April 24 – Having faith at the beginning of a hard journey

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” (Martin Luther King)

In my day job as a project manager, I live in a world of carefully laid plans, issue logs, risk workshops and change control. Our projects are governed by meticulously laid out charters and contracts with vendors. Sometimes we take months laying out estimates and having the purse string holders review and re-review before ever giving us the first dollar to spend. Once the approvals are in place, and the contracts are written, and the plans are baselined, and the risks are documented, we can begin. We begin then with this sense that we know where we are going and how to get there.

It would seem that we don’t start out our projects with MLK’s view of faith. In our cocoon of plans and contracts, it would seem that we have the staircase in full view, including where the wrinkles in the carpet may be. And it is all a mirage.

For a large scale project or program, the truth is that the team really doesn’t know very much about how the path will go at the start. That first day of assembling the team and holding a kickoff meeting really is a step of faith. We know that there is a staircase to climb, and we have a general understanding of what the view from the top will be, but we know very little else.

I remember sitting in two different kickoff meetings for my current program. One was for the planning part of the program, and the other was for the execution part. When preparing for both, we thought that we had a good understanding of what the project was about. With the second, we even had a bit of understanding about how we would get there. At both sessions, somewhere in the middle of the week, I remember feeling that slight sickness in my stomach that comes when you realize that you really don’t know what you think you know. It was then that faith had to really kick in.

The truth about project management, as with all of life, is that we really don’t know much about what lies ahead. It is faith that allows us to take those first steps on any road to adventure. But, the less we know about the path ahead, the more that faith comes to prominence.

Often I hear the phrase “leap of faith”, with the emphasis on the notion that having faith means you have to take some blind leap. But more often than not, it is those first few steps that require the most faith. It is those first few steps that take me from the comfort and safety of my own personal status quo, and move me forward to new possibilities. The greater my faith during those early steps, the less likely that I will turn back.

Sitting here on a cloudy Thursday morning, I am reminding myself that no amount of planning, not amount of preparation, no amount of skillfully anticipating the future can replace the faith that I must have whenever I am embarking on something significant. I may fool myself with the illusion that there is a plan, and that make comfort me in the hours leading up to the journey. But that first step, and all the steps after, will require faith. Today I am reminding myself to have that faith.

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