Orchestrating projects

In a previous life I had the enormous privilege of helping arrange a student exchange program between Australia and Japan involving an entire student orchestra. The logistics were very challenging as they included not only the travel aspects for students, teachers, support personnel, luggage and instruments but also billeting arrangements with host families and sheduling of concerts and performances. There were so many pieces to the puzzle that it became a significant project management exercise.

A year earlier I had been in Osaka and whilst dining with a Japanese friend who was active in promoting Jazz in various forums, came up with the idea of creating a program where high school bands in our respective cities could get together to experience international understanding through playing music together. The central aim was to have High School groups in both countries prepare separately and then come together for a series of combined performances. This sounded like an easy thing to suggest (after a few glasses of sake) but became a significant and ultimately hugely rewarding project.

Having solemnly vowed to my friend that I would make this a reality I returned to Australia and began thinking through the implications of what I had committed to. Thankfully the position I held professionally put me in contact with the correct range of people needed to pull the concept together. Good project management is built on three key foundations:

  • Having a clear vision of the scope, complexity and objectives of the project;
  • Appointing the right people with the right skills to execute the critical tasks; and
  • Maintaining constant and quality communication between all those involved.

It is also about letting those with the skill get on with their job and supporting them in the doing of it.

I realised that my “management” of the project was  very much about providing leadership and facilitation, so that others could direct their more specific talents to the specifics. In this way we achieved the best of both worlds.  I kept an eye on the strategic objectives of the project and the risk managemnt aspects – after all there were many things that could run off the rails when trying to coordinate logistics across two continents. I was also the one to mediate the many issues about how to deal with cirscumstances that had no precedent. After all, we were doing something that had not been attempted by anyone before. Good will, mutual respect and common commitment to the final outcome were essential for success.

Meanwhile I left the detail of musical rehearsal and social preparation of the students to the respective coordinators whilst exercising overall supervision of the formal project plan including the budget. Regualr project meetings ensured everyone was kept informed


The tour was a resounding success – culminating in the combined student orchestras on stage in a packed Hirakata City Concert Hall rising to a prolongued standing ovation from an emotional audience of very proud parents and school and city officials.

I sat down to a sake with my friend later that evening well satisfied that our dream had come true, and feeling very much about my facilitation of the project as the orchestra conductor would have felt when the fruits of all their rehearsing blossomed so magnificently that night in Osaka.

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