The Energy Bus: Nov 2015 PM Book Club Review

The Energy Bus
The Energy Bus

Title: The Energy Bus
Author: Jon Gordon
Year: 2007 Book Club Review: November 2015
PM Evolution Amazon Store Ordering Link: The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy

It may be the most common project management challenge. You are assigned responsibility to deliver a new project, but given no authority over the project team members. This classic project management predicament comes to mind when reading The Energy Bus because it highlights the need for project managers to develop “soft” skills to compliment their “technical project management” knowledge.

Written in parable style, the book follows George, a businessman who has seen his world slowly turn downhill. When we meet George, he is struggling to deliver a new team project. He has lost the confidence of his leadership team. Most of George’s team members have lost respect for him. To make matters worse, George’s personal life is mirroring his professional life.

We’ve all been on projects with George. Some of us have even been George.

The parable leads George from a flat tire to a bus ride where he meets Joy, the bus driver. Joy serves as George’s unsolicited mentor and brings not only a positive energy, but a plan for how to turn George’s project, and his life, around. The plan Joy outlines will sound familiar to many project managers. The steps include typical project management best practices such as:

  • Set and communicate vision
  • Identify goals
  • Define action plans
  • Identify skills needed
  • Ask team members to buy-in to the vision
  • Cultivate an environment of positive energy for your team
  • Truly care for the individuals on your team

While the specific tools and steps prescribed by bus driver Joy may not be for every project manager, the overarching concepts align with the mix of formal tools and soft skills required to become a successful project manager. The book goes beyond recommending this approach for the workplace, but extends it to every aspect of life.

Let’s explore two key concepts from Joy’s approach.

Vision over artifacts

Project managers often find themselves getting bogged down by details. Getting lost in project artifacts such as Gantt charts, schedule details, requirements matrices, etc. is a hazard of the role. Yet, these details are not what will ultimately make a project successful. Many projects have delivered every detail of the requirements document and every task on time and on budget, but have been deemed as failures by their organizations because those details failed to fulfill the vision.

Project success is ultimately linked to successfully achieving the vision which initiated the project. Thus, the first step along the path of project success is understanding the vision and the purpose behind that vision. A successful project manager is one who can instill a desire in their team members to deliver on the vision.

Truly care for the individuals on your team

When we meet George, his mental state is very self-centered. Other people have become problems for George to deal with or a means to an end. The stress of life is wearing on him and he’s unable to step back and look at the big picture. It is not surprising that he has lost the respect and confidence of those around him.

A key to Joy’s approach of focusing on vision is that it forces George to step back and look at the big picture.  Thinking about the big picture gives George a chance to gain some perspective and get out of his self-centered routine of just trying to get through another day. Actively seeking a different perspective can lead us to finding common ground with others, which is the foundation for truly caring for others.

It won’t always be easy and you won’t always like all of your team members, but working to truly care about each individual on your team will be well worth the investment. Truly caring about someone may well be the most effective means of improving your soft skills with that individual.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What’s your favorite technique/tool for sharing vision and getting team member buy-in?
  2.  We are here to get a job done, do I really need to care for the individuals on my team?
  3.  Have you found inspiration from an unexpected source like our bus driver, Joy?

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