine. Without that, you have a group of people, not a team. And in a competitive environment where every minute counts, we can’t afford to operate like that. I would even go so far as to say that if your project budget can’t accommodate catering for a meeting requiring connection, collaboration and creativity (I would first question the organisation you are working for), I would invest with your own money. The pay back will be worth so much more.



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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.