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I have been convinced of the value of rituals for years. Family dinners, community parades, holidays, and church on Sundays was an integral part of my childhood. Today, it’s getting harder and harder to maintain those rituals. I believe rituals can be very helpful for project teams. And no, I’m not suggesting that you drag your project teams to church. In this blog, I will tell you why I believe rituals can help you, and outline four easy project rituals that you can try.

Why I believe project rituals can help you

According to Yuval Noah Harari, in his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, “it is perhaps no coincidence that Confucian cultures… produced extremely long-lasting social and political structures. If you want to know the ultimate truth of life, rites and rituals are a huge obstacle. But if you are interested in social stability and harmony, as Confucius was, truth is often a liability, whereas rites and rituals are among your best allies.” (p. 240-241)

I recently read an article by Karen Smits on why rituals “support” project and portfolio management. While I had never thought of some of the reasons or characteristics of project rituals that she mentioned, she noted that some rituals associated with project work include contract or engagement letter signings, project kick-offs, and milestone deliveries.

Putting aside definitions associated with religion, I had a hard time finding a definition that I liked. Merriam-Webster shows one definition as “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.”  There is often an overlap between rituals, traditions, habits, and routines. Handshakes might be rituals in some cultures but not in others. From my reading, rituals carry some sense of importance and respect.

Defining ritual, outside religious definitions, is difficult. Rituals are similar to traditions or routines but carry some sense of importance and respect. #ritual #managment #projectmanagement #leadership Share on X

Dr. Smits makes several important points about project rituals, but for the sake of time, I’ll only include one.

“The special moment given to a ritual takes people away from the everyday flow of the project and places them in a sacred, magical space. A ritual can be as simple as a banana award, but the specific event gives meaning to a transformation process, helps people acknowledge the transition and move towards the future.”

I believe incorporating more rituals in our project processes offers the benefit of increasing momentum. Here are some project rituals you might consider.

1. Use standing meetings to build camaraderie and accountability

I won’t lobby for daily meetings. I think the frequency depends on your project. But I do think periodically gathering face-to-face (which can be done virtually) and using that time to QUICKLY catch up on what others are doing and hold each other accountable is time well spent. One key is doing the catch-up part quickly. Each team can decide for itself. And I suggest that you periodically ask folks for suggestions on how to make your standing meetings more effective.

I’ve written on standing meetings and while I believe that blog is a good starting point for new users, I’m not particularly rigid – simply because each team, and each organization are different. The important thing is that everyone on the team believes that the meetings are producing a benefit.

I remember a standing meeting years ago on a construction project that I was helping on. At some point in the meeting, one person on the team mentioned permits when we were talking about issues. As it turned out, this team member had recently been chatting with a personal friend about problems at City Hall – and learned that permits were not being issued in a timely fashion. The question prompted a review of every item on the project list that required a permit, and in the end, this review saved the project from a disaster.

2. Work in sprints characterized by delivering a meaningful result

This is easy when you are building software. It’s harder when you are doing projects, such as pharmaceutical product development, events, or marketing campaigns. It requires a different mindset. No longer are you focused on the final result – you are focused on interim results.

The key is to find out what the client, or your management team, thinks is most valuable in the short-term. For example, suppose you are trying to implement a major rebranding and cultural shift in a large organization. That project could easily take months or even a year.

It may be that the most critical item is to decide on a new logo and tagline. Or, it may be that you need to decide on the staffing needs and compensation structure for the organization or a part of it. Or, you might need to organize some corporate wide event. Whichever it is, what can the team deliver that will help the client or the management team accomplish that goal in the next sprint?

3. Use checkpoint meetings to ensure that key project processes aren’t overlooked

I’ve written about checkpoint meetings – which are proprietary to the Smart Projex methodology – and a critical part of your success.

Checkpoint meetings bookend your sprints and they can easily become a project ritual. They are a combination of a sprint planning meeting and a retrospective. And they have a very specific agenda.

How can you make these meetings different from the other long meetings in your organization? How can you make them special?

4. Celebrate successful events

As Dr. Smits said, it can be a banana award – but the key is that you are all together and having fun. That’s not the same as issuing or getting an award using software tools that people are sick of seeing.

Every team is different and what some teams will want is a pub night with their spouses or SOs included, while other teams might want lunch – off site. I’ve seen teams celebrate by taking off work early and going home because they have seen too much of each other.

You will have to find your rhythm and style. And it will change from month to month, and from event to event. Not all project accomplishments are equal. Talk to your team and get ideas from them.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I believe rituals are important and one key attribute of rituals is the human element. And while an individual can attend a ritual, I believe you must have more than one person involved for it to be a ritual. If it’s just an individual, I think it’s likely a habit – more than a ritual. OR maybe turning a routine into a ritual for you personally is a mindset shift that will help you.

Bring more joy to your project work by incorporating project rituals that transform the mundane activities into special times. #ritual #management #projectmanagement #leadership Share on X

Rituals cannot be automated. But they can empower your teams. So, how can you include more project rituals in your routines?

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