Project Management

Modern PM

Modern PM is a blog about modern project management in all its facets: classic, agile and hybrid. I will share my thoughts about the developments, trends, problems and challenges we face in our daily routine as project workers — and hopefully some solutions.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Perfectly presenting the project status

Half-life of knowledge

Two hats in one (or: what we can learn from a children's book)

Is the minimum viable product really the answer to everything?

Thoughts about having an icebox on your Kanban board

Two hats in one (or: what we can learn from a children's book)

Life as a project manager is not easy. On first sight, we may only have one single role. But we are much more than what the doorplate in front of our office is saying. We are planners, facilitators, controllers, handlers, organizers, mentors, presenters, helpers, impediment-scavengers, carers, managers, servant leaders, humans and often even friends.

But out of the many hats we are carrying on our PM-head, two stand out in particular: one says "Project Manager", the other one says "Team Member".  
And these two hats have a very special relationship to and with each other. Not only do they mark our most important roles, but also they often stand in each other's way.

Let's take a closer look at these two different roles

On the one hand, we are part of management. We administrate, we control, we are emissaries of evil. On the other hand, we are members of the project team. We are celebrating successes together, we dive through depths together, we are part of the family.

Project manager...

As a project manager, we are responsible for the successful completion of projects. We prepare, we plan, we manage. We are responsible for controlling the projects. And it doesn't matter if we are part of a functional, project or matrix organization: to our co-workers, we are one of those "up there". Even and especially when our desk is located in the middle of the team room.
And the fact, that project managers are often either the first or the last to become part of a team won't make things easier for us. Either the group is just right in the process of forming, or it has already formed. So we are often the fifth wheel on the car.

..and team member

If we do everything right, we are in the middle of our teams. At least we have that feeling. And with distributed teams, that's no different. There is the spatial separation, but we are the fat spider in the middle of the network, where all information converges. And we are the maven, who distributes this information to others. So we are clearly a team member, a part of the group. Especially when talking about longer projects, or teams that have existed for a long time, there is a special bond between the project manager (or Scrum Master) and the team members. Of course, it is: you have been through a lot together and you are going to experience a lot more together. That is the material that welds a group of people together.

So far so good, but where are we now?

So these are our two main roles in my eyes. And none of us is just one or the other. When we are organizing a meeting or demanding metrics, we are part of the management. When we are having coffee together in the office kitchen and talk about our weekends or we are working out a plan together, we are part of the team.  
And that often is creating conflicts, because the borders are blurred, not clearly defined. I have experienced those situations pretty often. You are having fun together and the next moment you ask for the progress of a work package to be able to document it. In everyday life, this is going without friction most of the time (at least as long as you are asking nice and polite). But in stressful situations or formal moments, this often leads to misunderstanding and conflict. Of course, it is. It has to - the rules are not clear. Both for you, and for the people around you. So you never know exactly, if a sloppy formulation is understood as inappropriate. Or if a correction seems far too bossy.

In between

And this issue won't get easier if we are not only in charge of project management-related tasks but work as part-time project managers. I have seen this several times in agile software development: a Scrum Master that is part time-developer. Or the developer is part time-Scrum Master. And there are the smaller companies that simply don't have the resources to have a full-time project manager. So projects are often led and managed _en passant_. In these scenarios, the team has even more difficulties to determine _who_ is communicating with them right now.

But what does the solution look like?

There is a book that I loved when I was a child. Herbie's Magical Hat by Otfried Preußler. There, in this children's book, I found a solution to our problem. Herbie (or Hörbe as he is called in German) is a Hutzelman (a kind of a Brownie) from the Siebengiebelwald (the Seven-gables-forest) - one of thirteen. And those thirteen Hutzelmen have something very special: Doppelhüte - double hats. A hat on top, which protects from sun and rain (and at night from evil dreams). And a hat below that keeps you warm. And for us, it is essential to realize that we all are wearing such a double hat. We have to be constantly aware of that. And in some situations, we should aim to wear only one of those two hats. This makes it clear to everyone involved who is in front of them.

Communication is everything

In this situation - as everywhere else - communication is everything. When changing roles, we have to communicate this to our teams clearly. If, as a project manager, I want to raise an objection during the Planning Meeting that has nothing to do with Scrumstuff, I have to preface an "I'll say that as a team member". Or, "I'll take off my project manager-hat now."

And vice versa. When I'm playing table soccer with team members and want to communicate some organizational matters, it must be clear to everyone that I am now speaking as a project manager and not as a team member.

The hard slog always pays off

Yes, that is difficult. But clear communication and role separation not only has the one clear advantage that your team members always know which hat is talking to them. It also helps us tremendously in our daily work. If we make ourselves aware, what role we are currently taking, we can structure and document our work much more clearly.

So when our current role is clear to us - especially in those stressful situations - we are not only facilitating the people around us but also are greatly empowering our lives. And I know, this takes some time to get used to speaking out loud, what role I am currently in. But trust me, it pays off a lot.

Posted on: July 28, 2019 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Jazz improvisation and teambuilding


What good teams have in common with good bands.

Jazz improvisation and teambuilding

As a trained guitar player I love some good jazz. Well, I love all kinds of music. But even those who are not much into jazz music at all, have to admit that they are astonished when musicians seemingly effortlessly deliver the wildest improvisations. But what is behind this genius? Dark arts? It is said that Jimi Hendrix never had a single music lesson in his life. So is it all talent? Or is there more than just pure musical sense? And what does all this have to do with teams?

First, let's clarify what jazz improvisation - or generally improvisation in music - actually is. Improvisation is when one or more people make music without previously written down fixation. That is, the played notes and melodies arise spontaneously.

Again, what does that have to do with teams?

In our daily project work, we are experiencing this every day. This interaction of people, which has not previously been fixed. And even if our planning is good and detailed and almost perfect - at the implementation level we are owing much to the spontaneous ideas and inspirations of individuals.

And here is our big 'but'. As in making music, this is only working when the people involved know exactly what they are doing, and are prepared well.

Learning from the best

Here we can learn a lot from musicians like Miles Davis, Chet Baker, or Judy Carmichael. Good improvisation has a rock solid basis. Because none of the above just went on a stage and started playing music. On the contrary, there is a lot of training and rehearsing and preparation behind it. So spontaneous improvisation is not so spontaneous at all. And it is not totally free either. There are chords and scales and a lot of formality. Does that ring a bell? Let me say it in other words: there are methods and processes and a lot of formality. Ha! Our daily business, right?

Of course, I can handle projects without these methods and processes. And there are certainly some Jimi Hendrixes of the project management world, who can do without formality and without their company going bankrupt. But personally, I have never experienced a haphazard project that did not go up in flames at some point. Did you?

Jazz and project management

So what are these good jazz bands doing and what lessons can we draw from them?

  • Formality
    Even free jazz is formal. And even completely self-organizing teams are operating within a framework or a ruleset. Be it Scrum, PMBOK, DSDM. But there is a formal basis for our teamwork. And we should pay particular attention to this basis.
  • Clear rules
    Well-playing musicians follow clear rules, such as key, scales, tempo, etc. And all good teams I’ve met have defined certain basic rules as the cornerstones of their cooperation. For freshly assembled teams, these are often the corner pillars and artifacts of the frameworks used. However, in teams that have already completed several Tuckman rounds, I often find very clear, concise rules that all members of that team are adhering to and which - most importantly - have been put together and accepted by everyone.
  • Agreement
    Functioning teams all have some things in common: their members listen to each other, the atmosphere is open and appreciative, decisions are made together. And also in the musical improvisation, it is about togetherness. Often there is one who - literally - sets the pace, but before entering the stage the band agrees on the most important basic rules.
  • And most important, mutual trust
    When I can rely on my colleagues, I am able to focus on delivering great work. And only then I will deliver top results. On stage as in the office or at a construction site or.. you name it.

Conclusion - how can I use that for myself

It does not matter if I am building a team for a big project from scratch, or if I am working with a veteran group. But I always try to create an atmosphere in which teams can live those above points.

I can not force formality and rules. This has to come from the team. I can only pave the way and make suggestions. And mutual consent and trust can also not be created on command. They come naturally when team members feel secure. And only when everyone has agreed on basic rules and everyone knows how things are going, valuable improvisation can arise.


Oh, if anyone still wonders if it's true that Jimi Hendrix never had any music lessons: Jein, as we say in Austria. Yes and no. Billy Davis ( showed him a few things on the guitar. And Buddy Guy ( once claimed in an interview, that he had given Hendrix some lessons. So by and large, Jimi Hendrix is self-taught. But that is a different story.

Posted on: May 14, 2019 06:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

"I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man."

- Chuang Tzu