Be a “mosquito”: the power of project management persistence

Only through Persistence you can achieve everything in your project management career. Alexander Graham Bell said: “What is power is I can not say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it”. Persistence and patience are very interrelated, and both imply time and effort. In my experience every project professional must cultivate and develop persistence and transmit enthusiasm and positivism to his/her team.

I failed many times in my professional life, but I was willing to keep failing, and keep failing until I succeeded. Projects are done by human beings who make right and wrong decisions during the project life cycle. This is part of human behavior that many executives forget exists during project execution in organizations. How to learn from successes and failures characterizes a project learning organization. One of the obligations from executives is to plan with their project managers for doing retrospective analysis during the project life cycle for each project. If lessons learned sessions are not planned as part of the project plan, they never will happen.

Trying hard and making many attempts is known as commitment and persistence in a general sense. Taking into account that projects are uncertain endeavors, project teams and project managers achieve right or wrong results. Depending on the point of view of those teams and leaders, those results will be considered as failures or as opportunities to learn. The learning attitude is a good characteristic of the right project leader. Every day I can learn something in my project, and it does not matter if I learn from my people, from my customer, or from other project stakeholders. Good ideas or feedback can come from anywhere. The most important thing is how to move from failures to project success.

I can remember when I was a child and I learned how to ride a bicycle. Perhaps you had a similar experience that began with training wheels. Eventually, when these crutches were removed, keeping your balance became more difficult. You struggled to stay upright, maybe even falling a few times and scraping yourself. You were learning an important early lesson about failure.

As you practiced, it is likely that one of your parents walked beside you shouting instructions, encouraging you and catching you as you lost balance. You were scared, but excited. You looked forward to the time when you would succeed, when you would at last ride free on your own. Or maybe you didn’t think at all but were so wrapped up in the experience and how to accomplish the activity. Nobody called you a failure… nor were you worried about failing. So you kept at it every day, and eventually mastered the skill of riding a bike.What contributed to your ultimate success in learning how to ride your bike?

Well, persistence and sheer repetition, certainly. You were going to stick with it no matter how long it took. It also helped that you were enthusiastic about what you set out to achieve, that you could hardly wait to reach your goal. And finally, let’s not underestimate the impact of positive encouragement. You always knew your parents were in your corner, supporting you, rooting for your success.

As a youngster learning to ride your bike, you were optimistic, thrilled, and eager to meet the challenge. You could not wait to try again. You knew you would master it eventually. But that was a long time ago.

Yesterday and Today: Now let’s examine how most adults approach the development of new skills. Let’s assume we asked a group of adults to learn a new software program or to switch to another position in the company. How would most respond? They would try to avoid it, they would complain, they would make excuses why they should not have to do it, they would doubt their abilities, and they would be afraid.

As adults, most of us become a lot more concerned about the opinions of others, often hesitating because people may laugh at us or criticize us. As a youngster, we knew we had to fall off the bike and get back on to learn a new skill. Falling off the bike was not a “bad” thing. But as we got older, we started to perceive falling off as a bad thing, rather than an essential part of the process of achieving our goal. It can be uncomfortable to try something new, perhaps even scary. But if you take your eyes off the goal and instead focus your attention on how others may be viewing you, you are doing yourself a grave disservice. To develop a new skill or reach a meaningful target, you must be committed to doing what it takes to get there, even if it means putting up with negative feedback or falling on your face now and then.

Successful people have learned to “fail” their way to success. While they may not particularly enjoy their “failures”, they recognize them as a necessary part of the road to victory. After all, becoming proficient at any skill requires time, effort and discipline, and the willingness to persevere through whatever difficulties may arise. Persistence is the key.

Every time I make I mistake managing a project I recognize and say “I made a mistake, I will do all my best to correct my mistake, my apologies about that”. It is the type of behavior I get across to my people. this attitude is very helpful in my life as a project manager. So the greatest mistake of a project manager is not to recognize that something went wrong and not to say “I made a mistake”.

The Power of Persistence

I believe commitment is the essence of a learning attitude. The key to getting what you want is the willingness to do “whatever it takes” to accomplish your objective. What do I mean by this willingness? It is a mental attitude that says: if it takes five steps to reach my goal, I’ll take those 5 steps, but if it takes 30 steps to reach my goal, I will be persistent and take those 30 steps.

On most occasions in the project field, you don’t know how many steps you must take to reach your goal or to accomplish your deliverables. This does not matter. To succeed, all that’s necessary is that you make a commitment to do whatever it takes; regardless of the number of steps or activities involved.

Persistent action follows commitment. You first must be committed to something before you’ll persist to achieve it. Once you make a commitment to achieve your goal, then you will follow through with relentless determination and action until you attain the desired result. The most difficult thing I found is how to convince the team about the big impact on business that commitment within projects has on organizations. When you make a commitment and you are willing to do whatever it takes, including the effort to communicate a clear, convincing, and compelling message, you begin to attract the people and circumstances necessary to accomplish your goal.

My rules of Persistence

 Therefore, today I have decided on some ‘Rules of persistence for my projects and for myself”:

1. No regrets. I will follow my dreams to the fullest. With all my energy I will give it my complete will and effort. So that even if the desired result does not come about, I will have no regrets. I know I tried. I honor all decisions made that they came from my freedom to choose and that I accept the consequences.

2. I will live and activate my dreams through little actions. Yard by yard, push by little push. I need not take massive action each day. But a little measurable step forward will bring me that much more nearer to my goal.

3. I will live in the moment. Not in the past and not too much into the future. The full realization of the present will make the future come about on its own. Let me effuse all my energies on the present so that I don’t rue the time lost when the clock ticks over.

4. I will keep my goals always in sight. I have written down goals. I carry a copy with me in my wallet. I am making a daily habit of at least going through it once. The other places I have kept it, is as a wallpaper on my monitor. It’s always in my face and in my subconscious too.

5. I realize that obstacles will come about. I need to work around them. Goals are what lie behind all the stumbling blocks. If I cannot vault over them then I will walk around them. It might take longer but I will get around the block.

6. I will focus on one or two goals only. Focus is concentration on one single point. It’s much easier to be persistent when we have clarity of a single goal. Too many goals dissipate our energies and loss of energy is always followed by loss of persistence.

7. I will trust myself. When others can do it, so can I. I try out this mantra every day. I know all the power to achieve my goals lies within me. I only have to harness it.

8. I will take a break. I have to fill myself up with energy. After every slight success it’s important to taste a reward. Just to chill out for a while and then get back on the job rejuvenated.

9. I will be flexible. Constant action sometimes demands inconstant methods. If a way is not working too well, I will try to find out some other way to do it. There always is more than one way to skin the cat.

10. I will be patient. What defeats persistence is time. Time is our greatest friend as well as our greatest enemy. Persistent action by its very extension.

Alfonso Bucero, MSc, CPS, PMP, PMI-RMP, PfMP, PMI Fellow

Managing Partner, Bucero PM Consulting.


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