A picture of a tube of suncream.

As we approach Christmas, there’s a definite end-of-term feeling in the air, so my latest post is intended to be more light-hearted than usual.  On several of my courses recently (and in this video) I referenced the classic track (if you are about my age, anyway) Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann.  The song is based on this article in the Chicago Tribune in which journalist Mary Schmich imagines what she might say if she were invited to give the keynote speech at a high school graduation ceremony.  It starts with the well-founded advice to wear sunscreen, before getting into the more practical advice that comes from living life.  As someone who spends a lot of his time talking project management, I have picked up my own bits of practical advice here and there, much of which I dispense during our training courses.  So, just for fun, here is my version of Sunscreen (with apologies to Mary and Baz) for this year’s graduating class of project managers.


Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’23

Focus on the project objectives.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, focussing on the objectives would be it. The long term benefits of focussing on the objectives have been demonstrated by project managers; whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your role.

Oh, nevermind.  You will not understand the power and beauty of your role until it’s too late.  But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at the projects you managed and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really were.

You’re not as over-budget as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is significantly reduced by using an effective risk management strategy. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you in a project stand-up meeting on some idle Tuesday.

Do one cost plan that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s milestones, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on earned value calculations; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with your deadlines.

Remember the projects that went well, forget the bin-fires; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old lessons learned reports, throw away your old test exit reports.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your project management career…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of coffee.

Be kind to your PMO admins, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry a PM, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children who are PMs, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll quit projects at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken at your 1,000th project closure party…whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your project plan, use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Plan…even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.

Read the Business Case, even if you don’t follow it. Do NOT read LinkedIn updates, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your project team, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your PMO; they are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that project team members come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Work on construction projects once, but leave before they make you paranoid about health and safety; work on IT projects once, but leave before you speak purely in acronyms.


Accept certain inalienable truths, cost estimates will rise, sponsors will philander, you too will end up running a portfolio, and when you do you’ll fantasise that when you were young cost estimates were accurate, sponsors were noble and project managers respected their portfolio managers.

Respect your portfolio managers.

Don’t expect anyone else to sponsor your project. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with Microsoft Project, or by the time you’re 40, you will look 85.

Be careful whose lessons learned you adopt – but – be patient with those who supply them. Lessons learned are a form of nostalgia, dispensing them is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the objectives…


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