what a johnny cash cover band can teach us about project management.

[Daniel Laird photo]

Strange things happen sometimes. Like going to a conference in Austin and winding up in a Johnny Cash cover band, as took place at HighEdWeb11. But the experience also offered lessons on some factors in successful project management.

Behind the scenes, group members secured a surprise slot on the stage at the Highball club in Austin, rewrote songs by the Man in Black to reflect working on the web in higher ed and handled all kinds of logistics required to bring it all together. We only had one practice in advance, and that didn’t include all songs or all members. But it came together, somehow, because of four strong aspects to the project:

Social. Communication took place through a secret Facebook group. I was the last in, invited because Georgy Cohen knew they needed a bass player. Earlier, members had collaborated on reworking titles on Cash classics and sharing new lyrics they penned (one of my faves being from “Frames and Tables Blues,” formerly “Folsom Prison Blues”: “I bet there’s rich folks working in a fancy CMS/I bet they’re drinking coffee, not cleaning up this mess”). In hindsight, we probably could have used a Google hangout to practice a bit more in advance if we could have somehow coordinated schedules.

Passionate. It certainly reflected a labor of love for a group of devoted Cash fans with varying levels of musical talent. Granted, it’s much easier to bring passion to something this fun and crazy as opposed to, say, building a web portal. But if you can focus on the positive results that can come from any project, that can help you become excited about the outcome.

Democratic: Aaron Rester was the ring(of fire)leader, but ideas and suggestions came from many group members. We each brought our own skillset to the mix and the group collectively figured out how to pool our talents.

Flexible. When you only have one practice in a hotel room (apologies to any neighboring rooms), you figure you’ll have to adjust on the fly. And we did, such as when Larry Falck stepped up to take on vocal duties for “Get Tweetin” (“Get Rhythm”) which included his suggestion via Facebook to change keys and chord structures on the day of the show to accommodate his vocal range. Because the project was social, passionate and democratic, we could easily be flexible.

Between-song transitions could have been smoother, and I played the first verse of “Frames and Tables Blues” in the wrong key, but the surprise performance was exceedingly fun and very well received. We ripped through seven Cash covers and (for the absurdity of it) Rebecca Black’s “Friday” without major incident to a crowd that really seemed to enjoy it. We even had folks clamoring for an encore, which is tough since we didn’t know any other songs. If that was our biggest problem, I’d say it was a success … thanks to some sound principles of project management.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “what a johnny cash cover band can teach us about project management.

  1. Hi Tim,

    Your post reminds about another post I have published lately on PM Hut: Project Managers Can Learn Some Lessons from Steve Jobs.

    By the way, I think many project managers will enjoy your post, and that’s why I would like to republish it on PM Hut (there are many project managers who fans of Johnny cash!). Please either email me or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

  2. Pingback: Friday Five: While I was out edition | higher ed marketing

  3. Very cool, Tim! I hadn’t thought of our little side project this way, but you’re right. I agree with all your points above, and would suggest that what made this project successful was that it had focus (“we are covering Johnny Cash songs. Aaaand go!”) and that that focus was still flexible enough to absorb the suggestions and creative energies of the group. Also we had an indefatigable leader (Aaron “The Man in #000000” Rester) who sought input, made decisions, and basically pushed the project through to completion.

  4. Tim Nekritz

    Thanks, Lori. Your comment is right on and so much more succinct!

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