Kwan Dai Oh, the Ancient Art of Project Management

One thing about Project to Portfolio management, it is about continuing to deliver results and value regardless of circumstances.

As a 25+ year PPM veteran, I believe we should always be continuing to improve ourselves (Kaizen) or the foundation of Lean. What I find today is that the pearls of wisdom don’t just come from the ocean floor, but they come in the most unlikely places, you just need to be looking for them.

In all these years, I had never heard of this project management discipline called Kwan Dai Oh, so I was in for a rude awakening when it thrust itself on me. As a former US Navy Seabee, wrestler, and athlete (former… very former athlete), I did a lot of traveling over the years. Additionally, being a fan of mixed martial arts, I pride myself on learning anything that can help me improve my game. Imagine my surprise hearing of this ancient, and almost unheard-of, martial art.

If you are looking to learn how to improve your success in delivering project results, then read on, and open your mind. Embrace this supercharged discipline to boost your project to portfolio and leadership abilities, regardless of what life, nature, or pandemic comes your way.

Embracing the Conditions for Kwan Dai Oh

You see, I didn’t learn this ancient art form in my travels or studies, rather I learned and embraced it during the current COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, during my “shelter-in-place” time with my kindergartener, Rachel.

Foundationally, there are three principles one must understand:

First, the world we have has changed. COVID-19, the current pandemic, has rocked the 21st century with a bang and will leave its fingerprints all over the globe. It has changed forever the way we must approach things.

Second, the world is always changing, and we need to prepare to adapt to it. By constantly looking to be on our “A” game, we ensure we’re creative, innovative, and yet agile, to deliver results and solutions.

Third, human beings have innate needs, behaviors, and patterns that are both predictable and reliable. For example, due to this global health crisis, people are cooped up, frustrated, afraid, and consequently, many of those we work with are distant and leery of being in enclosed spaces. All this impacts individuals and hinders peoples’ abilities to get things accomplished.

By acknowledging these impacts, not burying them, you take the first step to connect at a real level in order to bridge the gaps that physical or social distancing is causing.

In light of these three points, creative problem solving and embracing the humanness of things is essential. Project management isn’t about building and executing an MS Project schedule, it’s about equipping a team of people to come together and deliver a solution or results. As they say, there’s no “I” in TEAM. We work together.

Because of this pandemic, we have new barriers, stresses, and hurdles to cross in connecting and working with people.

This is where Kwan Dai Oh not only pays huge dividends now but also downstream in other situations where you need to work together as a group to deliver project results. In a nutshell, you need strong relationships to get through hard situations.

Learning the Secret Project Art of Kwan Dai Oh

Admittedly, Advisicon is in a fortunate sector. As both a technology company and a project & portfolio, consulting & training company, when the order came down from our governor to “Shelter-in-place,” we were ready, and the office went completely digital in a single day.

What we found? Technology helped immensely to produce metrics and visibility, but it didn’t do anything for the invisible, strong bond-building that comes from working together as a group.

At this point in my physical distancing phase, I had to open my eyes to the silver lining of what was going on. I didn’t have to look far since my daughter, who was used to going to school, suddenly was at home and needed instruction. It was hard for me to be locked away, working, while this bubbly, vivacious six-year-old was bouncing around.

Interestingly, if you know Rachel, one of the things she loves to do is to fight… yes, I said fight. She isn’t a bully and has the most sensitive heart (yesterday she was putting leaves over the ants so they wouldn’t be burned by the sun), yet she loves to wrestle and fight with me.

Imagine working a long, hard day, coming home…and what is waiting to greet you? A bundle of energy who thinks she is a ninja assassin, trained for years in the art of attacking her father as soon as he steps in the door!

Now, from my house, I am in meetings, building dashboards, and coaching customers, yet as soon as I step foot out of my office to get a drink of water, the little stealth assassin has a kick to my shins and a karate chop to my stomach. I literally must put my guard up as soon as I step out —almost like the Peter Sellers character Inspector Clouseau (of the Pink Panther) being attacked by his companion, Kato.

My daughter’s fighting is more a mix of spinning, dancing, kicking, and punching, sort of a cross between Stuart from Mad TV (“Look what I can do!”) and a ballet dancer.  It’s rather comical, and I know 20 years from now I’ll miss the words, “Daddy let’s fight!” However, today I have to be on my guard.

Somewhere my daughter heard the word Taekwondo (a Korean martial art), and her little mind translated it into: “Kwan Dai Oh.” Now, she shouts this as she pounces on me yelling, “Kwan Dai Oh, hi-yah!” I’m figuring at some point she will figure out the correct wording here, but for now, I just love it.

What I love about it isn’t the full-force gut punches or the knee kicks, it’s that she’s found a way to bridge our two worlds and bond together.

This bonding is something that human beings need. It’s not just about getting estimates and holding people accountable, but truly connecting with them, understanding where they are coming from and caring about them, their lives.

Over my years setting up PMOs, I have had Presidents and CEOs come to me and ask how I got their organization to cooperate and embrace change when I didn’t have any physical power over the resources. Part of that answer is that I meet people where they were at, find out their pitfalls, issues, and fears, and work to help them succeed. Basically, I apply my own Kwan Dai Oh to each person or group and helped galvanize people toward a common goal. In many cases, people went above and beyond what was asked because of the connection we had and the shared vision we were working on together.

Applying Kwan Dai Oh to your World

So what does this mean for you the Project Manager, Executive, or Team Leader? It doesn’t mean going around and punching those falling behind (verbally or physically ?); it means while you feel you are in control of things, you truly have very little that you can control.

What you can control is the effort you put in to connect with people, build a bridge with them, find their Kwan Dai Oh, and engage with them. It may be a bit awkward, but people are watching to see what kind of person you are and how you handle situations.

In this time of COVID-19 pandemic, or any crisis, use this time to connect with those around you. Belay their fears, or work together by embracing what you can’t control. By supporting each other in creativity, we find new ways and agile approaches to meet the need to deliver results.


  • Relationships are how things get done. They can outweigh tools, technology, and infinite planning.
  • Project management isn’t only about building the best project schedule, it’s about execution with people. In most cases, helping them to push themselves to be their very best. This takes a relationship and strong interaction.

In this COVID-19 world, we need to reinforce relationships (remember, physical distancing is not social distancing), and find ways to creatively connect while delivering results.

So enjoy your family and friends, even from afar, and find new ways to connect with them. For me, it’s engaging my daughter at her level, learning the ancient project management martial art, Kwan Dai Oh.