Project Management

10 Lessons From 10 Years of Project Management Musings

From the Voices on Project Management Blog
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Categories: Lessons Learned

by Dave Wakeman

I was going through my portfolio recently and came across the original notes from the very first piece I wrote for PMI back in 2012.


I then noticed that I started writing for Voices in January 2013 after I left the world of political consulting and got my PMP. (Yay for needing credits for continuing education!)

All of that made me think about the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last 10 years. As a way of celebrating our time together, here are the 10 most important things I’ve learned writing this monthly piece for PMI and

  1. Communication is an evergreen topic. I could probably write a piece on communication every month. The key to effective communication is to listen and to try and find the hidden meaning.
  2. Tech comes and goes, but the process remains. I have learned over and over again that the most important thing I can do is be process oriented because the tech and tools change rapidly, but the skills of leadership are consistent.
  3. You can learn PM lessons from anyone. I’ve written about the kids I coach, Nick Saban and many other topics over the years. The key idea has been that everyone uses project management skills to achieve their goals. Good PM skills aren’t specific to one industry or area.
  4. Teaching is the ultimate learning lab. Coming up with a topic to teach and figuring out how to explain it helps me really understand what I think about project management. This lesson has popped up in other locations as well, making it certain that being a teacher is the ultimate learning lesson.
  5. PM skills can work for anyone. Just like I’ve learned from everyone, I’ve also seen PM skills used everywhere. I shared my experiences of good project management in political campaigns, sports teams, and when my son does his homework. We are all project managers, even if we don’t realize it.
  6. Focus on service, not on “leading.” I get a lot of interesting notes and comments about how people “lead,” and I’ve found that the people that focus on “leading” are typically the ones struggling the most. For me, the lesson has come down to focusing on being of service to the team and the project. The leading will take care of itself.
  7. The best PMs have a light touch. This builds on service. By a “light touch,” I mean that the best PMs don’t try to overmanage or control over decision. They insert themselves when necessary—and get out of the way when necessary.
  8. You can’t be an expert on everything. Especially as there is more and more specialization, you can’t and won’t know everything—there is too much to know. You have to trust your team.
  9. “Let it go!” (Just like the movie Frozen!) Following from the lesson above, you won’t have all the decisions. You won’t know all the tools. You can’t be everywhere at once. You have to give your team instructions, direction and guidance, but the ultimate success of your project isn’t in your hands. So, “Let it go!”
  10. Never stop learning. Writing these pieces month after month has reminded me of the most important lesson, one they don’t teach you in college. The key to a long and successful career? Never stop learning. Things are always changing—and you have to change with them.

Thanks for reading my musings on Voices. This has been a cool opportunity to speak with y’all each month, and I look forward to 10 more years of lessons to come. And if you have a favorite PM lesson, leave it in the comments.


Posted by David Wakeman on: January 31, 2023 09:50 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Dear Dave
Thank you for sharing with us your reflections on these last 10 years.

I have some doubts regarding lesson number 2.
What specific processes are you referring to?

I got my PMP back in 2014 and have YET to land a job as a project manager, at any level. On the other hand one could argue that everything one does is a project, for example merely preparing eggs & bacon omelette is a project.

Thanks, David. Each one of your points resonate with me.

These are great points, Dave! Thanks for sharing!

Great post ... Recognizing that a PM added value is quite often more focused on service, not on “leading", is a humble but realistic perspective of PM role. Thanks for this honest contribution. PM as enabler is even more important that just steering!. Being part of the solution counts.

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