What is a Project?
Typically, working adults strive to be good at what they do so that they can have a successful career or achieve certain level of recognition. However, independent of any age in history, someone who does exceptional work almost always displays clear ability in setting goals and solving problems. Their approach to work in terms of tools and method is vastly different from others.
So what is their approach that is so different from the majority of typical workers? The answer can be found in the meaning of the words “project” and “work.”Let’s explore the difference between “I’m working” and “I’m doing a project.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines work as an “activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something usually for livelihood.”Aproject, on the other hand is “a planned undertaking”. However, this is not an accurate description of the word, much less an abstract one. In reality, we undertake projects everyday whether we know or not; yet, somehow we attribute projects only to planned undertaking of business and research activities.
Working on a project simply means that it has a goal and a schedule. So when you are working on a project, it simply means that you are working to accomplish your goal and schedule.
So why is it important to distinguish between work and a project?
It’s only when we understand the meaning that we can increase productivity and change our perspective on our work, which largely consists of projects. A competitive team sets a specific goal and schedule and the entire project revolves around these two elements. However, non-competitive teams focus on work alone. They are working hard but their work does not revolve around set goal and schedule.
We often run into co-workers who work very hard but have nothing to show for their work. To transform their hard work so that it delivers an excellent result, they must work within the framework of a project.
If you don’t have a clear goal and schedule, then you do not need problem-solving skills, because problems will not arise – or at least you won’t perceive them as problems. When you do have a clear goal and schedule, then inevitably you will encounter problems as you are performing the work to achieve that goal.
There once was a time when know-how and know-where were considered an important competitive advantage to possess. However, in today’s working environment, it is very difficult to create value only by playing a role of problem-solver using knowledge or skills.
Most education in developed countries seems to be focused on equipping students with simple knowledge and skills that are essential for entering workforce, then maybe it’s time to change the focus to teach students how to set up and implement projects.
The traits of a good worker are not hard to master. However, when college graduates first enter the workforce, they are often afraid of the work they’re given. This happens because our educators have failed to teach them that the essential unit of work is the project and the essential skill is the ability to carry out a multi-dimensional project.
The easiest way to understand aproject is to think of all your activities as having goals and schedules. In addition, you must understand the following characteristics:
- The project starts from one point which then diverges outward and converges at another point, effectively making an oval shape like a rugby ball
- The shape of the rugby ball changes depending upon each individual’s or team’s ability to carry out a project
- Divergent thinking is important at the beginning of the project to generate ideas; convergent thinking is important in the second half to focus and choose tasks and deadlines.
- The importance of open and clear communication among team members and constituents.
- As the project is carried out, a gap will always be created between a goal and its schedule, which was set at the beginning of the project.
- The gap is called the problem and you will need problem-solving skills to mitigate or solve the problem.
- There must be a way to uniformly share the project goal with everyone involved to successively achieve it.
However small the project, you must think of the project as having a clear beginning and end – like a bamboo joint. The end of a project is very important because it often signals the beginning of another one.
The power of goals
We hear a lot about becoming more creative and innovative at work. Unfortunately, many short fall of becoming creative and innovative and there is a good reason why.
Let’s first examine the meaning of goal when implementing a project. A goal or vision has tremendous power beyond imagination. It acts as a powerful magnet that aligns unfocused tacks (representing myself or a team member’s potential power) on a desk towards the magnet almost like a magic. It’s also like the way in which the dynamic stability of a ship when it encounters waves – it automatically maintains its upright position. The potential power that has been dormant is drawn out and explodes when it rides the divergent and convergent rhythm towards achieving a goal.
According to Professor Teresa Amabile, there are three components of creativity: expertise, creative-thinking skills, and motivation. Motivation can be translated to anything that has a goal. Now, let’s explore how the goal and motivation influence the brain.
Our brain is wired to think divergently. The brain tends to generate thought after thought in a multidimensional, non-linear path even without our conscious mind ordering it to think. It’s as if one random spark sets a fire that spreads out in a flash.
Consciously setting a goal provides the inner man, the subconscious mind, a destination. It is same as assigning work to powerful supercomputer-like brain to complete. Once a clear goal has been presented to the brain, it works tirelessly day and night trying to come up with a way to achieve that goal. At this time, the brain is primed to display powerful thinking skills as it scans, compares, synthetizes outside and internal information.
If you have been searching for a particular hiking shoes, then your eyes will notice them much more readily.
When you suddenly find an answer to a solution at the most unlikely place and time, it’s usually attributed to the brain’s goal-driven nature. To harness this power, you must discipline yourself to come up with and communicate a clear goal before undertaking any kind of work.
So how do you communicate this goal to yourself clearly? The best way is to come up with a visualization of an image that is simple and clear but memorable that represents state of achieving the goal – in other words, success. Store this image in your brain and remind yourself of it repeatedly as you carry out your work to achieve that goal.
What made it possible for Edison to overcome experiencing more than 9,000 failures before discovering electric light burb? It was his self-created image of a emotion-stirring success: eternal light that will not turn off without gas, a magnificent world that is always lighted and the changes it will bring because of it. It was this image of end goal that enabled him to persist and succeed.
Divergent and Convergent Rhythm
Project start and finish points can be compared to a bamboo tree. And the process of creatively achieving a goal or solving a problem can be compared to planting and harvesting seed in 4 seasons. In short, just like all things in the world, there is rhythm to divergent and convergent thinking patterns.
Spring is the preparation phase where you define problems or set goals and gather pertinent data. It is important to be objective but optimistic during this phase.
Summer is development phase where ideas are spreading out divergently. It is important to synthesize new ideas by visualizing and establishing relationships.
Fall is implementation phase. Feasible ideas are picked and turned into detailed plans. This is the phase where best results are achieved through selecting, dropping and focusing. Convergent thinking is applied to pick the best solution or option for the problem or the goal you want to achieve.
Winter is the completion phase. The result is delivered and shared while you prepare for the next project. All projects involve this divergent and convergent thinking pattern. Furthermore, each process within the project will follow the same pattern. The right brain’s creative thinking becomes important in the project development phase and left brain’s convergent thinking becomes more important in the organizing phase.
People who do well in all phases know how to ride the rhythm of divergent and convergent thinking. To understand this rhythm and working to strengthen your weakness in this rhythm is an important launch pad to increasing your project quotient.
The left image depicts work or thoughts without completed start or finish. The right image depicts a clear start and finish. What’s more, it shows maximized synergy effect with the other tasks that make up the project. The key to having a good project quotient is to think of all activities as clearly marked bamboo tree joint with start and finish dates while aligned to a clear goal and carrying out activities while riding the rhythm of divergent and convergent thinking patterns.
We all have done similar activities such as commuting to work, moving in six months, fixing a broken bike, preparing for parent’s surprise birthday party and so on. Believe it or not, we do them without even thinking about them as projects. Why? Because we are already very well versed in setting goal and schedule and utilizing our know-how and know-where to achieve that goal without anyone having to teach us how.
Think about how you planned, scheduled and executed your move to a new place. In short, you set a goal to achieve and a schedule to follow. If you achieved your goal, then you successfully followed your schedule and moved to your new place. You have experienced firsthand the very essence of a project.
This essence of personal projects applies in the same way to team projects. However, personal-stake or self-directed initiative is largely determined by how that person understands the meaning of the project.Unfortunately, schools systematically do not teach project quotient; so all graduates entering the workforce are self-taught on the job.
Specifically, the project quotient measures 4 skills: thinking, managing, communicating and learning. They are multi-dimensional skills used to think about a specific work, implementation and completion within the framework of a goal and schedule.
- Thinking Skill: Creative and logical thinking ability
- Managing Skill: The ability to manage information and resources to achieve a goal
- Communication Skill: The ability to communicate your thoughts and understandanother person’s thoughts.
- Learning Skill: The ability to understand new concepts and expand your knowledge base.
The most important skill, however, is the thinking (ideation) skill. Thinking guides and leads every process to reach your goal and it is the foundational skill from which the other three skills are built upon. If you take a closer look at problem solving skills – a very important skill to have in today’s society – it is nothing more than a creative thinking skill that is needed to carry out a project.
Here are the qualities of competitively advantageous workers who display project quotient behaviors; in other words, a person who creates value-added results by setting a clear goal and implementing to reach that goal:
- Typically they have emotional and intellectual intelligence
- They define success by themselves
- They value goals and schedules
- They see the big picture
- They consider process as important as the result
- They excel in communication and collaboration
- They distinguish between work and people
Improve Your Project Quotient with MindMapper
MindMapper is a software tool that facilitates creative thinking, holistic thinking, and visual thinking. It is used to enhance ideation, learning, problem solving, and managing information. You can visually generate, capture, organize, collaborate, and exchange ideas all from one place.
With the added planner feature that syncs to Google Calendar, you can create visual maps with schedule and implement your plans using the planner. Additionally, you can create a master map, visions, mission, yearly and monthly plans to follow up on your dreams and life goals. It is a perfect tool that will help you do exceptional work while making you become more creative and goal oriented.
MindMapper is a visual thinking and implementation tool designed to facilitate creative and implementation thinking. It can help you become more productive and innovative when approaching all aspects of life.
MindMapper captures your thoughts and enables you to organize them with ease in the visual format of a mind map. This simple, intuitive processreplicates how your brain is wired to think. It enhances your creative, holistic and visual thinking abilities, enabling you to understand, synthesize and retaininformation much more easily.
That’s why MindMapperis widely used for ideation, learning, problem solving, communicating andmanaging information. One of its most valuable applications is for creating plans. Whether you are planning activities at work, home or school, you can use this powerful, flexible software program to visually lay out your plans – brainstorming, organizing, setting priorities and goals, scheduling, sharing information and collaborating with your coworkers.
You don’t have to start your mind map from scratch. MindMapper and other mind mapping software program include templates that you can use to help structure your thinking. Or if you’d rather have complete freedom, you can just pour out your thoughts into a mind map, without any regard for how they’re structured. Mind mapping software is designed to help you make the most of your creative flow and energy. It doesn’t get in the way of your thinking.
After you have exhausted your flow of ideas, you can easily organize them by grouping them into categories and sub-categories. MindMapper also offers 23 different mapping directions– including radial, tree, rightward, process tree, leftward, downward, upwards, fishbone (right, left), and combinations of them – so you can visually organize information in the way that makes the most sense to you.
Once this is done, you can mark priority using legends and add a schedule and view it on a Gantt timeline.Your plan can also be exported to be shared in popular MS Office files, image files and as a PDF file. For business users, collaboration can be used for brainstorming, meetings and implementation. A dashboard of visual information that can be edited, updated, and shared with all team members.
Now that you have this great plan all laid out, all you need to do is follow through with it. MindMapper has two features that works in tandem to help you successfully execute your plan. First, there is a built-in Gantt chart that you can use to view the overall schedule, but for more detailed view you can use the built-in planner that syncs with Google Calendar. The overall schedule of your plan can be viewed with the Gantt chart so that you have a high level, bird’s eye view of your entire plan. This view gives you a good reference point of each activity and your plan of action in general.
From the general view, you can switch to a more detailed schedule that you can follow through daily using the planner. Planner can be viewed by itself or with the mind map. You can even view the Gantt chart, planner, and the map all in one screen, giving youa fullpicture of your plan.
Implementation details are easier to follow using the planner and priorities can be set in that morning as you peruse other daily tasks, other plans and meetings that you have for the day. Schedule details from your map sync to the planner so that you can easily modify the project schedule from either the map or the planner. If you are a Google Calendar user, then you can use the Google Calendar on your mobile device to check your scheduled plan so that you will never miss out on an important task.
A great feature from the planner is the master map which can incorporate your vision, life plan, and annual plans. It’s literally a roadmap of your life from now to 10, 20, or 30 years down the road. Such maps can be created, edited, enhanced and implemented from the planner. Built-in templates will help you easily create visions, missions, values and plans for your life as quickly as you type.
Each day, you can open up the master map and see your entire life laid out ahead of you and implement those plans to achieve your life’s goal.
Thus, using the mapping view for planning and the planner view for implementation, you are better equipped to creatively, holistically and visually devise and implement a plan that will help you become a more productive and innovative knowledge worker who applies projectthinking toward every activity.
Adapted Excerpts from the book Project Power: Turn your Thoughts into Results by Bookmark Publishing Koreawritten by Young G Chung.
About the author:
Young G Chung is a leader, giver, visual thinker, innovator, lecturer, author, and the creator of MindMapper visual mapping software. As a thought leader in visual mapping and creative thinking, Mr. Chung developed the software in-house some 25 years ago to aid his industrial simulation projects. Experiencing firsthand the benefits of the in-house visual mapping software, he decided to share it with the world so that they can also enjoy the benefits. He has single handedly created the visual mapping market in Korea and was the first visual mapping software in the world to integrate MS Office, Gantt chart, and planer. It is currently sold over 75 countries worldwide. His company SimTech Systems received many awards in Korea and has trained thousands of corporate, military, education, and government staffs to think visually and improve productivity.