How I project managed everyone to death: A New Zealand road trip story.

It became clear to me this past month in New Zealand that project management is in my blood. 

Here I thought I would have a little PM break...take to the road, learn to drive on the left and leave my worries behind. Then I teamed up with a girl from Switzerland, 2 more from France and a 21 year old from St-Martin....and the Project Manager from within surfaced.

Type 1 personality

A road trip, like a project, needs a team in order to succeed.  But you can't have everyone trying to drive the car at once, and we all know those backseat drivers...also known as future hitchhikers.

Our Swiss delegation, Nathalie, teaches kindergarten but has an interest in human resource psychology and had each of us take an enneagrams test. She pegged me as a Type 1 before I even took the test (there's good and bad to each personality type, but I'll put being grouped with Michelle Obama into the win category). 

By nature of my personality, I became one of the primary drivers, co-pilot map reader, coordinator of evening communal meals...I may have told someone how to cut onions "properly" one of the first evenings. I have since apologized. 

Ninety Mile beach, North Island, New Zealand

Ninety Mile beach, North Island, New Zealand

Our group's "types" were diverse, so that no one minded when I took the lead. However, I had to learn how to lighten up and not let planning affect what is ultimately a vacation, and not a project (but sort of is, that's my whole point). This was an opportunity to learn from other personality types in order to be a better Project Manager in the future. 

Managing via COMmunication, and not "because I said so".

Going solo for three months made traveling with a group a little more challenging than I expected. I was used to my own pace and my own schedule. I get up early, I make decisions quickly, I eat what I want and when I'm hungry, I know where I'm headed and I plan ahead in case of change. Suddenly I'm with four vegetarians who like to sleep in.

Possessing the car keys is meaningless if you are the only one awake. I quickly learned that just setting the alarm for 6:30 AM was not going to work. I had to communicate the plan and get their buy-in to get people out of bed. By explain the potential drive times, likely stops, discussing the amount of time wanted at the beach, whether to pack a lunch or buy on the road, identifying other requirements or needs (stop at an ATM, Post Office, wifi stops) ahead of time and getting their feedback, I didn't need to convince them of the necessity of an early wake up. The team wanted to achieve all the same things I did, so it was never an issue again. 


Road trip success factors 

Projects, like road trips, need champions. If no one is prepared to lead in a specific direction, you'll eventually run out of gas.  But enough with the analogies, here's what I learned from my team. 

  • Personality diversity is important. Not only does it make the journey more interesting, there will be ideas shared that hadn't even occurred to you (pictured left: finding Cathedral Cove). 
  • Project Manager isn't the boss of everyone. They are a team member whose strength lies in coordinating skills and knowledge to achieve results. 
  • There is no one "right way" chop onions. The objective of chopped onions is realized regardless of the cut or style. Communicate the requirements, the timeline and the final objective and let them do their job.  

Happy Team, Happy Travel

Sailing Lake Taupo

Sailing Lake Taupo

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
— Proverb

This was not a trip I could have done alone with the objectives I had for myself.  My budget and resources would have been hugely constrained and while I would have gotten from Auckland to Queenstown, I'd have been forced to go too quickly to appreciate the beautiful landscapes of New Zealand. With a team, we could afford to take our time, explore more places, share the burden of driving, have more resources researching the areas and searching for accommodation. What started as a one week test run together in the Bay of Islands, ended mostly together in Queenstown, four weeks and countless adventures later. It wasn't taking the lead that got us here; success was measured in teamwork, satisfaction and making space for each personality type to contribute in their own way. 

A successful project requires leadership that is adaptive to team needs, and whose primary role is not to boss people around, but rather communicate the objective to keep the team focused to make decisions efficiently and together. 


Pictured here is a happy team at the most northern part of New Zealand, Cape Reinga

What personality traits make you a good Project Manager in your personal life?