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Project Management 101

July 15, 2015
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Dear Friend, I would like to tell you a story about an amazing man: a man who had the passion, drive, and sheer willpower to tackle a most formidable project. Like many of us, this man had an “employer” who had assigned to him one of the most daring and incomprehensible feats that one could ever imagine. We’ve all experienced something like this before, haven’t we? Someone at work or at home challenges us with some chore or project that seems impossible. We think to ourselves, “There is just no way that this is going to happen. No way!” This particular man happened to be employed by, indentured to, a prisoner of, and a humble servant of the Lord our God. This man’s anchor was firmly grounded and attached to a Father that resides in heaven above.

Let me tell you a little about this individual. Let’s explore his character, motivation, and how he went about completing his assigned project. After reading down through some of these one-word descriptions, can you guess who it is? Can you guess who was blessed with such God-given abilities?

Discernment            Trust              Trustworthiness     Planning                    Vision            

Persuasion               Delegation    Persistence               Determination        Political

Caring                        Leader           Prayerful                  Integrity                    Love

Unselfishness           Resilient        Execution                  Completion              Detail

Organizer                 Godly             Brave                         Faith

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. It could be a host of characters in the Bible. Let me give you a little clue. The clue is “52 days”. It took this talented man 52 days to lead the completion of what God had commissioned him to do: a most improbable feat. Remember, God is in control of our lives and our circumstances. In the face of ominous and daunting conditions, we trust in the Lord and allow Him to rule our lives.

Yes, this is a Bible account of how Nehemiah was able to lead the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in a very short period of time. What I would like to do in this article is to recount the Godly wisdom that Nehemiah exhibited as he motivated the people of Jerusalem to inspiring heights. I believe that this “Project Management 101” account has key learning information for us today. If we could only apply some of the principles in this article to projects that we are now tackling, how successful could we be? By using many of these same principles, could we be better servant leaders, employees, and improve our overall efficiency and results? There is so much application in the work place, church ministries, nonprofits, and even projects in the home if we would take the time to unpack and discern the totality of Nehemiah’s project management approach. Let us now take a look at the series of steps that Nehemiah took that ultimately led to a finished and successful project. These steps are not in any particular order, but I believe they capture the essence of his approach.

First, I believe that any/all project management assignments must start with the passion, burden, and desire to get things done. Nehemiah had such a burden for both the people of Israel and the reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah’s Burden – “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven. And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments.” Nehemiah 1:4

Next, the depth and breadth of his spiritual insight was enormous. Not only did Nehemiah have a burden for his people and the reconstruction of the wall, but God gave him spiritual discernment and understanding. Nehemiah had a deep comprehension of the prevailing issues/problems of the day. In project management circles, problem identification and understanding is fundamental to moving forward. The issues need to be studied and analyzed from a variety of different angles. Project leaders must first understand what they are dealing with before they can offer concrete and sustainable solutions. And Nehemiah knew that the nation of Israel was apostate in their actions and thinking.    

Nehemiah’s Spiritual Insight – “We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.” Nehemiah 1:7

While the circumstances of the day tended to be man focused vs. God centered, Nehemiah still trusted in God’s promises. He believed that if the people of Israel would turn back to God, great things would happen. Nehemiah understood that God fulfills His promises.

Nehemiah’s Trust in God – “Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations. But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there. Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.”              Nehemiah 1:8-10

The stature and character of this man Nehemiah is also evident as he reached a position of prominence in the king’s court. Nehemiah was the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes. This position was not easily obtained. It was a position that commanded the ultimate respect and trust of the king. Just think of the skill sets needed to rise to this level of trust within the king’s inner circle. Pretty impressive!

Nehemiah’s Trustworthiness – “O Lord, I beseech thee, let thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer.” Nehemiah 1:11                         

This next portion of scripture is very important to a project management understanding and focus. Nehemiah had the unique skill set to build deep and long-term relationships. He had built such a close bond with the king that he recognized when Nehemiah’s countenance was cast down. He was not just another servant to the king; it is apparent that he meant something special to both the king and queen. The ability to build relationships is a vital skill in successful project management.       

Nehemiah’s Relationship Building Skills – “And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence. Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid, And said unto the king, Let the king love for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchers, lieth in waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favor in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchers, that I may build it.” Nehemiah 2:1-5

In the following portion of scripture, his planning and maneuvering from a political perspective is clearly evident. He knew that there were “players” back in Jerusalem that would not be happy with what he was about to undertake. He wanted to make sure that everyone understood that king Artaxerxes was solidly on board and supported the mission. Nehemiah was also trying to create a clear path to success by leveraging all of the political capital he had developed with the king. Whether a friend or foe back home in Jerusalem, Nehemiah wanted to make sure that everyone was in compliance to what he was attempting to accomplish. In other words, he wanted to remove any/all barriers to successful completion of the wall. When we practice successful project management in our respective organizations, aren’t we trying to remove the barriers and create the enabling processes for success?

Nehemiah’s Political Astuteness – “Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.” Nehemiah 2:7-8

Nehemiah was also blessed with exceptional planning skills. He understood what a project of this magnitude would require from a planning perspective. He knew that he could not just show up in Jerusalem and start rebuilding the walls. There had to be meticulous planning and forethought prior to the project’s commencement. He needed to get a bird’s eye view of the task at hand. Before we jump right into an assigned project at work or in the ministry, how much time should we spend deeply contemplating the task that is before us?

Nehemiah’s Planning Abilities – “So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned.” Nehemiah 2:11-15

Great leaders and project managers have the ability to persuade. They have a special talent that allows them to create a vision for the people and get them excited and passionate for a cause. Nehemiah demonstrated this ability in the next portion of scripture. What is so special about his persuasive abilities and approach is that he related it all back to God. Nehemiah believed that God must have been at the forefront of this project for it to succeed. He wanted to make sure that everyone understood that God was directing his paths in this matter. He wasn’t some power hungry nut case going this alone. He was motivated by the hand of God along with the king’s blessing! It clearly had its intended affect.

Nehemiah’s Persuasion – “Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.” Nehemiah 2:17-18

Next, we see a division of work approach that included specific project assignments being delegated to various individuals and families. Everyone had a role that they would play in the construction of the wall. This is classic project management 101 kind of stuff. You create a vision, assign people responsibility, and then hold them accountable for the results. The entire chapter of Nehemiah 3 is dedicated to the assignment of work. For the sake of space, the first few verses below have been outlined for this article.

Nehemiah’s Delegation of Assignments – “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel. And next unto him builded the men of Jericho. And next to them builded Zaccur the son of Imri. But the fish gate did the sons of Hassenaah build, who also laid the beams thereof, and set up the doors thereof, the locks thereof, and the bars thereof.” Nehemiah 3:1-32 (Entire chapter)

Have you ever been in the middle of an important project and everything goes wrong? Perhaps you had a project to complete where not everyone was on board. In the extreme, there may have been those who were trying to derail and completely sabotage your efforts. I think that this happens more times than we care to admit. If not in whole, at least in part. For example, people may not be quite buying into your concept or what you are selling, and they maliciously try to take the project in an entirely new direction. In the corporate, world power struggles and jealousy issues happen all the time. Well, Nehemiah faced this exact predicament. There were those completely opposed to the rebuilding of the wall and they did everything they could to make it fail. But the question must be asked, what will you do when adversity strikes? Will you succumb to the pressure of this world and abandon what you once thought was a God-given focus and passion? Or, will you pray and fight through the adversity knowing that it is God’s will for you to continue? Let’s visit a few portions of the Bible relating to Nehemiah overcoming adversity and how he handled it.

Nehemiah Overcoming Adversity – “But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?” Nehemiah 4:1-2

“And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.” Nehemiah 4:8

We know from the Bible that Nehemiah was a man of prayer. When adversity hit, he decided to pray. He was not a quitter. He knew that God had given him a special commission and was going to see it through to the end. Nehemiah then did what he knew best. He prayed. Time and again, we see this man go to the God of this universe in earnest and heartfelt prayer. Nehemiah knew that he needed the Lord’s guidance and intercession.

Nehemiah’s Prayer – “Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.” Nehemiah 4:4-5

“Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.” Nehemiah 4:9

There were even points in the construction where Nehemiah had to put plans in place to protect the people from physical harm and potential death. He took the necessary steps to mitigate the physical risk. There are a couple of points that I would like for us to consider relating to risk in a project management environment. First, while people on our project teams may not be in physical danger, we still need to protect our employees. People who work for us on a project must know that it is okay to try new things, take risks, and even fail. They must know that their boss has their back and will stand up for them, provided they are doing all the right things. Secondly, as project leaders we are always scanning the environment to consider potential risk. Having a good risk management policy and considering overall risk must be an ongoing part of any and all project management initiatives.

Nehemiah’s Risk Mitigation – “Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows.” Nehemiah 4:13

Through the tough times of any project, the great leaders and managers always come through with words of motivation and encouragement. The great ones seem to know exactly what we need and when we need it. They have this intuitive understanding and sense of when to encourage, confront, and motivate. Think about the last time someone gave you some kind words of encouragement as you were working through a very difficult assignment. How did it make you feel? My guess is that it motivated you to want to do even more.

Nehemiah’s Motivation and Encouragement – “And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be ye not afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for you brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”    Nehemiah 4:14

I believe that Nehemiah was a true leader. He exhibited the qualities that inspire and motivate others to accomplish things that they thought were impossible. He had a special gift to be able to coordinate a diverse group of personalities around a common goal, mission, or project. Nehemiah’s project management skills united the laborers to be of a mind to work.

Nehemiah’s Leadership – “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.” Nehemiah 4:6

Like every good project leader, Nehemiah had an unparalleled determination to see the completion of the wall. Simply put, he was relentless in his pursuit, determination, and focus. With physical danger and harm on all sides, his project team showed a toughness and determination to see it through. It was a labor of love, and nothing was going to get in their way.

Nehemiah’s Determination – “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.” Nehemiah 4:17

“So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing.” Nehemiah 4:23

Throughout chapter 5 in the book of Nehemiah, we also see clear examples of his integrity on display. Integrity is another character trait that must be part of one’s personal makeup, if one is ever going to be an effective project team leader. People must be able to trust the person that is leading them. Without integrity, there is no trust. In the example below, Nehemiah was confronting his brethren about the tactic of charging “usury” to the poor and less fortunate. This business practice was forbidden under the Old Testament law. There were several other difficult situations like this that cropped up during the building of the wall that Nehemiah had to deal with. There was also a famine going on at this time. Many of the laborers had no food and they were forced to mortgage their land. Nehemiah confronted their misdeeds, and encouraged them to do the right thing by his Godly example.

Nehemiah’s Integrity – “And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. Then I consulted with my self, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer.” Nehemiah 5:6-8   

Sometimes as project leaders we are put in situations where we have to practice the art of “tough love.” While this approach should be the choice of last resort, it must be shrouded in a spirit of love. Confrontation and giving direction is a fact of life. Bottom line, if you shy away from these types of situations, you will not be an effective project manager. In other words, in some specific instances you need to tell it like it is and expect compliance.

Nehemiah’s Tough Love – “Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them.” Nehemiah 5:9-11 

For Nehemiah, it was much more than practicing “tough love” and telling others how to live up to Old Testament responsibilities. He walked the talk. Nehemiah tried encouraging the Jewish laborers to follow his example and to do the right thing. He wanted them to know how he had conducted himself relating to financial matters. He ultimately wanted them to know that his reliance was on God and not man.

Nehemiah’s Unselfishness – “Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor. But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God.” Nehemiah 5:14-15

We can further see evidences of the character of Nehemiah through his generosity and compassion for others. He had a heart that was willing to give when he saw a need. As a project management leader, how much are you willing to give for your team to be successful? Maybe your giving is not in monetary terms, but with your time, encouragement, and front line involvement. Maybe your giving as a project management leader is about being available for consultation, team building, and direction. It could be that you need to come down from that ivory tower of yours and be among the people. Just getting to know them is probably one of the biggest and most generous gifts of all.  

Nehemiah’s Generosity and Compassion – “Moreover there were at my table a hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the hearthen that are about us. Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine: yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people. Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.”               Nehemiah 5:17-19

Project leaders must be able to demonstrate wisdom and discernment during the duration of a project. They must be able to understand the meaning of what is being said along with the underlying motivation of key individuals. I guess you can say that you must become proficient at reading between the lines. People and circumstances will not always be what they seem to be. There are times when the people you are working with have ulterior motives. A good project leader always has their antenna up. This is not to say that you go into every situation with a pessimistic or a negative situational analysis, you just need to be in a state of awareness.

Nehemiah’s Discernment – “That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief. And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilest I leave it, and come down to you?” Nehemiah 6:2-3

As Christians, we must be aware of and expect persecution. It is a shame that in the United States of America where toleration is preached and is the rallying cry for most in our country, that we need to be on-guard for those who would do us harm because of our religious beliefs. It may be very subtle and within the confines of the law, but chances are that your Christian leadership worldview identity will bother some people and you will come under attack. Christ makes it very clear in His word, that if you are a Christian, you will be persecuted. So again, I encourage you not to take a defeatist position and think that everyone is out to get you, just be on guard and in a state of awareness. In the first couple of verses below, Nehemiah is being accused of building the wall so that eventually the Jews will be able to rebel against the king. Later on we see where there is an attempt on his life.

Nehemiah Being Persecuted – “Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand; Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words.” Nehemiah 6:5-6

“Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple, for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee. And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.” Nehemiah 6:10-12

After all the trials and tribulation of leading his project team, Nehemiah finally began to see the light and draw his project initiative to a conclusion. He stuck in there and made sure that the project was finished. It took Nehemiah’s project team “52 days” to complete the work. What an example of teamwork! It goes to show what can be accomplished when one is able to harness the power of collective thought, hard work, dedication, and vision.

Nehemiah Finishes the Task – “So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.” Nehemiah 6:15

Let us take a moment and recap some of the important principles of project management that we can take from Nehemiah’s account. These principles are as relevant today as they were back in Old Testament times. I believe that these principles are the backbone and foundation to any successful project. Christians would do well to adhere to Nehemiah’s “Project Management 101” biblical discourse on the subject.   

Nehemiah’s Burden

Nehemiah’s Spiritual Insight

Nehemiah’s Trust in God

Nehemiah’s Trustworthiness

Nehemiah’s Relationship Building Skills

Nehemiah’s Political Astuteness

Nehemiah’s Planning Abilities

Nehemiah’s Persuasion

Nehemiah’s Delegation of Assignments

Nehemiah Overcoming Adversity

Nehemiah’s Prayer

Nehemiah’s Risk Mitigation

Nehemiah’s Motivation and Encouragement

Nehemiah’s Leadership

Nehemiah’s Determination

Nehemiah’s Integrity

Nehemiah’s Tough Love

Nehemiah’s Unselfishness

Nehemiah’s Generosity and Compassion

Nehemiah’s Discernment

Nehemiah Being Persecuted

Nehemiah Finishes the Task

 

Dear friend, I hope you have enjoyed the story of this Godly man, Nehemiah, who brought a project team together and led them to victory in spite of what seemed to be insurmountable conditions. His faith, character, and wisdom allowed him to accomplish the impossible. We too can accomplish the impossible through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What will your next project design look like?


Comments

Enekeme N.A 14th February, 2019 @ 1.43pm February 14, 2019 @ 7:45AM
We need such a leader like Nehemiah in our present day leadership to build our collapsed political situation especially in Nigeria.

Suvigya singh September 6, 2017 @ 1:11AM
Plz share me about your mission and vision.
Thankyou very much
Blessings to all

Suvigya singh July 29, 2017 @ 11:37AM
He was a man of mission.

Suvigya singh July 29, 2017 @ 11:36AM
He was a man of mission.

David White July 20, 2015 @ 9:42AM
Nice write up...a very improved way of viewing Nehemiah...just taking one diamond from this is a good amount to swallow for today...thanks.

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