Project Management

3 Things a Holiday Magic Show Taught Me About Project Management

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from

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magic show

Earlier this month, I wrote about our summer trip to a holiday park. Two of the shows we saw while we were there were magic shows. One was a comedy-style show with some fun magic thrown in. The other was a ‘proper’ serious magic show with all the atmospheric lighting and big illusions.

It got me thinking – I know, this is not how most people spend their holidays, but perhaps project managers are this way inclined – about the parallels between the shows and my job back at base. Here’s what I learned.

1. The wait is part of the journey

We learned on other holidays that if you want a good seat, you have to get to the show early and sit and wait for a loooong period of time for it to start. This is because there is no allocated seating.

While we were waiting for the show to start, having arrived 40 minutes early, the family at the table next to us got out a game to play. They used the downtime as family time, getting everyone involved. It was part of the experience for them: being around a table to play a game.

We had brought books and electronic devices, and we were all occupied but not together. We weren’t using the time as family time. We were just waiting.

The wait is part of the experience. Plan for downtime on your project. How can you use that time productively? For example, can you bring forward tasks, fit in a peer review or a risk review, run an audit, or something? Where there are slower periods on projects, what are you going to do with them?

2. Same prop, different delivery

Both magicians used an identical prop, and they both performed Houdini’s Metamorphosis trick (where one person is locked in a box and the other stands on top with a curtain – they drop the curtain and they’ve switched places).

But the delivery was different. One was fun and light; the other was dark and dramatic. But the box looked the same, and the trick was the same.

Tailor what you’ve got to make it yours. The lesson for me here was how one item could be used so differently. Tailor what you use to make it relevant to your project and the way you want to deliver your work.

3. If you’ve not seen it before, it’s magical

The second magic show contained big set piece illusions: a box pierced with swords, but amazingly the magician inside was still safe, making snow from a piece of paper, levitation, escaping from a strait jacket before a flame burns through a rope and the magician is squashed. I am a huge magic fan, and I’ve seen all these before, in live shows and on TV.

But for my kids, they are new.

And they were truly amazed.

Don’t take for granted what you know. For some of your stakeholders, the magic of project management will be new for them. Train people in the process. Let them know what to expect and help them understand things about the process that feel new and different.

You’ve seen it all before; you’d read about it, done it, written the documents, and got the T-shirt. But they haven’t. Give them the support they need to come along the journey with you.

Project management isn’t really magic, but some days it feels like the team comes together, and we’ve pulled off something amazing. Don’t you think?

Posted on: October 17, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Patricia Muriuki-Githegi Middlesex, United Kingdom
Thanks Elizabeth. I have found this article really relevant to where I am it in my projects.

Claubt Rapiman Ocala, Fl, USA
Hello, I love the comparison and the way you express yourself. It's very inspiring. I will put more attention in things of life to compare with PMnt.

Kwiyuh Michael Wepngong Senior Accountant| Africa Eye Foundation; Magrabi ICO Cameroon Eye Institute Yaounde, Centre, Cameroon

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