Conducting the orchestra

I have worked in Marketing now for many years.  I was 'classically trained' in brand management before moving from an FMCG environment to a retail environment. Now I run Brand Champions which enables me to become involved in a number of big business wide projects for a wide range of clients.

One of the things that I have learnt, is that it is not possible to play every role within a project but it is vital to coordinate everything.  That to me is what successful brand, business or project management is really all about.

I used to compare the role that a project manager plays to that of a football coach trying to get the most out of his team or the concept of spokes on a wheel with the project manager at the centre.  However, more recently i believe a better comparison is to that of an orchestra, with the project manager being the conductor.  

There are a number of similarities as follows:

  1. The conductor of the orchestra has to provide clear direction and leadership to the entire group.  He is the maestro and the one everyone looks to, including the audience. If it all goes smoothly, he/she gets the credit but if something goes wrong, he/she gets the blame.

  2. It is vital that every musician in the orchestra is playing from the same music sheets.  Everyone has to be 'singing off the same hymn sheet' if the recital is going to go smoothly.

  3. There are some musicians within the orchestra who may only play a very small role in a particular concerto.  However, everyone plays a vital part in the delivery of the music to the audience and they all need to be part of the rehearsals from the start, even if they are only involved late on.

  4. Everyone in the orchestra stays alert and pays attention all the time. This is vital as the conductor brings in the right people at the right time to make it all work and the musicians have to be ready and waiting for their instructions. 

  5. The orchestra is a team with every member a critical part driving to ensure that the music sounds as perfect as possible.  Their goal is to play great music together, not to sound or look great individually.

  6. The conductor doesn’t have to play or even be able to play every instrument (or in fact any instruments) but instead his role is to bring good musicians together and help them play at the right time, in the right place and at the right speed to make the music sound perfect.

  7. A great sounding orchestra keeps the audience in awe

To deliver a project we don't (and often can't) do everything ourselves, and nor should we (despite our desire sometimes to do so).  We can also not entirely trust that everyone on the project team will do everything in the right way and at the right time, without any of our involvement or guidance.  To succeed, we must try to bring the right team together and lead and support them to a great project delivery.  

There is, i accept, a slight flaw in the analogy.  Most orchestras are made up of skilled professional musicians who are superb at what they do. They audition for their role in an orchestra and once accepted they are focused solely on that task. Within a normal work environment, as a project manager, things aren't often as simple.  The team is often involved in a project as one of many tasks (in addition to their 'day job') and may or may not have the required skills, desire or team attitude to deliver it. This actually makes the role of the manager even harder! 

So managing a project can be a lot like conducting an orchestra.  Whilst, completing a project at work might not always be quite as majestic as a symphony - if the final project is implemented early, under budget and above expectations, the project team deserves to take a bow.  

As the brand or project manager, we have to try to become maestros!

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