Harnessing the Power of the Muses: How Ancient Inspiration Fuels Modern Project Management

A book lying open on a desk in a library


First, I am not writing this to be highbrow; besides technical and project management topics, I have enjoyed history and mythology for years. I recently watched an old Greek mythology movie from the early 80’s, and I had a revelation: the muses and project management.

The world is dynamic, and it has probably always been so. Project management is there to facilitate the accomplishment of the organization’s goals. This is true whether our organization uses a stage-gate approach, an agile approach, or some hybrid of the two. Deadlines loom large. Challenges abound. We must be creative in our responses and often enact those responses promptly. 

Professionals often seek inspiration from unexpected sources. One such source that has stood the test of time is the concept of the Muses from ancient Greek mythology. These divine beings were believed to inspire creativity and guide individuals in various artistic and intellectual endeavors. Surprisingly, the principles embodied by the Muses can offer valuable insights into effective project management practices in the modern world.

The Muses:

In Greek mythology, the Muses were nine goddesses, each presiding over a different domain of the arts and sciences. From Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry, to Urania, the Muse of astronomy, each Muse represented a unique facet of human creativity and knowledge. Their influence was believed to be essential for the creation of great works and the advancement of civilization.

The Parallels with Project Management:

While project management may seem worlds apart from the realms of ancient mythology, there are striking parallels between the roles of the Muses and the demands of managing complex projects. Consider Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry, whose guidance could be likened to the need for a clear and compelling project vision. Similarly, Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, reminds project managers of the importance of fostering a positive team culture and maintaining morale, even in challenging times.

Drawing Inspiration from the Muses:

Project managers can draw inspiration from the Muses by incorporating their guiding principles into their management approach. Below, we introduce the muses and how they can serve the project manager.

Define Your Project Vision (Calliope):

In Greek mythology, Calliope is one of the nine Muses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Calliope is often depicted as the muse of epic poetry and eloquence. She is revered for her ability to inspire creativity, particularly in storytelling, music, and rhetoric. Calliope’s name is derived from the Greek word “kalliope,” which means “beautiful-voiced” or “she of the beautiful voice.”

Just as Calliope inspired poets to envision grand narratives, project managers can benefit by articulating a clear and inspiring vision for their projects. A compelling vision is a guiding light, motivating team members and aligning efforts towards a common goal. From experience, a compelling vision can keep team members motivated when times are tough in the project. Times are frequently tough and include understaffing and hard-pressing deadlines. 

In project integration management, this compelling vision harmonizes various elements to create a cohesive and compelling narrative or project outcome. Integration management involves coordinating all project components to ensure alignment with project objectives and stakeholder expectations.

Embrace Creativity and Innovation (Polyhymnia):

Polyhymnia, the Muse of Sacred Poetry and Dance reminds us of the importance of creativity in problem-solving. Encourage team members to think creatively, explore new ideas, and embrace innovation as a driving force behind project success. 

Polyhymnia’s presence invites us to pause, reflect, and contemplate the intricate interplay of factors shaping our projects. Just as poets craft verses imbued with depth and meaning, project managers must cultivate a mindset of reflection, drawing insights from past experiences, current challenges, and future aspirations. By taking the time to step back, assess the big picture, and contemplate the implications of their decisions, project leaders can make more informed choices and chart a course towards success.

From experience, projects are bound by constraints, and we seldom have all we need from talent to time.  We must be creative to address these known and emerging issues promptly. Innovation can allow us to achieve our objectives despite these obstacles. We do not wave our hands and say, “Yeah, verily, I say innovative.” That is not how it works. We must create a project environment that makes this possible. The project manager and the organization’s leadership must create the environment.

Foster Collaboration (Euterpe):

Euterpe, the Muse of music, symbolizes harmony and collaboration. Effective project management relies on strong communication and collaboration among team members. Create an environment where ideas flow freely and diverse perspectives are valued. This is genuinely what diversity means.

Our best possible answer is to have everybody on the team engaged. Also, from experience, the interactions between team members produce the best response to the circumstances. Euterpe embodies the spirit of collaboration and synergy, urging us to harmonize diverse talents and perspectives. Like the intricate interplay of musical notes in a symphony, effective project management requires the seamless integration of diverse skills, expertise, and backgrounds. Every patent I have been a part of has sometimes had an impromptu and often ad hoc collaboration with team members trying to find a way around a problem.

Euterpe encourages us to embrace experimentation and risk-taking in pursuit of innovation. Just as musicians explore new melodies and harmonies, project teams must be willing to venture into uncharted territory, challenge conventional wisdom, and embrace uncertainty. By fostering a culture that values creativity, resilience, and adaptability, project leaders can empower their teams to push boundaries, embrace change, and drive continuous improvement.

Collaboration between project sponsors and stakeholders to develop the scope and best strategy is required for success, including estimations of time and costs. The more complex and constrained the project, the more critical the need for collaboration. Project management is a collaborative sport. 

Adapt to Change (Clio):

Clio, the Muse of History, teaches us the value of learning from the past and adapting to change. The project manager and team spending time with the organization’s historical data is helpful for the project endeavor if it exists. History and learning can help us with our project planning and execution. That is not to suggest that history repeats; many variables influence an outcome, some of which may not be known. Still, some things can repeat; exercising poor judgment and making poor decisions can produce failure repeatedly.

Clio embodies the spirit of inquiry and curiosity, urging us to delve deeper into the stories behind the numbers and timelines. In pursuing historical truth, historians uncover hidden narratives, challenge conventional wisdom, and unearth untold perspectives. Similarly, project managers can adopt a mindset of inquiry, asking probing questions, seeking diverse viewpoints, and uncovering underlying root causes. By embracing a culture of continuous learning and exploration, project teams can uncover valuable insights, identify emerging trends, and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
Rita Mae Brown

There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.
Laurence J. Peter

We should be careful to get out of an experience all the wisdom that is in it — not like the cat that sits on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot lid again — and that is well, but also, she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.
Mark Twain

We may think we can plan our way to success, but that is not true, at least from experience. I have never planned a project that did not require adapting to emerging events or responding to new learning as a function of doing the work. Projects and project managers must be agile and responsive to evolving circumstances in today’s dynamic business environment. Embrace change as an opportunity for growth and adaptation. Unpleasant as it may seem, some of that adapting to change may be to the project scope.

Plans Are Worthless, But Planning Is Everything
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Coordinating the Band (Erato)

Erato, the Muse of lyric poetry and love, in the world of project management where deadlines loom and complexities abound, finding inspiration can be as elusive as it is essential.

Erato, in Greek mythology, is often depicted with a lyre in hand, inspiring creativity and passion in poets and musicians alike. Her presence, while traditionally associated with artistic expression, can offer profound guidance in the structured world of project management.

Erato reminds us of the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership. Like the delicate balance of melody and emotion in poetry, effective project management requires a nuanced understanding of human dynamics. By cultivating empathy, fostering open communication, and nurturing a supportive team culture, project leaders can harmonize diverse personalities and talents towards a common goal.

Failures and Disasters (Melpomene):

Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy inspires risk management and preparedness for unexpected project challenges. Okay, so most often, project failures may not be a tragedy, but not always. We like to plan, thinking about the failures before the project begins. 

Ishikawa diagram, structured to the PMI knowledge management, areas, and the premortem technique of thinking about potential project failures.
Ishikawa diagram, structured to the PMI knowledge management, areas, and the premortem technique of thinking about potential project failures.

We have an exercise (from one of the classes we developed) that uses the Ishikawa diagram, structured to the PMI knowledge management, areas, and the premortem technique of thinking about potential project failures. If you are interested in exploring this exercise, let us know. Perhaps we can do an MPUG event that walks through this.

Sidle our way avoiding obstacles (Terpsichore):

Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance and Chorus; inspires rhythm and coordination in project scheduling and execution. This applies to all, but especially to an organization or project structure based on a functional organization.  Agile teams deftly or clumsily dance to avoid potential pitfalls and emerging issues. The project will have a pace, sometimes a swift cadence, and sometimes a variety of paces, sometimes fast and sometimes slower.

Sidle – walk in a furtive, unobtrusive, or timid manner, especially sideways or obliquely.

Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, inspires a positive, light-hearted approach to project challenges and setbacks. I am aware of this muse and have written about the role of fun in the project work in a chapter in Peter Taylor’s book The Project Manager Who Smiled. In that chapter, I wrote about a very stressful project and how humor, even if at times it might be dark humor, relieves stress and encourages laughter, team camaraderie, and motivation. A light atmosphere facilitates communication. In that project, we had a theme song, It’s The End of the World by REM.

A defeated team is not likely a very motivated team. The project manager must balance seeing and saying things as they are without eroding motivation. The project manager loses credibility when they sugarcoat, refer to difficulties as opportunities, or otherwise couch our words. We recommend the book Double Speak by William Lutz.

Thinking ahead and Planning (Urania):

Urania, the Muse of Astronomy; inspires visionary thinking and forward-looking planning for all project management areas. For example, how are we to define and handle the scope of the effort? What will be required for this specific project? Do we have organizational processes that we must, should, or can use? For all the project knowledge areas as defined in The Project Management Institute’s PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) 7th Edition, we should consider the specific plans this project would require:


Drawing inspiration from the Muses offers a timeless framework for success in project management. By embracing principles such as vision, creativity, collaboration, and adaptability, project managers can navigate the complexities of modern projects with confidence and inspiration from the ancient world. Just as the Muses guided the great thinkers and artists of antiquity, their timeless wisdom inspires excellence in project management today. If one approach does not accomplish your goals, then it is time to consider how creativity and innovation can help us bring collaboration and lateral thinking to address the problem.

What Do You Think?

Did this article give you something intriguing and inspiring to think about? Do you agree that ancient wisdom can inform effective project management in the modern world? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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Transformation Corner is authored by members of Value Transformation, a team comprising seasoned project managers with extensive backgrounds in various industries including government, construction, automotive product development, manufacturing, and IT. With decades of collective experience, our team members bring a wealth of expertise to this column. Authors: Steve Lauck Shawn P. Quigley Jon M. Quigley Rick Edwards Ashley Taylor Womble Jon M. Quigley, holding PMP and CTFL certifications, boasts nearly 30 years of product development experience. Specializing in process optimization, quality enhancement, and cost reduction, Jon's expertise spans embedded hardware and software, verification, and project management. He is a recipient of the Volvo-3P Technical Award (2005) and the 2006 Volvo Technology Award. Jon has secured seven US patents and numerous international patents, and co-authored over 10 books on project management and product development topics such as agile methodologies, testing, and configuration management. He has contributed to various publications, including works like the Encyclopedia of Software Engineering. For more information, refer to his LinkedIn profile.
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