Are You The Previn Of Your Project?

Andre George Previn was a German/American pianist, composer, and conductor whose career had three major genres; Hollywood films, jazz, and classical music. He achieved success in each, with jazz and classical being a major part of his life. Andre also scored over 40 Hollywood films. Yeah, pretty successful guy.

My son, who is a musician and participates in musicals and other theatre productions, educated me on him. Andre’s music is part of an upcoming performance my son is going to. As I was getting educated, we watched some YouTube videos about Andre. I was intrigued. The more I watched and listened, the more I thought how lessons shared by a music conductor can be applied to project management. Here are four lessons learned from Previn.

Orchestra conductors don’t produce any sound. You’re right, they don’t! Instead, they lead from the front. I think of a quote by Lee Lambert; project managers don’t do work. They get work done through others. Like conductors, project managers are leaders and should be out front directing, not producing. The project leader sets the pace and keeps it going, much like a conductor does with their baton. Project managers are dependent entirely on the work and actions of others for success. Interdependence is the key, not being independent.

Mistakes happen, but the music goes on. Let’s be honest, we all make mistakes. They happen. Have you ever heard a kid’s band concert? Wrong notes abound! Despite the wrong notes and mistakes, the song keeps moving and doesn’t stop. Mistakes also happen on our projects. When they do, we need to find a way to keep it moving. Sometimes the team will need to reprioritize their work to focus on issue resolution, but in the name of progress keep the project moving along!

Lead with intent. “We want to convey a feeling, sometimes multiple feelings, from our music.” This comment was said as it showed the conductor wildly flapping his arms during a loud and fast section of music, then suddenly brings the volume way down. Leading with intent translates the goals into actions that drive to a result. Whether it’s through music or to achieve organizational value, leaders keep the end goal in mind and lead with that intent throughout.

Understand their stakeholders and their needs. Previn scored a lot of films in his career. To be successful in that area, he asked questions, listened to what was said and unsaid, and built trusting relationships. Understanding stakeholder needs was critical. The same can be said for projects. Get to know your key stakeholders and understand how most effectively to work and communicate with them. If you don’t, it could spell trouble down the road!

Next time you listen to an orchestra or band play, think of the conductor as a project manager. There they are, leading from the front with intent, keeping things moving even if there are mistakes while acknowledging stakeholder needs. Maybe project managers and conductors have more in common than we thought!

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