What’s normal, on the job or off, will end up being craft, learning, adding value—i.e., the project. -Tom Peters
The two most important job skills for young people beyond basic communication skills are marketing and project management—getting work and delivering value. In a world that grows more complex each day, it is both a skill and an art to initiate and manage a project to successful completion. It is an art to break complexity into chunks small enough for a team to get their arms around and link the parts together in a thoughtful progression to create something where nothing had been.
There are no longer easy to follow models for organizational design, the world is changing too fast. In both the public and private sector a rule that appears to have sustainability is maintaining a lean core structure that adaptively adds new projects. In addition to a limited set of services, the core structure should provide common identity, positive culture and clear sense of direction. Take your best people out of line management and give them important projects. Design projects that produce important change and reinforce identity.
When I was a superintendent, our school district Special Education Director was probably the best in the state, to the point that she her work no longer challenged her. Together we created a project that was an important area of personal and organizational learning studying the benefits of instructional technology. She returned to the line organization a year later as Director of Technology. Three years after leaving her role as a junior high principal, our Communications Director had made important system improvements including moving her department to a storefront in the mall. But she was getting antsy to try something new. I asked her to propose a project that was important to our future as an organization. She spent the next year working as an internal consultant assisting schools with home and community partnerships. After our Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum left, we replace the position with a part-time principal that acts as a project sponsor for temporary work teams of teachers that develop district standards and assessments. All these examples illustrate the importance of project work as a stimulant of individual and organizational growth.
In the new economy, a growing number of freelancers make a career of a portfolio of project work. Whether inside a big organization or working on their own, most young people will be managing projects after leaving school. We need to do a better job of preparing kids for a project-based world. Here’s a few resources: the Buck Institute supports PBL Online which has a great project planning guide. Project Foundry is an inexpensive web app that supports project-based learning. The New Tech Network shares a project-based learning management system.
Good Work is a Sunday series that started as a series of unpublished journal entries while serving as a public school superintendent. If you have a story about finding or persevering in mission-related work, send us a note.