Managing a project is like driving a car: Constant, gentle corrections get you to  the destination safely and comfortably.

One of the most frustrating things about managing a project, as an architect or otherwise, is that nothing ever follows the plan you spent so much time developing.  It is often said that plans are outdated the moment you finish them.

And it is true.  The goal posts will move and you should expect the unexpected.

But you might be asking, “that’s all well and good, but how can I relax when my finely crafted plan is unravelling before my eyes?!?”

When a projects starts to feel out-of-control, I try to remind myself that managing a project is a lot like driving a car.  (To be fair, I think of myself out for a relaxing Sunday ride instead of being stuck in rush hour traffic.)

Think about the last car trip you took.  You knew your starting point.  You knew your destination.  You had a fairly accurate route planned.

However, all bets were off once you were in the car moving forward.

You had to adjust speed for cars in front of you.  You had to make slight steering adjustments to stay in your lane as you went around a bend.  Maybe you had to take a detour to avoid construction or you had to stop to refill the gas tank.

You had to make slight, but constant, corrections along the route.  You slowed down to regroup when things started to feel out of control.

This Isn’t a NASCAR Race

We’ve all worked for project managers who micromanage.  Or someone who doesn’t build flexibility into a plan.  Or someone who is too stingy with the expense account. Or someone who manages through fear.  Or…you get the point.

They run a project like it is a NASCAR race. Zero to 100MPH in 3 seconds.  Swerving or slamming on the breaks to avoid disaster.  The cars occasionally bump into each other and almost every race includes a multi-car crash.

All of that makes for great entertainment.  Unfortunately, it makes for stressful projects.

Be the Relaxed Chauffeur

When you manage a project, you’ll start to see the team drifting too far from the destination so your job is to gently steer them back into the lane.  When you start falling behind it is time to guide the client to make some more decisions. Or you might get ahead of yourself so you slow things down to let creativity happen.

You will be less stressed out once you accept that managing a project is just a series of minor corrections to the overall plan.  This will allow for the project to flow more naturally, which should lead to a better outcome.  The destination is the same, but the path can remain fluid.

Remember, it is easier to make small and gentle corrections as the project progresses than to let it sway into the next lane, which requires a stiff jerk of the steering wheel to get things back on track.

Or worse, you end up crashing.

The best project managers go with the flow.  They make gentle corrections and guide the team instead blaring on the horn and yelling at everyone.

Nobody expects the PM to develop a perfect plan, but they expect a consistent guide to safely navigate them to the destination.  Be the relaxed driver.  It is good for the team and for your client, but most importantly, it is good for your stress level.