On Sandwiches and Project Management


A tasty, well-timed sandwich can foster a lifetime of devotion.

Five years into my career as a technical project manager, the team’s DBA, a notoriously grumpy fellow, said to me, “You are my favorite project manager. I love working on your projects.” My head immediately began to swell, and wanting to hear more about how great I was, I asked, “What is it that you like about my projects?” I expected to hear about my glorious project management skills, my ability to grasp technical ideas quickly, my communication prowess,  my nifty color coding on schedules, or my lovely slightly lemon smell, which was a fresh relief after his sweat drenched cube neighbor.

He thought for a moment and then said, “You remember to get my lunch sandwiches without tomatoes.” Then, he walked away.

It was humbling, it was important, and it was extremely educational. It taught me two very, very important rules of being a project manager:


1.  Like a great piece of software, a project manager should make things work so well that no one even thinks about it. When you do you job well, the team spends their time discussing sandwiches, gaming, cool new gadget, cricket matches, ice fishing, bands, or whatever else the team culture has embraced. Suck at your job and the team will be constantly discussing scheduling ideas, how much they hate the users, and how under appreciated they feel because they only got sandwiches for lunch and at the other company that their friend’s, cousin’s, wife works at they get gourmet lunches delivered everyday! As a project manager, make sure that everything is taken care of, from schedule communication to issue tracking to lunch. You can delegate, of course, but you’re still responsible for making sure that everything is done and is done right.

2.  If you really want someone to accept your leadership and to help deliver a great project, which is the most important thing as a project manager, take time to know the person. Then, use your knowledge for good. Order sandwiches without tomatoes, if that’s what he wants. Never schedule deliverables on a team member’s birthday. Don’t let the workaholic work more than 45 hours a week, and try to wean her down to 40 hours. Always send the sickies home and, if they need it, have soup delivered to their houses. Make sure the vegans have something better to eat than a tray full of wilted celery sticks.



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