Dear L.J.

We have barely met and had only the brief and passing opportunity to exchange a mere few words before a daunting and sombre thought entered my mind. I realised that I have once been in your place, metaphorically speaking of-course. Just like you, I have once been enthusiastic, spirited, passionate and full of energy – ready to enter the world, rustle with it and ultimately leave my mark behind.

Having acquired a large body of knowledge in training institutions and having further opportunities to bask in the shadow of people of whom I had high regard as being successful project managers, I have assumed the mantra that the world is my oyster and, yes, I was ready and willing to go.

You may not have realised yet but eagerness to succeed is an illusionary cloak as most often than not it drives you towards achieving a goal you have not yet even had the opportunity to contemplate, let alone – define. So, before you jump on your horse, marshal the troops, and march forward, lets work out what the word SUCCESS means to YOU. What ever your definition of SUCCESS might be, it should be used as your personal compass and dictate your personal rights and wrongs.

There will no doubt be those who tell you that, in the context of project management, SUCCESS can mean but just one thing – a project success. Accordingly, so they would argue, YOUR SUCCESS is intrinsically linked to the project’s success. Consequently, should the project be deemed to have failed, you have failed as well.

I will make it clear and simple for you – such notions of success and failure are to be ignored at all cost as they are unproductive, vindictive and, quite frankly, irrational – as they assume cause-and-effect where one does not necessarily exist.

Determining what should constitute of success is a tricky one as most often this would be a culmination of personal experiences, moral and ethical values. And as the famous quote (by Herbert Bayard Swope) says, “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure–which is: Try to please everybody” 

There are many facets to project management that are clearly important and are logically and naturally self explanatory. The most important aspect of which is the need to be able to manage the project – and nothing I will later say is meant to take away from your need to be able to simply manage the project. There are, however, a number of additional aspects, the mastery of which will ensure that not only will you be able to live with the outcomes of the project but you will also be able to live with your self:

  • Know and internalize the contextual and conceptual differences between being accountable and being responsible;
  • Accept the basic notion that when all is done and the dust is settled you might still need to greet some of your colleagues in the street – so treat them like human beings, not like a factory production line machinery;
  • Treat other people’s money with respect and always ask your self: “would I be doing this if it was my money?”;
  • Equally important though is the appreciation that just because someone pays for your time it does not mean they own your conscience. Don’t forget to take stock of your actions and decisions and confirm their compatibility with your own value system.

I can’t promise you or guarantee that all your projects will be formally successful. Like many other project managers that came before you, you too will most likely have your fair share of challenges with some degree of project failures – this is ok, and statistically expected. What I am comfortable advising you about though is the appreciation that if you follow the guidelines I outlined for you above you will keep your integrity and energy to try and try again, regardless of what project life will ever be able to throw at you – and remain who YOU are at the other end.

Respectfully yours,

Shim Marom

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  22. Shim,

    I wish I read this letter when I started my career. It would have saved me years of agony.

    I would have loved to know htat: when you mess up (not if you mess up as you will mess up – and some day “royally”) remember that you are “work in progress”.

    Excellent insights as usual.

    Samad Aidane


    • Thanks Samad, appreciate your comment.

      I wish someone shared this with me as well. Unfortunately it was and still is common for experienced PM’s to NOT share such insights with newcomers as it might (in their mind) diminish from their stature and status. What a nonsense. Anyway, it is our role to raise this awareness and it is never too late to start.

      Cheers, Shim.


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  24. Before entering the project management dojo the letter above would have been greatly valued. I would also liked a bit more level-set discussion on:

    + Many organizations look at project managers as administrative assistants to set up meetings and write-up meeting notes for distribution;
    + Outside of information technology and construction project managers are more rumored than acknowledged; and
    + Despite what the Project Management Institute publication and marketing arm produces the world does not revolve at the behest of project management capability

    However, the skills and capabilities I’ve learned training and practicing as a project manager provide me the deepest level of confidence to scope, identify risk, and find gaps to fill in almost endeavor I look at. In business this provides a rare ability to link concept (sponsor’s intent) to reality (likelihood of delivery).

    Finally, I love the concept that “if the project fails, you [the project manage] failed”. You and I have had spirited dialogue on this. I land more on the side of this as a principle, not as a law. The principle plays itself out that good project managers identify risk, make the business case, and lets the sponsor own the risk decision.

    If the risk is not identified, I do think it is the project manager’s fault/negligence/inexperience.


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  60. I think one of the powerful messages from this great post Shim is when you say: Equally important though is the appreciation that just because someone pays for your time it does not mean they own your conscience.

    This is so important to remember at all times.

    Also to remember, never be afraid. Fear makes you do stupid things.



    • Thanks Samad. I am weary that corporate life is dragging us all down a path that require us to conform to corporate thought rather than our own set of values. There is a fine line we are all required to walk along and it is not an easy task.


  61. Lovely, lovely post Shim. I’m sharing it.


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