The Soul of a Project #4: Project and Poetry

by Gary Monti on February 16, 2012

How do you “grab” team members’ attention? What gets them going to the point they maintain a positive, aggressive sense of completing the project even when there are difficulties that seem insurmountable. Simple, use poetry.

For technical fields dominated by men this may seem counter-intuitive, almost strange. There is a legitimate magic (for want of a better word) to being poetic. Now, before you go off thinking this is about picnics in the spring, puppies, and flowers spend a minute here and see if what follows makes sense.

More and more about less and less

Prose says more and more about less and less. Think of how many pounds of paper reports could be printed or the number of hard drive gigabytes used tracking project information. Is this the soul of the project? No more than pathology reports are the soul of the patient. Yes, it is good information but, no, it fails to grasp the essence of the person.

Prose and detailed reports are outside facing. To grab team members’ attention communications need to be inward facing. Now that sure sounds like a paradox! It isn’t. And this is where poetry comes in.

Less and less about more and more

When we strike a cord with someone the musical metaphor is very apt. The listener resonates with what is being said! There is a harmonizing with what excites, angers, scares, etc., the listener. This inward response leads to listener to feel they are being seen. What is on the inside connects with the outside.

The poetic aspect is the ability to choose a sentence, phrase, or word that nails the situation. Think of someone saying “Beuller” repeatedly with a deadpan tone. If that doesn’t bring a grin to your face I don’t know what would. It ties in to the entire angst of trying to make it through high school while keeping your sanity…something that happens to be quite similar to making it through some projects. That one word is poetic. There are other such examples such as Quisling for someone who flatters those with power so they can get a piece for themselves and abusively dominate those under them.

In the book, Mythical Man Month, by Fred Brooks, there is the classic poetic admonition regarding crashing schedules, “Avoid thinking that if one woman can have a baby in 9 months that 9 women can have a baby in one month.” There is nothing to add to that! It defines the possible insanity of crashing exquisitely.

So where does this leave the reader? If you need to connect with the team find your poetry and share it. Think of what you resonate with and see if it can be distilled to a common experience, a word or phrase, some visual, etc. and put it out there for the team. With that at the core you can then spin all the necessary prose. With everyone getting a good read on the patient…er…project, the reports find their place and add to the teams’ ability to gauge what the next best move should be.

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