There is no harder work than not working

“There is no harder work than not working.” Years ago, I read this sentence from Guigues[1], one of the first Carthusian priors. It never quit me since then. Which life never goes through times of desert and dereliction? May this sentence of wisdom help you today during this worldwide long and total confinement period. Here is a full text you may also want to read and keep deep in your heart.

“The dweller in cell should be diligently and carefully on his guard against contriving or accepting occasions for going out, other than those normally prescribed; rather, let him consider the cell as as necessary for his salvation and life, as water for fish and the sheepfold for sheep.

For if he gets into the habit of going out of cell frequently and for trivial reasons it will quickly become hateful to him; as Augustine expressed it, “For lovers of this world, there is no harder work than not working.”

On the other hand, the longer he lives in cell, the more gladly will he do so, as long as he occupies himself in it usefully and in an orderly manner, reading, writing, reciting psalms, praying, meditating, contemplating and working.

Let him make a practice of resorting, from time to time, to a tranquil listening of the heart, that allows God to enter through all its doors and passages. In this way with God’s help, he will avoid the dangers that often lie in wait for the solitary; such as following too easy a path in cell and meriting to be numbered among the lukewarm.

Photo: Buckfast Abbaye

[1] GUIGUES LE CHARTREUX, Méditations, 50 (SC, 308, 120

An Attitude Of Openness To What Happens

Here is the story of the three Princes of Serendip

A long time ago, a King named Giaffer had three sons whose education he entrusted to the best tutors.

Once he found that they were excellent in virtue, sciences, and wisdom, he invited one after the other to accept to reign at his place as the King. But each one refused at his turn with modesty the crown.

Thus, the King sent them to find the magic formula of the death of the dragons.

Follow a long series of fortuitous events that they successfully used to show their wisdom, compassion, and support to others.

The story ends well. Tears of compassion they shed for poor villagers they met killed the dragons forever.

This story of three princes who are regularly making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things that they were not in quest of is an ancient Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip attributed to the Sufi poet Amir Khusrow (1253-1325).

A Key Takeway

Life makes you gifts while you walk your journey towards your vocation. You respond to them with the sagacity and the humility you have at the time of these gifts.

It requires maintaining an attitude of openness to and acceptance of what happens despite the goal you initially defined.

Do you like this story?


This article comes from my book The High-Impact PMO a series of real-life stories of quirky solutions adopted by complex project sponsors, managers and PMOs to better deliver value.

Buy the High-Impact PMO on Amazon or read my most successful articles:

High-Impact PMO

Never Give Up Your Hopes And Your Dreams

When you feel pushed aside and lonely, never give up your hopes and your dreams.
Remember all great people who went through this hardship before you.

Remember those who have been imprisoned

Socrates (guilty of both corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and of impiety), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (in prison in 1922 and 1942), Saint John of the Cross, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nelson Mandela (27 years in the notorious Robben Island penitentiary), Vaclav Havel (had various stints in prison before rising to the presidency) …

Remember those who have “crossed the desert”

Moses and the Hebrew (during 40 years), Jesus (during 40 days), Mahomet (as a child), Abraham Lincoln (didn’t stop failing before becoming a president), Einstein (a failed scientist and an unknown 26-year-old clerk before his “miracle year” in 1905), Soichiro Honda (jobless for some time), Churchill (lost every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62), Charles de Gaulle (withdrew from political scene between 1946 and 1958), Herbert Von Karajan (lived in the Austrian Alps while his competitors “decimated themselves in the Viennese battle”)…

Remember those who have lost offspring, health, job, or property

Job, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (dismissal from a position as a court musician in Salzberg), Igor Stravinsky (first audiences of the Rite of Spring rioted, running the composer out of town), Henry Ford (after a series of flops and failures), Elvis Presley (“They told me I couldn’t sing”), Michael Jordan… …

Remember those who have been said that they would never succeed

Charlie Chaplin (Hollywood said he was a little too nonsensical to ever sell), Albert Einstein (thought to be mentally handicapped), Harrison Ford (movie execs said that he simply didn’t have what it takes to be a star), JK Rowling (twelve publishing houses rejected her first book), Oprah Winfrey (fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for TV”)…

The benefits of solitude

Einstein would regularly go for long walks, wander off to quiet cabins in the mountains, play his violin, or sail in the seas with his wooden boat to find serenity.

The modern cult of extreme activity teaches us that doing nothing at all is an unproductive strategy for lazy people.

Yet, it is during moments of crisis, silence and solitude that we can discover ingenious solutions to complex problems and make great decisions.

God has shown us, especially during Lent, how the Lord spent 40 days in the desert. And how the Cross made Him apparently ineffective, yet wonderfully fruitful in offering us Salvation.

Please send me new examples or details if you want


High-Impact PMO

Gains, Reluctance, and Resistance in Projects

Gains and resistance in projects are common. All projects generate indeed a change in the life of many of their stakeholders.
One root condition to give life to the project purpose is the program team understanding of the population attitude regarding the expected project outputs and outcomes.

A simple grid evaluates the project impact on stakeholder’s

The PMO has a tool to propose to the project team. This tool is the grid of figure 1.

This grid evaluates for each segment of stakeholders their gains, reluctance, and resistance when confronted to the program change.

Figure 1 gives an example. It shows the gain / reluctance / resistance evaluation for a population of financial controllers. They are going to join a new Shared Service Center. Also, this center is far from the historical company headquarters.

The grid describes each gain / reluctance / resistance. Each receives a category: imagery (I) / symbolic (S) / real (R). We then evaluate their impact as strong (St) or weak (We).

Gain and losses grid PMO

Figure 1 – Evaluation of gains, reluctance, and resistance of financial controllers moving to a new Shared Service Center drives an action plan.

For each population, the project team must do something. This is the column “recommended action”.

Stakeholders show synergy or opposition

People show synergy or opposition because they see gains or losses in the change induced by the project.

What are the gains? The gains are the personal benefits they expect from the project. These gains can be, for example, a more exciting job, a higher salary, and a great team ambiance.

Here is an example of gains. Who does not enjoy a glass of champagne? In the French Champagne “maisons”, the cellar workers traditionally enjoy the privilege of making for themselves a small Champagne cuvee produced from the finest wines. This cuvee is an enjoyable gain for them through its finesse and elegance, and also through the pride it gives them.

But there may also be losses. The losses can be real and endanger the most fundamental, pragmatic, and tangible needs.

Such needs can be relocation far from their family center of gravity and lesser compensation or benefits. They can concern the imagery when the change concerns the psychological and sociologic level and its fears, beliefs, and interpretations.

For example, people may have a wrong representation of their level of autonomy and of their capacity to take initiatives. The losses can finally be symbolic in relation with the culture, the legitimacy, and the social standing.

The fear of such losses keeps people to react with temporary reluctance or durable resistance to the project changes.

Listening to people is the key success factor

Listening to people is the key success factor. It is the basis for establishing both a social dynamic map and an evaluation of their gains, reluctance, and resistance.

Symptoms are subjective signs that people notice. Signs are more objective and measurable. Both are important. And Project Managers, PMOs, and any project team member has the duty to detect them and input them into the project stakeholder management plan.

Thoai Phong Nguyen[1] is a consultant expert in company transformation. He has been the architect of a transformation framework for several difficult projects with strong social contents. He used to look for symptoms belonging to three categories:

  1. Symptoms related to the end of the historical state
  2. Symptoms appearing during the transition phase
  3. Symptoms born at the early stage of a new state

Among the symptoms “of the end”, you find many important attitudes. One is the winners / losers perception. Another one is the “they / us” distinction. And there are also other signs.

Among them: an abnormal search for information, inward looking or defensive attitudes, fear, the loss of consensus, and of course an increase in absenteeism. When things go bad, action paralysis, slow decision-making, disobedience to the instructions, and an increase in quality incidents are clear symptoms of disorder.

The transition phase may see symptoms like resentment, anger, depression, bargaining, new real or unconscious barriers. But also acceptance, expectations, or new significance.

When you do not accompany change well, people start looking for symbols, asking for rules and instructions, or expressing regrets for the past. The social cohesion deteriorates, and key people resign.

Once in the new start, people progressively forgot the past. New initiatives and positive attitudes arise. They understand the logic of the change. New leaders rise, and productivity increases. People adopt the new reality. They develop a sense of pride in belonging, a reinforced social cohesion, and they confirm or revisit the corpus of values

Conclusion: the key role of PMOs

PMOs are key actors in this process. They organize very early on the progressive evolution of the behaviors required by a project. They emphasize the gains, and they act to reduce the losses, real or feared.

Once they have established the project purpose, they can evaluate the stakeholders’ gains, reluctance, and resistance when confronted to the program change. This understanding allows to prepare answers reinforcing the gains or alleviating the reluctance and the resistance.

To Your Continued Success


High-Impact PMO


Why PMO Should Escape From the Bed of Procrustes

“The bed of Procrustes” represent situations where different lengths or sizes or properties are fitted to an arbitrary standard.

Read how a PMO went into a bed of Procrustes and escaped from it. This story is an extract of the book :  The High-Impact PMO, How Agile Project Management Offices Deliver Value in a Complex World.

15 Minutes Before the Bed of Procrustes

Grigory, a newly-hired PMO, feels happy on this sunny afternoon. He is still alone in the executive Committee room of the company he just joined a few weeks ago as its Strategic PMO. What kind of PMO? Grigory is not sure yet. Neither he nor the CEO who delegated his recruitment to his Quality EVP really knew how a Strategic PMO should function. However, the company was famous in its industry. And Grigory was hired to develop and lead two management processes: the strategic planning process and the strategic initiative portfolio management process.

Grigory feels his tension grow. His CEO asked him to prepare and lead this afternoon’s meeting of the Executive Committee. That is going to be his first meeting at this level in the company. They will spend their afternoon updating the company’s five-year strategic plan.

Grigory is rather confident he will create the right environment for the executives to update their strategy. He has met all of them in advance to get their expectations as well as some early information on their thoughts regarding what needs to be done to improve the company’s value proposition and its overall performance. He has prepared a review of key facts and a list of key decisions to make. This included a performance review of key dimensions of the current strategic plan and of the Strategic Initiative portfolio. Customer surveys also completed the data.

10 Minutes Before the Bed of Procrustes

The big wooden oval table shines. The chairs are aligned. The video projector is on and ready. The agenda he has prepared for the afternoon meeting already projects on the huge video screen on the wall. The executive team members will soon fill the room after their lunch in a private room while Grigory had a sandwich here in the meeting room.  He is mentally reviewing the most important issues the executive Committee members asked to discuss.

In the Bed of Procrustes

They enter the room. A few members come to Grigory and shake hands. However, the CEO stays apart whispering a few words in his boss’s right ear. His boss turns and tells Grigory bluntly that he has to leave the meeting room right away since they are going to debate confidential matters (“the bed of Procrustes”). Before leaving, Grigory has to give the file containing the slides he was going to use during the meeting.

5 Minutes Later

A defeated Grigory exits the room.

One Day Later.

Grigory and his boss shared their perception of the event. His boss found him too impatient and not yet experienced enough. Grigory explained how he had been disappointed not to participate in the meeting for the reason of confidentiality, since his job involved further work on the meeting outcomes.

This single event marked the end of the beginning of his trusting relationship with that CEO and with his boss. Grigory wanted to pursue his career with exciting jobs and great teams. But he had first to survive this initial false start. He thought that it was better to have a good boss in a bad company than a bad boss in a good company. Grigory found out that the false start was only a first of many subsequent facts that demonstrated how this company had poor managers.

Three Months Later

Grigory took over a great Strategic Initiative Portfolio manager job in a similar company. His new boss gave him the secret combination of his office safe the day of his arrival. Grigory first refused the honor. However, his boss told him then: “If I did not trust you, I would not have hired you. There is information in the safe you will need to do your job. Now, listen, the day I will not trust you anymore, I will fire you.”

A Few Years Later

Grigory and this gentleman became inseparable buddies. The lesson Grigory took is that an initial trust is an absolute prerequisite if you want to build a trust relationship. Building trust requires open conversations, overcoming stress and challenging environments, working through crisis and learning each other’s reactions. People build trust over time. Yet, take the chance to initiate this trust relationship early on. Trust relationships are key to success. Grigory forever sought to select missions driven by trusted project directors and sponsors who in return gave faith in him.

Lessons Learned: Discover the Bed of Procrustes.

Grigory found in this apparently unfortunate event great food for thought. He related it to the Greek mythology story of the Procrustes’ bed. Procrustes, “the stretcher”, was a rogue smith and bandit from Attica. He physically attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their legs, to force them to fit the size of an iron bed.

Procrustes operated in his stronghold on Mount Korydallos at Erineus, on the sacred road between Athens and Eleusis, two cities of ancient Greece. There he had a bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night. He set to work on them with his smith’s hammer, to stretch them to fit. If the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly.

It is interesting to note that Eleusis was the site of the Eleusinian mysteries, the most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece. These Mysteries represented the myth of the abduction of Persephone from her mother Demeter by the king of the underworld Hades. The cycle had three phases, the “descent” (loss), the “search,” and the “ascent” of Persephone followed by the reunion with her mother.

The Decision: Escape from Procrustes

Grigory realized that his first CEO had in fact no precise idea of what a PMO could do for him and his company. He erroneously thought that a PMO was a sort of middle manager in charge of standards and back office activities. Therefore, he acted like Procrustes, cutting his legs by not allowing him to fulfill his duty in facilitating the meeting under the pretext that it would be confidential.

By doing this, the CEO was unwittingly contributing to a “descent” of Grigory on his way to Eleusis. That was a Procrustean situation, a state of affairs where different lengths or sizes or properties are fitted to an arbitrary standard. The standard at this first company for a PMO was only an administrative back office support for his boss.

The Future: Accountability, Autonomy, and Trust

Procrustes is a symbol of conformism and standardization. A norm is most of the time arbitrary. “Procrustean” qualifies situations where an arbitrary standard constraints different lengths, sizes, or properties. For this reason, its application to the living is generally harsh.

Grigory understood the mistake he made. His experience was a happy fault. As a result he decided that he would never ever work again with anyone close to Procrustes. He would escape especially project sponsors or project managers who would only consider a PMO as a back-office assistant. He would only work with those who would give him accountability, autonomy, and trust.

Finally, if you wonder what Procrustes became, here is the end of the story. Procrustes was captured by Theseus, travelling to Athens along the sacred way, who “fitted” Procrustes to his own bed.

To Your Continued Success!


High-Impact PMO

* the image on top of the article is from

A population

3 Human Dynamics That Help a PMO Make Projects Better Succeed

If too many projects fail to deliver their promises, project practitioners, project leaders, and especially PMOs can make their projects better succeed when they draw on human dynamics. Among them, 3 are most important: developing a people-oriented project cause, building a community of decentralized change agents, and creating a buddy system.

The number one target of any project is neither a financial benefit nor a market share. The number one target for any project is always the population it serves.

“What’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships” says Danny Meyer, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG)[i].

This is now so new. Four centuries B.C., the Chinese Confucian philosopher Mencius[ii] already wrote that “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and grain are the next; the sovereign is the least”.

Today, many great leaders develop practical ways to put people at the first place. Among them, the charismatic, then fifty-year old CEO of HCL Technologies, Vineet Nayar[iii], promoted his radical management philosophy “Employees First, Customers Second” or “EFCS.” Management’s focus on employee culture as a competitive differentiator led to a remarkable turnaround in HCL’s market share and mind share, over a period starting from 2005 until this date. EFCS was initially driven by management and embraced by employees. Over the years, however, the concept has taken on new meaning by becoming employee-driven and management-embraced in the form of programs and initiatives driven by employees.

Successful project practioners also put people at the very first place in their everyday life. Numerous ways to realize this exist. However I would like to share with you 3 actions in the domain of human dynamics that have been most effective in my own work within the project management area.


1.     Develop a people-oriented project cause


A large complex project bears similarities with revolutionary wars. The population is at the core of the project as it is at the center of a revolution. The project team has mostly one asset, which is the power of the cause the project is supporting. The organization has control on most other assets, from the command and control system to the infrastructure and the project budget.

Therefore a project must have a great and powerful cause. This cause must answer real needs of people. The very strength of a project is assessed by the extent of support to its cause from the population it concerns. A cause must answer a problem, a need, or a desire. No problem, no cause. The problem can be political, social, economic, racial, or virtual. The cause must present positive elements for each and everyone, not only for a minority.

These positive outcomes are both personal gains for the individuals adopting the cause, and organizational benefits for the organization as a whole. The cause must be seducing and able to touch hearts. The project manager, its team and its PMO, must understand that words are the connection between them and their stakeholders. These words must be credible and clear.

Here is one example. Essilor, the world’s largest producer of eyeglass lenses is dedicated to “improving lives by improving sight.” What a great cause when you remember that 4.5 billion people need vision correction, with 2.5 billion living with uncorrected vision problems!


an appealing cause

Isn’t sharing a coffee and macarons an appealing cause?

Before you start a project, make sure that it is supported by an appealing cause serving first the interests of all those who will benefit from this project.

You do not build a plant. You develop a business serving a population. You do not build an opera house. You build “a place to take in a spectacular horizon, then broaden your own.” as expressed by the Sydney Opera House

How can you develop a great cause? Here is a simple approach. Gather a certain number of your stakeholders, internal and external, from bottom to top. Create a number of teams with around five to seven people. Ask them to describe their environment once your project successfully delivered. Assign in each group a writer and an interviewer (each being also able to participate and give their opinion), and then listen to the findings. The program cause (and even more) is in your hands.


2.     Create Your Community of Decentralized Change Agents


A great cause does not fly in the air by itself. People like ideas promoted by individuals they trust. These individuals are like nodes in a network. Build a community of decentralized trust change agents well embedded in the population. The change agent at the origin of a cause, as well as the project manager, the PMO, and all project stakeholders must also be identified with the cause. Remember Gandhi saying that “the change agent must be the change.”

An alliance of decentralized change agents is the secret ingredient of successful indirect project management approaches. Only a community of allied change agents can overcome the vertical barriers and silos traditional vertical management cannot overcome. As soon as you need to drive a collective action, the importance of allies emerges. Management by influence replaces hierarchical management in an alliance that is driven by a temporary shared and balanced interest in a specific cause.

Such an informal trust network of local relays forms a community you will animate around your appealing cause. A community is more than the informal trust network often cited in management books. A community is “a group of nodes that have a higher likelihood of connecting to each other than to nodes from other communities[iv].” The level of connectedness and the intensity of the connections will allow development while each of the individuals forming this community will still belong to other communities, including their own local organization. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French aviator and writer, tells us that:

The greatness of a profession is above all uniting human beings; there is only one true luxury and that is human relationships[v].

A sustainable alliance of trusted agents is built over time, not in a short duration. Trust requires a quality dialog, kept commitments, and mutual respect. While tactical alliances exist, only strategic long-term ones present the characteristics of robustness and sustainability required in large complex transformation programs.

An alliance is possible here since most allies are equals while the project leadership team, and especially its leader and its PMO, is a “primus inter pares.” Groups of people in a true alliance treat each other as equals. They work together to meet a common goal like delivering a shared project objective. Allies make decisions together and deal with the consequences of their decisions jointly. Once its goal is reached, this alliance may dissolve. The shared goal is the nucleus of the partnership.

If partners of the alliance are of unequal power or level, they have a more really patron-client type of relationships. This relationship is based on a prior obligation rather than a partnership centered on a common goal. The patron-client relationship must start with a gift and we know that there is no such thing as a free gift. If someone gives us a gift, then we are obliged to give something or do something in return. The gift giver becomes the patron of the gift receiver, who becomes the client. Such a gift can be an official status within a high-visibility project, or a place around a steering committee table.


A web of change agents

Change agents are like water pearls on a spider web

The very first step you have to take is to identify and to create a community relying on local relays who will act as decentralized change agents. They will be proxies to further the transformation goals in their own direct environment. They will be local agents willing and capable to act as local proxies of the transformation.

The candidates for such a role have to possess three capabilities relating to the alignment and the execution of the project.

  • The first capability is to feed the project strategy with his organization’s strategy in order to make sure the program answers the organization’s goals.
  • The second capability is to feed his organization’s strategy with the project strategy in order to make sure that the organization will contribute to the program objectives.
  • The third capability is to put in place and run specific governance, methods, and tools that help realize and monitor its progress and benefits achievement.


3.     Make This Community Become a Buddy System


A buddy system brings together people, the “buddies.” These people then operate as a single unit. They constantly monitor and help each other. The buddy system is a long-term indefectible relationship of trust and support between two individuals. Buddies must share the hard work each day. They must develop a mutual trust nothing will destroy. They must be ready to share the pains and gains. They must be linked from the beginning until the end of their endeavor, whatever the outcome. Each buddy must have his skin in the same game.

If you are a Project Management Officer, create a buddy system with your project leader. If you are a Project Leader, create a buddy system with your sponsor.


A buddy system

When PMOs and Project Leaders are buddies, success Is around the corner

Dan Vasella, former Novartis CEO, said that[vi] every CEO needs someone who can listen—a board member, an adviser—someone to whom he can speak in total confidence, to whom he can say, “I’ve had it; I’m about to resign.” Or, “I really want to beat this guy up.” You need someone who understands and can help you to find the balance.

Great pairs of individuals have often been at the origin of great success in organizational development. Look at one of the best known buddy systems, where Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak launched Apple in 1976. Another wonderful example is given by the Michelin brothers, Andre and Edouard. They founded the Michelin Company in 1889 with 52 employees. Michelin is still today one of the best and most successful company.

Many high-level leaders want a buddy. Joseph Ackermann, the former CEO of Deutsche Bank[vii] stated that

leaders must create cultures of constructive skepticism and surround themselves with people who bring multiple perspectives and have no fear of challenging the boss.

The very first level of buddy system you have to create concerns the onboarding of new team members. Assign him or her to a workplace buddy.

And go as far as possible on your way to develop a buddy system. As Larry Fowler, BUDS Class 89 Graduated, reminds[viii]:

“A good swim buddy will stoke your inner fires to be a winner! He is always turbo-charged and in-your-face to keep you motivated to complete each BUDS evolution. And you’re returning the favor. He reminds you to take one evolution at a time. He’s there to jet-propel you when you’re down and will get between you and the ‘bell’ if – and when – you get knocked down. If you’re on a six mile ocean swim and you suck water, he has two choices… carry you or suck water too. You’re one.”


To Your Continued Success!


[This article is inspired by the book: “The High-Impact PMO, How Can Agile PMO Deliver Value in a Complex World” I have published in October and that is available on Amazon]

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[i] Cited by Richard Branson in « Three things I look for in pitches,”

[ii] Mengzi, Jin Xin II, Chinese Text project,

[iii] V. Nayar, Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional management Upside Down, 2010, Harvard Business Review Press.

[iv] Albert-László Barabási, Network Science

[v] Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Terre des Hommes, Translated into English as Wind, Sand and Stars (1939).

[vi] McKinsey, Leading in the 21st century, 2012.

[vii] McKinsey, Leading in the 21st century, 2012.



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This book offers an innovative view of what is taking place in the world of project management offices, and gives valuable insights that will allow you to successfully navigate the increasing complexity of our modern world.