The Four Agreements of Project Success

4-agreements-smallAs a project manager with nearly 2 decades of experience leading projects from brochure sites to complex, enterprise-level web application development, there are any number of specific tools and methodologies I’ve used depending on the project. As Albert Einstein is oft credited with saying, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” That maxim determines what the process should be for executing a specific project.

But the greater truth of successful project management is that no matter whether you use Waterfall methodology with Microsoft Project server, or Agile with Gira, or a spreadsheet and emails, projects are managed by people and accomplished by people. Nothing encompasses the truth of project success more than Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

  • Be impeccable with your word.
  • Don’t take anything personally.
  • Don’t make assumptions.
  • Do your best

Be Impeccable with Your Word

If you are a client in the equation, this means you should be as clear as possible in communicating what you need. Vendors and your production team are already on your side. But we can’t mind read. Precise communication is the only way we can discern what your expectations are. We can only offer insight and advice to the extent that you are clear about what you are trying to accomplish.

On the production side, we aspire to do the same – giving our clients the best information we have and the best representations we can provide to help you understand. Creating something from the abstract into a concrete product is by nature a collaborative process, whether you are building a house or trying to architect a web portal for your business partners or clients. With the web in particular, when there isn’t a job site you can walk onto or a product prototype you can touch, the only way we have to communicate and get buy in before build is through clear documentation.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Often, when it comes to business relationships, we think of ourselves as rock ‘em sock ‘em robots, divorcing ourselves from the real and present reality that we are humans working together to solve a problem. That depersonalization of the process can actually make us even more vulnerable to the effects of unacknowledged emotions. On both sides of the relationship, the inevitable points of tension in a project, often related to unclear communication, can bring you down more than the fully expressed and felt hurts of childhood.

Keeping in mind that we are all actually on the same team, understand that a follow up question from a designer or developer doesn’t mean that you are stupid or deficient somehow. Or that the person who was yesterday able to talk to you five times but hasn’t returned your email until a day later is somehow annoyed or fed up. In that instance in particular, chances are that she or he is trying to stay focused on incorporating your feedback.

On the production side, it’s always important for us to recognize that project owners and stakeholders are facing more and more pressure for results in a fast-paced and evolving marketplace. What can sometimes be short, and occasionally nasty and brutish comments from the client side often reflect what might be pressures at work. And the fact is that we are all only human, and sometimes we all just have bad days. We can’t let those imperfections get in the way of accomplishing something great.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Assumptions relate closely to being impeccable with your word and not taking anything personally. On the client side, don’t assume that your production team knows everything there is to know about your business and your likes and dislikes. We aren’t working on iterations of user interfaces and documentation as a form of torture, but to make sure your results are as you desire.

On the production side, documentation can seem equally onerous. But “measuring twice, cutting once” is essential to make sure we’re all moving in the same direction. When we get to the point of actually coding a program or a web site, changes are non-trivial from that point forward. We’ll get there as soon as possible, but not without making sure clients are as clear as possible about what exactly we’re building for you. At the end of the day, the client knows best what he or she needs to accomplish tangible business goals.

Do Your Best

Recognize that perfection is a pursuit, not a destination. Doing your best is the most anyone can ask of one another. Sometimes, team members might have a bad day. Communications can get missed. A change request might not be quite where you expected it.

But your team is working as hard as they can for you. Project managers do our best to facilitate, interpret and mediate needs among the entire team. When we prod or push back on the client or production teams, that is more often than not a recognition that another pass at a specific deliverable will make the end result better, knowing that what was provided was not done under the best circumstances. Or that the other agreements were missed.

Just going over the four agreements in your mind every day, in your work, in your personal interactions, can truly transform the quality of your project outcomes. Indeed, you can change the quality of your both your work and your personal life when you keep those simple four agreements in mind.

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