By Tony Mauro
I was recently on a run listening to one of my favorite live albums, “Alive,” by Daft Punk. However, this time I found myself not just listening to the music, but listening to how the crowd responded, the transitions between songs, and timing of the drops and crescendos.
My mind then started wandering to my work, and I began thinking about the project that I am leading.
Although I would argue that my project isn’t quite as entertaining as a rock concert, I found myself drawing the correlation between the two, and realizing that while partnering with a client, we are putting on an incredible show. It is a large project, spanning a number of months, with numerous stakeholders, and I have to help the “artists” keep the energy going, so that when they go-live, the client is given a standing ovation and asked for an encore.
We commonly use music terms in the workplace, such as orchestrate, rhythm, harmony, and tempo. But unlike studio singles that are remastered and perfected, leading a major project is like putting on a live concert. No concert is the same, and the artists have to adapt, deal with the elements, and make sure they don’t lose the crowd. On your project you have to make adjustments and improvise, while maintaining scope and keeping stakeholders engaged. Just as with a production crew, you have to get the most out of your resources.
YOUR PROJECT KICKOFF
The first song at a show is always exciting and brings the crowd from a state of relaxation to their feet. Your project kickoff meetings and milestone reviews are similar—you need to bring up the energy, get the team excited, and set the tone. If you don’t generate the excitement up front, your team could head for the exits before you get to any of the big hits. Think about the songs that are used at sporting events to get the crowd going between plays or before the puck drops. They have some oomph!
To launch a project successfully, you need to have the right people invited and ensure everyone understands WHY the team is going to tackle the project and their role in its success. Just like the band on stage, you can’t have four lead singers, lead guitarists, or drummers on your project.
The executive sponsor should be there to fulfill his or her role of showing unwavering support, as well as explaining the relationship between the project and the corporate strategy. Take the time to ensure each person at the kickoff understands how they are going to contribute throughout the entire project. Kickoffs work best at an off-site location, somewhere fresh to get your participants outside of their comfort zone and the grind of the typical business day. Show that the project will be exciting and that the team should be proud of being a part of it.
Have you ever been to a concert where the crowd was not engaged? In business, we call this not being aligned with expectations.
I recently heard about a John Mayer show, where he was ripping it up on guitar, and some people said it was unbelievable—but my friend who attended the concert expected to sing along with the songs she knew. Similarly, allowing for team participation in business situations is key to a project’s success. Make sure your team and stakeholders are clear on the project goals and what success looks like.
Otherwise, they will disengage and will allocate their time to other initiatives. You want all attention focused on the project. Can you really do anything else when you are at a rock concert?
KEEPING THE TEAM ENGAGED
A common complaint you hear in business is one about the lack of communication among leadership and team members. However, keeping the team engaged in the project is more than communication; it is really about maintaining the momentum. Be sure to celebrate mid-term milestones and recognize individual and team accomplishments.
It is also critical to be “real” with the team when facing current realities and challenges. The audience has their favorite songs and each person likes different aspects of the show, so utilize a variety of ways to connect with the team and stakeholders. Lastly, sometimes less is more and you don’t need to smother participants with communications, but activities need to be relevant, show progress and be pointed in the right direction.
A great concert doesn’t just happen, and an artist doesn’t just walk up to the venue and start rocking out. It takes months of planning by a number of people for a two-hour show from the logistics, marketing, staging and lighting, wardrobe, and so forth. The artists lay out the set list to spread out the popular songs and ensure there is a good flow from start to finish.
Your project will also take months of planning by yourself and others. It takes more than just the project manager to execute a successful project, and you can’t do it alone. There will be discovery, business case analysis, impact assessments and pre-project planning before you even launch the project. Enlist executive sponsors and ensure all the required functions will provide the resources and time it is really going to require.
The vast majority of popular music follows a verse and chorus structure, with the repetitive chorus communicating the theme of the song. When artists play live, they can stop singing and let the crowd take over, because the chorus is always simple and easy to sing.
This crowd participation analogy applies to your project. Can your stakeholders recite your key messages if you were to give them the microphone? The messages have to be clear, relevant, and compelling enough to get behind. My clients always request the most simple and intuitive communications for their teams, and if the mark is missed, communications are rewritten.
Even the most popular bands have to give cues to the crowd, clapping their hands above their heads, encouraging the audience to join them. The stage crew flashes the lights on the crowd, prompting them to react. As the project lead, you also must proactively engage your team members and key stakeholders when you need them to take an active role and increase participation.
On the flip side, artists also sprinkle some softer songs into their set list and carefully time the intermissions. Your project will have quiet times when you need to regroup and rest in preparation for the next big milestone. It is important to plan for how you are going to manage the project lulls and workload intensive times. Celebrate the successes along the way, and give your team an intermission if required, so they can be more focused in the future.
Van Morrison is the only artist that I am aware of that can get away with just playing the songs on stage and not sharing a story or spending some time talking to the crowd. Your project is also a social outlet; you want your project team and stakeholders to enjoy working on it. Ensure that you make time for team outings and opportunities for people to get to know each other on a personal level. The project team is establishing strong connections and a network that will last long beyond the conclusion of the project.
So the next time you have a chance to go to a live show or listen to a live album, pay attention to the crowd. Look at how the artists have organized their set list, the props they use, and how they are managing the audience. Look around at all the production planning, and think about how you can lead your next project like a rock concert.
Tony Mauro is a Principal at RAS & Associates, a successful Denver-based strategy and management consulting firm striving to exemplify “Consulting Reimagined” with a talented team comprised of seasoned professionals with diverse industry experience. Mauro partners with Fortune 500 organizations to improve their supply chain processes and capabilities. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.