The Magic of Tidying Up in Project Management

When I was a teenager, my mother used to close the door to my room and declare it a hopeless mess. I am not tidy by nature. But I’m organized: I know where everything is. For a long time I was convinced that I didn’t need to be tidy; being organized was enough.

Some months ago, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I was shocked – it actually moved something in me. What if tidiness could give me some value after all?  The book made me want to tidy everything.  That kind of behavior was suspicious in me, but I decided to give it a try.

In case you aren’t familiar with the book, its purpose is to teach you how to declutter, organize and store your belongings. The book is practical and short. The author calls her method ‘KonMari’ (an amalgamation of her last and first name), and you can also find a lot about it online. After implementing the KonMari method in my home, I saw good enough results that I continued to spread this new (for me) philosophy to different areas of my life, and I couldn’t help but relate it to project management.



Here are some of the aspects I found that the KonMari method and project management have in common:

  • Categorize and subcategorize: In IT and processing we are accustomed to tagging every document and every issue in the BugTracker; but in Marie Kondo’s technique this step is extremely important because categorizing is a prerequisite for decluttering. Think of the categories you need during a project life: these can be based on the stage of the project, the kind of projects you manage, the processes and procedures involved in your project, etc. This will help you recognize what you need and after decluttering, you’ll see the gap you need to fill to make your project as successful as it can be.
  • Declutter: To declutter means to throw away everything that you don’t need. File older material and organize current documents. Any stuff you don’t use should be put aside and deleted. If you don’t need it, why should you hang onto it? Many templates and steps in processing seem important in the beginning, but then in practice you never use them because they don’t add any value to your work. According to Kondo, you should only keep things that “spark joy’’. OK… no need to get too sentimental here; essentially the idea is to only keep things that make your work and others’ better. Anything that doesn’t is a waste of time, resources, and money.
  • Keep items in their place: This makes your life as a project manager so much easier. As you might have guessed, this is not only applicable to physical objects, but to digital material too. Not having to look up a file in hundreds of folders on a number of different disks saves you a lot of time.
  • Set a place for each item in advance: The only way to achieve the previous point is to decide where things must go. For PM activities we handle all sorts of files and information distributed through sites and applications. It’s good to get into the practice of setting a storing structure for all the material you will generate throughout the project. Of course, a standard organization method for all projects is even more helpful.
  • Don’t disperse storage locations: This Kondo rule is about keeping things simple.  A good example is the folder structure used to store project documents. When the structure is complicated and illogical, it won’t work. Nobody will follow it and there will be chaos! If you can´t remember it by heart, you’ll need to read it every time. Will you do that?
  • Have everything in sight, for you and for others: If you can’t see or find something, then you are not going to use it. As a project manager, you have to be organized. But it’s really important that other people see this too. They need to find material as quickly as you do.  Your method of organizing information cannot be only in your head, it must also be visible to the people you work with. This helps you to have a better professional profile as well.
  • Method, practice, discipline: As with all new habits, you have to repeat them a thousand times to make them stick. Practice makes the master.  Once you have it incorporated, you’re going to do it automatically and then you will be able to concentrate and focus on the most important parts of your job.
  • You spend a lot of time at the office and on your computer: it’s important that you feel comfortable, so that you can give the best of yourself.

In order to not seem like a lone fanatic, I asked around to see if anyone else had read the book. Here are two testimonies from some fellow employees:

Alex, Marketing at Intraway:

 “Marie Kondo´s book totally changed my life! Before implementing her method my bedroom and office were a total mess, but now that I have much fewer things (and only those which spark joy!) it is so much easier to stay tidy. Getting ready in the morning and packing for work trips is a breeze and every day is much less stressful than before!”

José, PMO at Intraway with decades in Project Management:

Marie Kondo´s method gives you clarity and peace of mind. These two aspects are essential for a project manager. MK´s method shows respect for things, for every single item in your house. PMs should show the same respect for people working on their project. Marie Kondo makes you tidy your whole wardrobe, not just a part. This concept is similar to the concept of earned value, or stories in Agile methodology, where you show progress in a task when it’s completed, not halfway”

So… Let´s clean our spaces, both physical and digital! Let’s keep what adds value! Let’s lose our attachment to the past and prepare ourselves for the future! I know it all sounds a little too ‘zen’ for us engineers but… What could you lose? Enjoy the ride!!!!

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