A Holistic Approach to Project Management

Does your project management system encourage you to maximize productivity at the expense of your wellbeing? Here's why, and how you can fix it.
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Do you ever feel like project management adds more stress to your day, rather than less?

You’re not alone, and there’s a reason you feel this way.

Most project management in its current form is derived from early 20th century theories of labor that view workers as inherently lazy and fundamentally antagonistic to the interests of the company.

The solution, according to this view, was to create a punitive system that rewards speed, efficiency, productivity, and almost nothing else.

The result? A management culture rooted in paranoia, surveillance, and micromanagement, an emphasis on control over respect and care, and dehumanization baked into the very roots of project management.

But here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be this way. Through a holistic business approach, you can use project management as a tool to make your life easier and get more things done, while also cultivating a calm, trusting, and communicative work environment.

What is Project Management?

Project management is how we organize the things that we do inside of the business.

As we discussed above, traditional project management is largely rooted in the desire to control and maximize productivity. While of course we want to complete necessary tasks, control and maximization are not part of a holistic business approach.

So what do we focus on in holistic project management? Ease.

When done properly, a project management system and methodology should make it easier to get work done. It should reduce friction and stress, eliminate time-sucking meetings, unnecessary check-ins, and micromanagement.

This may sound obvious, but it’s not often achieved with an extractive approach. In order to increase ease, we need to shift the focus from viewing workers (including you!) as lazy, incompetent, and untrustworthy, to recognizing that you’re a human being with needs, and using project management as a tool to help support those needs so you can get your work done and rest, too.

There’s a few key steps to follow to effectively use project management to increase ease and actually support you. First, by setting expectations. Second, by using project management as a form of communication. Third, by prioritizing actions. So let’s break this down.

Setting Expectations

A holistic project management system operates largely by setting expectations. This is crucial both for yourself and your team members.

If we don’t know what we’re supposed to do, then we can’t be held accountable to it. Making sure that all your tasks and workflows have clear, specific expectations for what needs to be done and how you’ll know when it’s done is central to holistic project management.

When every part of a project or task is delineated, clarified, and assigned to a person and a date, the cognitive effort required to complete that action is greatly reduced.

This leads us to one of the key goals in holistic project management: reducing cognitive load.

This is an incredible benefit of project management that the historical, extractive approach largely misses out on.

By clearly stating the task and its outcome inside a project management system, we can take that information out of our working memory and free up a huge amount of time and energy to actually focus on the task itself.

Project Management as Communication

One of the key perspectives of a holistic project management system is that it’s actually a system of communication. The system itself—what we put in it, what we check off, what we prioritize, what dates are on a task—are all forms of communication to yourself and your team.

This also makes a very important thing easier: seeking consent.

Consent in business looks like asking people if they have the bandwidth to do something, and this includes asking yourself. If the reason for the activity is clear, and you work with people you trust, then consent leads to amazing results.

And when your system works smoothly, you often know the answer before you even have to ask, which means you can avoid putting pressure on someone who’s already at capacity.

In addition, by becoming a space where everyone can see what anyone’s working on at any given time, the project management system creates a neutral third party platform that keeps everyone in the company informed about what’s going on.

Prioritizing Actions

Finally, your project management system should facilitate prioritizing actions. If the communication is clear, any given team member should always know the next thing to focus on. This makes it easy to complete tasks rather than always trying to figure out what to do next.

Plus, when your system is working effectively, it also lets you know that when you’re done, you’re done. Just check it off and go!

This creates more breathing room, more space, and more work-life balance.

It can even help you start to develop a healthier relationship to work: having the bandwidth to show up when you’re on the job, and fully checking out when you’re done.

What’s Next

For a more detailed discussion on the history of project management and practical advice on how to structure your business for ease, listen to our full podcast episode on holistic project management.

Are you ready to take the next step in building your holistic business and get expert training, workshops, and community support with like-minded peers? Join the Holistic Business Academy Membership waitlist!


Scientific Management on Wikipedia
A history of project management models: From pre-models to the standard models by Gilles Garel

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