On my way into work this morning, I had an interesting interaction. As with most of my experiences, I always consider how does the lesson or interaction apply to project management.

Here’s the set-up: As I’m exiting the highway, there is a man standing on the street corner holding a sign. (Does this sound familiar?). There are two left-hand turn lanes and I observe that a majority of the cars are picking the outside lane versus the inside lane next to the young man with the sign. My office happens to be a quick left-hand turn after the exit, so the smartest option for me is to be in the inside lane. As I get closer, I get a better look at this young man.

Before I go any further, give me a gut-check: how do you feel about people standing on the corner asking for money? Do you offer them money, snacks, worldly advice, or do you avoid eye-contact and mutter “get a job”?  This is not a judgment question, it is simply a behavioral assessment. I will profess to being hit-or-miss with it, depending on the environment, person, and situation. Some of the best conversations have happened with someone outside of my car and in a very different place in life.

This young man intrigued me more than most in a similar position. His sign was offering bottled water for $1.00. He had a cooler of ice cold water and a genuine smile and air of gratitude. I estimated that if he was getting $1 per bottle, he was running at least a 50% profit margin. Not bad! A smart business move, as well, considering that I live in Phoenix, Arizona and an ice cold bottle of water is always appreciated.

Legal or illegal? We could debate that. But here is the project management connection….

Generally speaking, people do not like panhandlers for a number of reasons, some legitimate and some not. However, he found a way to engage with his clients and make the best of his situation. Even for the drivers that did not purchase a bottle of water, he smiled and waved, yelled “good morning”!

People do not like change, yet change happens. As  project managers we are responsible for implementing change in sometime less than ideal environments and it happens that people may regard us with a bit of disdain. Do we just put our hand out asking for them to jump on-board with the project objectives and contribute or do we actively seek to understand what they need? Do we ask for ‘change’ with no tangible return or do we make it an equal transaction? And what about those stakeholders? You know, the ones that are resistors to our project and our project objectives. Do you still smile, wave, and say “good morning”?


  1. Show-up early and be ready to do business – my friend next to the highway was there nice and early, ready to catch the morning commuters. He was prepared and organized.
  2. Make project interactions a two-way street – ensure that your stakeholders and subject matter experts see the value of their involvement
  3. People may not like you – it’s ok! – as much as you try, you cannot make everyone like you or your project. Be prepared for resistors.
  4. Be nice and be genuine – smile, greet people, and be genuinely interested in who they are . Get to know people and form a connection.
  5. Be creative – sometimes a boring requirements gathering session won’t get your team jazzed for the project. Mix it up! Think different! Be fun!