I feel this semester I’m pretty much on a “project management” information expedition, trying to come to grips with various aspects pertaining to the field. Things like how to keep track of work; how to define suitable and manageable timelines; how to keep everyone engaged and sustain high levels of motivation for a project over an extended period of time. In the end, it’s all about making appropriate decisions.

Some of these aspects have been quite straightforward to figure out I would say. Over the summer, for example, I slashed my way through a formidable jungle of online project management platforms currently available. I demoed many, and we finally settled on Producteev (I talked about this in a previous post). I must say that having Producteev has been really helpful so far for us to keep track of progress, and set project goals over the course of a semester or a year.

But figuring out how to best engage members of a team, who bring various skills to the table, how to keep everyone motivated, how to avoid bottlenecks…essentially, how to lead and how to make sure that you feel comfortable in that role, that’s something a bit more complex as it turns out. Granted, when you look for information regarding project management, you can find lots of information on how to structure project tasks and tailor the work to the deliverable (for example, you may want to apply a traditional waterfall approach, or you think an agile or iterative approach might make more sense). But that doesn’t really address how you might want to project yourself to the team, and most importantly, how you can make that you feel comfortable in that role. That being said, I’m currently trying to figure out a suitable persona for myself. Do I consider myself more of a control freak? Do I want to give as much freedom to the team as possible? Or would I feel most comfortable as someone whose managing style falls somewhere in between these two extremes?

Just to be clear, I’m not starting from scratch. Having taught writing classes at GSU prior to starting my position as a SIF fellow, I do feel comfortable managing people and I believe that teaching provides a great foundation in that regard. Yet, I recognize that the managing skills I’ve developed as a university instructor can only get me so far when it comes to managing project teams. After all, one crucial, and obvious difference between managing a class of students and leading the members of a project team is that in the classroom environment the goal is to help improve each student’s skill(s) related to the subject, i.e. the goals and requirements for each student to succeed in the class are pretty much the same. But when it comes to leading and managing a project team, the work is usually more collaborative in nature. Project teams consist of members that bring different sets of skills to a given project. A database related project that has a website component, for example, brings together someone who is an expert in database/backend work, and a designer who is responsible for the corresponding frontend, the website. And not to forget, the goal is to successfully submit a deliverable, and not assign grades. Still, I consider teaching experience of great value here especially as it relates to organizational questions such as time management, setting goals, and identifying resources. But spending some time to learn about different managing styles can be equally helpful.

So, for today’s post I thought I’d share with you a video I recently stumbled upon. It’s a TED talk by orchestra director, author, and consultant, Itay Talgam. In this very engaging and entertaining and insightful talk, Mr. Talgam discusses various managing styles by way of using the particular conducting styles of various, famous orchestra conductors as an analogy. Let’s watch!

First off, what I take from this video–and that’s quite comforting–is that the product, the deliverable, i.e. the performance, is wonderful in each case. So, it’s really a matter of personal preference…to choose which style of conducting, i.e. managing, you find most appealing, either for yourself in general, or in light of the particular requirements of a given project.

It’s quite obvious that each conductor shown here embraces a different approach to leading the orchestra. The late Carlos Kleiber seems to excel in a process-based approach. He motivates his team by projecting confidence, by providing the conditions for each musician to have a personal investment in the success of the performance. Highly flexible, very 21st century, in my opinion. Kleiber’s conducting approach works really well for a project that’s based on an agile or iterative management approach, I would say, in which the goals of a project need to remain flexible in order to respond to a client’s needs. By contrast, famous Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, seems to prefer a highly structured approach to conducting, which might work well for a project that uses a waterfall approach. He displays a commanding presence because he considers himself responsible for the success or failure of the performance. He ostensibly controls the performance. He is very clear in his instructions. As Itay Talgam notes: “maybe a little bit over-clear.”

Richard Strauss, then, is very much in favor of playing things by the book. His approach is rather formulaic, he prefers pragmatism over personal expression, and his conducting style is very much about sticking to what’s necessary. This approach certainly gets the job done, but I wonder whether the team could have made the product better if they had been given a bit more room for personal expression and experimentation…Now, Herbert von Karajan’s conducting style seems to be pretty out there, putting a lot of responsibility onto the shoulders of the team members. To paraphrase Talgam, team members are much more responsible for figuring out how the goals of a project can be met, how they can ensure that the deliverable becomes a success and is submitted on time. That style of leadership may certainly enable a team to bond, but I find that approach a bit too chaotic, to be honest…

Finally, Leonard Bernstein. His approach, as Talgam puts it, enables each musician to tell a story and to claim partial ownership of the entire performance. It’s a very feedback-based, reflective style of leading. This, to me, might be a suitable for a large-scale project which consists of various sub-projects that have their own teams.

So far I’m very much in favor of Kleiber’s approach, but I’m curious to know your perspective. Let me know in the comments. Which conducting/managing style do you prefer? Keep in mind that each performance, as you’ve seen in the video, was beautiful, so there is no right and wrong answer really.

To end my post, I’d like to leave you with yet another conducting style, which some of you might prefer

…I doubt it, though. 😉

Enjoy! (quick note: the performance really starts one minute into the video, so be patient 😉 )