This post is part of the worldwide PM FlashBlog initiative.  For more information, visit this page.

Panama_relief_1995Every other year I hop on a plane with my family and fly from Toronto to Seattle for Christmas.  Between the restlessness of the children and my grumpiness over the lack of leg room, I eat my mini pretzels, wondering how much longer I will have to sit in that metal tube breathing other people’s breath. Five hours is certainly too long.

What I seem to take for granted is that just a few years ago, the only way to make that trip would be by boat, taking a slight detour through the Strait of Magellan.  That’s where you have to look north to see South America.  The trip would take months, and some would die along the way.  Heck, some would be born along the way.

But what does that have to do with project management?

Before we could actually fly from coast to coast eating mini pretzels, something amazing was achieved. An unbelievable feat of engineering provided for a much shorter and smoother way of going from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

That project is called the Panama Canal.

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Beautiful Artwork by Lindsay Scott.

The Panama Canal not only changed the way people travelled, but also completely redefined commerce and facilitated trade.  The world would not be the same today without it. I was blown away by the history of the construction of the Canal when I interviewed its current project manager for the Construction Industry Podcast.

That is the beauty of a project.  It changes how we live. It adds value.

As project managers, we get to watch projects unfold, steering them according to our abilities and external conditions.  In a world in which history is marked by milestones such as the pyramids, Roman architecture, works of art, technological breakthroughs such as plumbing and air flight, we realize that each of these were once projects.

Projects allowed us to create tools, which were used to build machines, which are now used to make parts for other machines, which are further used to make products and create services that make the world a different and better place.

But most of all, projects remind us that human efforts are not a zero sum.  Projects show us that together we can add more than we take.  An iPhone is better than a bucket full of iPhone parts.  The Panama Canal has afforded us benefits far beyond what it cost to build it.

So what does project management mean to me?  It’s pretty simple.

Project management is what made the seemingly impossible task of joining two oceans a reality.  Project management is what makes a metal tube full of mini pretzels, crammed legs, and whiny children, fly above the clouds from the CN Tower to the Space Needle.

Project management to me is the science of effectively changing the world.  As project managers, we are agents of change. In a culture hungry for change and a better future, project managers are the ones who will eventually deliver it.

What about you?  What does project management mean to you?

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Comments

  • dansar September 24, 2013 at 8:59pm Reply

    Cesar, interesting choice (from my perspective) of the Panama Canal, for two personal reasons.  1 – just got back from APCON2013 in Costa Rica where we were keynote speakers on sustainability in PM.  and  2 – the book by Tom Kendrick, “Identifying and Managing Project Risk” is one I have used for years in my PM classes.  Its focus is … you guessed it… the French and American attempts at the Panama Canal project.  Check it out!
     
    Thanks for a great post!
     
    Rich

  • alisonwood611 September 25, 2013 at 8:26am Reply

    cesarabeid Really lovely post! Humans are powerful beings!

  • PM4TM September 25, 2013 at 11:53am Reply

    @alisonwood611  cesarabeid Indeed they are, thanks for the comment!

  • PM4TM September 25, 2013 at 11:55am Reply

    @dansar Rich, thanks for that.  I hope you had a great time in Costa Rica!  I’ll check out that book, and the Panama Canal story is truly fascinating.
     
    If you have a minute, check this out and listen to my conversation with Mr. Jorge de la Guardia, one of the PMs in charge of the new expansion at the Panama Canal: http://www.remontech.com/episode18
     
    Thank you for your feedback!

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  • shim.marom September 30, 2013 at 12:15am Reply

    Hi Cesar, thanks for taking part in the #pmFlashBlog initiative.
     
    As I make my way through all participating blogs I am looking for that unique message, from each, such that I could add to my learning experience from this event.
     
    My take from your blog is found  in the following message:
     
    “But most of all, projects remind us that human efforts are not a zero sum.  Projects show us that together we can add more than we take…Project management to me is the science of effectively changing the world.”
     
    The message of changing the world resonates with me – I love it.
     
    Cheers, Shim.

  • PM4TM September 30, 2013 at 3:04pm Reply

    @shim.marom Shim, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, and I so appreciate the work you are putting in to make this FlashBlog what it is.
     
    You are truly adding value to all of us.  Thank you.

  • barryjhodge October 2, 2013 at 6:27pm Reply

    We often forget that today’s project is replacing a project from history that some poor project manager sweated to implement.

  • PM4TM October 3, 2013 at 12:27pm Reply

    barryjhodge This made me laugh.  So true!

  • pm4girls October 5, 2013 at 10:08am Reply

    “The science of changing the world” – that’s on a grand scale, but it’s also about doing small things well, like making sure that you get all the ingredients for the cake before you start baking it and not having to substitute halfway through the recipe, or planning a great family trip. I suppose in a small way those events do change someone’s world – a nice cake, a successful trip to the beach – they do contribute to improving our environment but just not on such a large scale as connecting oceans.

  • PM4TM October 7, 2013 at 2:18pm Reply

    pm4girls Elizabeth, my wife makes a carrot cake I would connect a couple of oceans for.  Does that count? 🙂
    Thanks for the input… I tend to think big sometimes!

  • kenley22 June 16, 2014 at 6:09am Reply

    More and more companies are trying to get nimble to enable them to respond to change with agility. Over the years, there has been a clear shift in momentum about the ways how companies manage projects. So, the project manager should be a PMP certified, who can better handle the planning, execution, and closing of any project. To get yourself prepared for PMP http://www.pmstudy.com is good one

  • PeterMavy October 20, 2014 at 6:32am Reply

    I agree with “Between the restlessness of the children and my grumpiness over the lack
    of leg room, I eat my mini pretzels, wondering how much longer I will
    have to sit in that metal tube breathing other people’s breath”.http://allinonemarketingg.blogspot.com/

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