Project Managers can learn some lessons from Steve Jobs

As a user (and fan) of Apple products since 1980, I shared in the impact felt by the millions worldwide after learning of Steve Job’s passing this past week.

While his contributions to technology, retail and entertainment speak for themselves, I felt that there were lessons that Project Managers could also take from his experiences and personality.

  • Make failure part of the journey and not the destination – For every Apple II and iPad, there was a Lisa or Newton that did not quite meet expectations. Just as Jobs was able to leverage those failures and turn them into future successes, Project Managers need to be able to learn from past mistakes and move on.  As he put it best “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”
  • Be passionate about what you do and if you can’t then change what you do – There’s a moving YouTube video taken just a few months back that covers Jobs’ presentation to the Cupertino city council soliciting their approval for the construction of Apple’s new headquarters.  His passion clearly shows in spite of his health issues – while he could have easily delegated this task to any of Apple’s senior executives, he felt strongly enough about it to deliver the message himself. As a Project Manager, your soft skills are applicable to many types of projects and industries – if the one that you are currently in does not make you feel as passionately as he did, find one that does.  As Jobs said to Sculley “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”
  • Be aware of your limitations and delegate – Jobs was famous for being a control freak and he could be very intimidating as the smartest man in the room, but he knew enough to surround himself with brilliant professionals from diverse backgrounds. He was realistic enough to turn the day-to-day reins of the company over to Tim Cook when he realized he couldn’t shoulder the burden anymore. Project Managers often take on too much hands-on work and don’t delegate. No doubt, there are decisions and actions that must be made solely by the PM, but there’s a fine line between being responsible and jeopardizing the project because of one’s unwillingness to give others a chance.
  • Focus on the customer’s experience – unlike other technology firms that released more “bells and whistles” in their products or offered their products at a cheaper price, Apple’s successful products were those that were very intuitive and esthetically pleasing and customers were happy to pay a premium for these attributes.  Project Managers who focus on delivering a good overall experience to the customer from a product, communication and expectation management perspective are likely to find a loyal customer who won’t begrudge paying a premium for such service.
  • Be a great spokesperson for your project – Apple engineers designed and developed their products but Jobs was the best show man to present them at conferences; as Project Managers we rely on our teams to do a lot of the “heavy lifting” but a large part of our contribution is being able to secure and retain mind share from stakeholders for the ongoing sponsorship and funding for our projects.  If we can’t turn these stakeholders into fans, why should we be surprised when they don’t support us?

I’ll close out this week with another of his quotes that applies equally to process and underscores the predominant theme of my blog since its inception  “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”

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