Everyone has their own approach to work. Some people like to have the exact same routine every day, while others need to mix things up, stretch their legs, and try different approaches to find their groove.
I fall into the second group.
Sometimes I like to sit, sometimes I stand. Sometimes I want to drink tea, sometimes I need to drink coffee. Sometimes I like to listen to music while I work, sometimes I like silence.
The important thing is finding the approach that works best for you.
As a project manager, you’re always on the move. When you’re not meeting with stakeholders, you’re tracking budgets and making decisions.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a soundtrack to guide and motivate you throughout your day?
In honor of this weekend’s 60th annual Grammy Awards, I came up with a list of award-winning songs that are secretly about project management.
Project management music through the years
This year’s Grammy nominees include project management hits like “Issues” by Julia Michaels (maybe one of these issues is how bad you need good project management software?), “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars (strawberry champagne on ice after a successful project?), and “What About Us?” by P!nk (what about all the plans that ended in disaster?).
But, I didn’t limit myself to songs released in 2017 when compiling this list. I searched through every Grammy winner from 1958 to today for this compilation of greatest hits.
For many of these songs, the title itself includes a project management lesson (which we’ll take a look at together ). For others, even the lyrics seem to speak directly to project managers.
I’ve included YouTube video links for each song so you can listen and sing along. Enjoy!
1. “People” by Barbra Streisand
Barbra “Babs” Streisand burst onto the scene with this hit single from the Broadway musical “Funny Girl,” which earned her the 1964 Grammy award for Best Vocal Performance by a Female. As she says in the song, “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
As a project manager, it sometimes feels like you’re fending for yourself. But remember that all the stakeholders, clients, and programmers around you are looking for the same result: a successful project. And it’s your job to guide them.
2. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
Written by Otis Redding in 1965, R&B queen Aretha Franklin turned this track into a timeless hit two years later, helping children learn how to spell the word (“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me”) for generations to come.
The song won the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording in 1967 and serves as a guiding light for project managers. While hard skills like budget management and scheduling are important, soft skills—like communication and mediation—are even more important, and those skills begin with a little respect.
3. “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus (featuring Chaka Khan)
This super funky track was written by Stevie Wonder for the incomparable Chaka Khan, and the result is divine. It won Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus in 1974. You may have heard this song overhead at a sporting event while a play is under review.
As a project manager, some things are out of your control. You plan, track budgets, and assign tasks, but sometimes all you can do is sit back and hope to hear some good news. One thing you can do is ensure that clear lines of communication are always open. After all, poor communication is the leading cause of more than a third of project failures.
4. “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago
Chicago won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus in 1976 for this smash hit, which was also nominated for Record of the Year.
Peter Cetera and his magnificent golden mane may have been crooning about the pain of being left by a romantic partner, but project managers will understand the devastation of losing a valuable contributor mid-project.
The good news is that if you have a solid change management plan in place, you can mitigate some of the heartbreak.
5. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson
The King of Pop won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Male in 1979 for this No. 1 single, one of the last great disco songs (though some would call that an oxymoron).
Jackson repeats the phrase “Keep on with the force don’t stop. Don’t stop ’til you get enough” about 25 times, and any Agile project manager is familiar with the experience of going through sprints and scrums repeatedly until your product is good enough (or until you run out of time).
6. “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton
The Queen of Country had a crossover hit in 1981 with this working women’s anthem that took home the Grammy for Best Country Song. The song was featured on the soundtrack for the film of the same name, in which she starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
The film was ahead of its time in advocating for women’s equality in the workplace. In 2018, increased diversity in project management jobs is coming to a head. And every project manager can identify with the experience of working nine to five. Luckily, project management is a pretty good way to make a living—especially if you have a PMP certification—and technology can help you avoid some of the stress of rush hour traffic.
7. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
You know it as the theme song for “Rocky III,” but this mega-hit from Chicago-based rockers Survivor carved its own lasting legacy, winning the 1982 Grammy for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal and becoming one of the greatest stadium anthems of all time.
For project managers, “Eye of the Tiger” is an affirmation. Imagine you have two days left to finish a project. Your budget is dwindling, stakeholders are looking for answers, and your team turns to you for guidance. You put in your earphones, and sing along. “Rising up, straight to the top. Had the guts, got the glory. Went the distance, now I’m not gonna stop.”
You rise to the challenge, you survive, you have the eye of the tiger.
8. “Roll With It” by Steve Winwood
After getting his start in England with bands like Blind Faith and Traffic, Winwood went solo and had a string of hits on the American charts in the 1980s, including this rollicking tune which won the Grammy for Best Engineered Recording — Non-Classical, in 1988.
As a project manager you can plan, communicate, and track relentlessly, but your most valuable contribution to the team is guiding the ship when the unexpected happens and getting things back on track.
“Hang in and do that sweet thing you do. Just roll with it, baby.”
9. “A Whole New World” by Alan Menken and Tim Rice
In 1992, Disney’s “Aladdin” was a blockbuster at theaters and its main theme—”A Whole New World” by songwriters Alan Menken and Tim Rice—became a hit record, winning the 1993 Grammy for Song of the Year.
The song is about seeing the world around you in a new way after you fall in love. It’s uplifting in any context, but for project management I like to use it as a reminder of all the exciting new innovations—like artificial intelligence and machine learning—in the field.
10. “U Don’t Have to Call” by Usher
Usher’s 2002 ballad (which was written by Pharrell Williams) won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
And while the song itself might be about a heartbroken man putting on a brave face after being dumped, project managers can use it as motivation to put down the phone, turn off your email, and use your collaboration tools to communicate with your team.
11. “Harder Better Faster Stronger” by Daft Punk
The masked DJs from Paris had the earworm of the summer in 2001, but the viral dance track didn’t receive the Grammy for Best Dance Recording until 2009 when a new live version was released.
The beat of this song will have you bouncing through the day, and the lyrics (“Work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger. More than ever, hour after hour work is never over”) describe an Agile project management superhuman.
12. “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
This song by the alternative rocking Followill brothers (and cousin) from Nashville won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 2009.
The lyrics include the line “You know that I could use somebody. Someone like you, and all you know, and how you speak.”
It could be about longing for love—like 99% of all songs—or it could be about how project managers are constantly looking for the right people to assemble a successful team.
Project management music B-sides
Once you start looking for project management messages in songs, you start to see them everywhere. I had to stop somewhere, so I went for the standard 12-song album (for those of you who remember things like physical records and CDs).
But, here are a few Grammy Award-winning B-sides (for those of you who remember 8-tracks and cassette tapes).
- “Faith” by George Michael, 1988 Album of the Year
- “Giving You The Best That I Got” by Anita Baker, 1989 Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Female
- “Funny How Time Slips Away” by Al Green & Lyle Lovett, 1994 Best Pop Vocal Collaboration
- “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai, 1997 Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal
- “Don’t Look Back” by John Lee Hooker, 1997 Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals
- “The End is the Beginning is the End” by Smashing Pumpkins, 1997 Best Hard Rock Performance
- “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” by Alan Jackson, 2003 Best Country Collaboration With Vocals
- “On To The Next One” by Jay-Z, 2010 Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group
Your project management music soundtrack?
Let me know what you would add to your project management playlist in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @CapterraAC!
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like these other fun pieces from the Capterra project management blog:
- 5 Essential Project Management Lessons From ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’
- 10 Retro Video Games That Can Teach You How To Be A Better Project Manager
- 5 Project Management Failures That Doomed The Human Race In Alien: Covenant
- The 18 Worst Project Management Buzzwords (And What They Actually Mean)
- 37 Project Management Movies That You Should Watch Twice