Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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The Happiest Project on Earth

Last week, I had the great pleasure to speak in front of over a thousand people at CiscoLive at The Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. As is traditional in my keynote speeches, I like to jump off stage (literally, although that's getting harder with age) and talk to people to find out what issues they face in the workplace.

There are a number of key themes that emerge wherever I'm presenting, regardless of the country or sector. Top of the list is that people on the end of a project management service don't believe they are receiving a very good one. Service that is. Indeed, in a live survey I conducted during the CiscoLive talk, only 12% of the audience said they could name more than three great project managers.

Fast forward three days and 270 miles from Las Vegas to Anaheim, Los Angeles, and I'm walking around Disneyland with the family, desperately pretending that I'm doing it for them, not myself.

The Walt Disney Company is a huge marketing machine and they don't miss a trick to sell you stuff. Indeed in 2016 they made $13.6bn from their six theme parks alone, which is about $6.2m per park, per day.

It would be hard to make this kind of money if they weren't delivering a service that people genuinely loved, consistently returned for and recommended to others.

The mission of The Walt Disney Company is 'To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information' and you can feel this in absolutely everything they do.

From entering to leaving the park you interact with many employees. Starting with security staff checking your bags, to people forcing you to eat churros with cinnamon sugar at 10pm and everything in between. What struck me, particularly as I write this post-visit, is that every single one of these interactions was exceptional.

Every direction I was given, question I asked, purchase I made, was accompanied by a smile, an easy to understand answer and good wishes for my day/evening that me feel, well, good. I was asked about my accent, what I was enjoying most, whether I needed to know where to buy (or find) water or how long we were staying. I was even told what great children I had, that they are ‘polite and have personalities’... a proud moment! 

Each conversation increased my enjoyment of the overall experience, despite trying to navigate 85 acres of park and having to wait in lines for rides.

I only had one 'run in' with a member of staff, when I tried to take a shortcut to ride an attraction again (I was being agile!). I was firmly reminded of the rules but then told to enjoy the ride. No shouting, no childish admonishment, a simple reminder to do what everyone else was doing.

On the way out I was asked about my experience and whether I had any feedback on the service I'd received or any opportunities for improvement. I told them that the park was spotless, the staff were amazing but that the toilets could be better signposted (they're the things you need to know when you have two young kids in tow).

So what does this have to do with project management?

Well, unfortunately, not enough project managers think about the kind of service they're providing or the kind of person they need to be in order to make their project a pleasurable one.

Often this is because they're being forced into a position where they are trying to deliver the unachievable by senior managers who haven't given them the time to do their job. 

But mainly it's because they don't see themselves as being in service to others. They don't make leadership choices around the behaviours expected of them. They don't spend time, effort and money creating the kinds of teams in which creativity can flourish; and they don't concentrate on providing a project management service of the highest possible quality.

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, in his book Creativity Inc., said that 'Quality is not a consequence of following some set of behaviours… rather it is a prerequisite and a mindset you must have before you decide what you are setting off to do.'

Getting this service right is critical for our profession to retain the goodwill we have and to repair our reputation around the world. Conscious Project Leaders put themselves in service of others and create the happiest projects on earth.

What are you doing to put yourself in service to others?

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