Monday, May 07, 2012

China Lab: The unbearable lightness of projects

Learning how to set and manage expectations is one of the most important skills in project management. Interesting enough, one never stops learning.

Before coming to MIT Sloan, I worked for more than four years managing global projects with over 30 stakeholders located all across the world--this is one of the few areas of knowledge where I considered having expertise. During the China Lab class, the experience of defining and freezing the project scope was not an issue for our team. In addition, thanks to the hard work of our Chinese teammates, our finished deliverable provided our host company with specific tools and sample documents to start the implementation of our recommendation—besides a list of next steps.

Nonetheless, there was not a milestone in our project plan to spend quality time with our teammates from China on their trip to the US—besides scheduled school work and group lunches. Additionally, that final week ended up being one of the most demanding times at Sloan during my first year and as it sometimes happens; lack of sleep and extra work knocked me down with fever during the weekend.

I set the expectations with my Chinese counterparts that my time was going to be very limited before they reached US ground and as a result of my sickness, they were candid and comprehensive with my even more limited situation. Nonetheless, this doesn’t remove the sense of guilt that they traveled literally half-across the globe and I couldn’t be the host I wanted to be.

So… what happens when the expectations are clearly set and defined… but the bitter taste doesn’t go away? My answer is simple: people are not projects--and setting expectations is not always the holy grail. On the positive side, people are not projects and deadlines are not set in stone. The fact that my teammates are not longer in American soil doesn't mean that our relationship cannot keep growing. People are not projects and I'm happy about having to deal with the heaviness of human relations.

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