An Introduction to the Mystical Arte of the Project Manager

I'm a PM -- that's a Project or Program Manager -- and I have been for over a decade.

Project managers apply skills in:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Strategy and goal setting
  • Project planning
  • Motivation and direction of project teams
  • Risk and issue management
  • Problem solving
They are hired by companies to achieve corporate strategy through the successful completion of project goals. 


So, why is this interesting (unless you're considering a career in project management)?

The Project Management Institute is a global professional organization for project managers. I'll let them speak for themselves. They define a project as:

"...a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result.

"A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.
"And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies."

Now, let's do a quick translation for the mage. A magical working is:

... a temporary activity designed to product a unique product, service, or result.

A working is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.

And a working is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.

Back to the PMI:

"Project management, then, is the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. It’s a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals — and thus, better compete in their markets."

Or for our purposes:

Practical magic management, then, is the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute workings effectively and efficiently. It's a strategic competency for magicians, enabling them to tie working results to personal goals -- and thus, better realize results in their lives.

Language use aside ("thus," really?) I don't think it's any kind of stretch to see that a magical working to find love, make more money, or change your life in a fundamental way (the big three of practical magic) is little different from a professional project to create an app, build a bridge, or start a homeless shelter. 

The biggest difference is that corporate and nonprofit projects almost always involve groups while your working may not. Still, you may have unofficial team members (your family, your friends, servitors) and you will certainly have stakeholders (your ancestors, your gods/spirits/guides).

There's a reason that a skilled project manager can make a good living across a whole host of different domains (from building software to building skyscrapers). Having someone in charge of all the coordination and communication, someone who can make sure all the many moving parts work together and that the sponsor (with the money), the stakeholders (with the interest), and the team (who do the work) are all on the same page, greatly increases the chances that the project will be a success. If you work on any kind of project in any kind of job (from coding websites to stocking the shelves) you have a critical stake in how that project turns out. Do you really want to take your personal projects any less seriously?

If you're not familiar with project management, most of this stuff is invisible. A lot of my job is outside the scope of even the people who are on the project. As in any initiatory society, there's knowledge that's occult to the uninitiated (though for project managers it's hidden from people because they frankly aren't interested in it rather than because it's a secret). There's also the kind of complexity that's used for gatekeeping (the PMI's standards book is 589, 8.5 x 11 inch pages).

Without my professional experience, my magical self wouldn't know anything about these techniques. But there's a ton of useful stuff here that's directly applicable to magical work. Gordon over at Rune Soup has some stuff on this topic as well.

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