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How is project management like conducting an orchestra?
By Diana Lindstrom

Conductors of great symphony orchestras do not play every musical instrument; yet through leadership the ultimate production is an expressive and unified combination of tones.
– Thomas D. Bailey

How is project management like conducting an orchestra? In many ways.

A project manager does not need to be the subject matter expert to be able to lead the project team. Some people think that this is blasphemy.

But here’s why it’s not blasphemy.

Project managers must know:

  • the technical and business requirements of the project product
  • those areas of expertise and skills required
  • the best process for producing those requirements
  • the corporate culture and how to navigate it
  • how to manage people and resources

Just like a conductor knows the musical piece that the orchestra is playing, the project manager must know the ebb and flow of the project process. A conductor doesn’t play every instrument, but he knows every note in the piece. He knows the phrasing of each movement. He knows the entry and exit point of each instrument – what instrument plays and when.

A good conductor also understands at a profound level how the instruments interact. Sometimes the strings carry the main melody while the brass provides a bed of deep, resonant notes. The percussion section maintains the foundational beat, keeping everyone together.

A good project manager knows when each member of the team needs to be contributing and what they need to do. The PM knows how to keep the project moving at just the right pace. That project manager understands that she is the foundation for the project – keeping everyone working together through her leadership.

A good project manager “conducts” the project. She doesn’t run herself ragged trying to perform all the parts.

Diana Lindstrom, PMP, CTACC, has been a project manager for over 22 years. Starting out as an electrical engineer, she has broad experience including executive management, enterprise-level procurement, paralegal, writing, and coaching. As an executive coach, Diana helps new executives (and project managers) make that mind shift from tactical to strategic thinking. She can be reached through http://shipwreckedproject.com.

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