There used to be a select group of people who were called “project managers.” They had the training, the expertise, and the know-how to accomplish organizational goals. As the landscape changes, people are finding themselves unexpectedly in the position of project manager more than ever before.
There are few workplaces more susceptible to this shift than non-profits and associations because their employees typically wear all sorts of hats. Employees have to put on the project management hat just to get stuff done.
If that makes you nervous, don’t fear. You’ve been project managing your entire adult life. If you’re a parent, a teacher, an athlete, a writer, or a student, you naturally understand the principles necessary for project management. If you don’t believe us, here are 10 guiding principles for succeeding at both project management and parenthood. You’ll quickly see that it’s as simple as transferring your life-skills into the workplace.
Define what you are trying to achieve
This may sound obvious, but it’s the starting point for every good project. If you think about the parenting metaphor, the question you might ask yourself is, “What do I want my child to know before he turns six?” In the workplace, the question might be, “How many new customers do we want to acquire before the end of the quarter?” Whatever the environment you’re in, it’s important to begin with the end in mind – with a specific performance goal, time, and date – and then work backwards from there.
Build your team
Think about the people who could help you accomplish your goal. In the workplace, are they from other departments? Are they on a different team? At home, who are you going to put around you for support? Will their skills complement yours and fit the role you’re going to give them? In other words, will your partner let the dishes soak or put them in the dishwasher every night? After you decide who you want, ask them about their availability to help with your project. Then, as you make your ask, communicate the “why” behind your project and why it will add value to their lives.
Set clear expectations
Decide how your team is going to communicate with each other. Like a Sunday night family meeting, figure out when and where your team is going to check in with one another.
- Meeting schedule and expectations. How often will your team touch base? Tv’s off, cell phones and tablets down?
- Communication platform. What tool will your team use to share ideas?
- Define the flow of communication. Determine what information each person needs to accomplish their job.
- Create chore charts (job titles and descriptions) for each team member.
Make a plan
If you’re an idea person, this might be the most challenging part of project management. You will need to go from idea-mode to planning-mode, from “we should go to Disney World” to “this is how we get there.” Decide what needs to happen this week, what needs to happen a month from now, and what needs to happen the week before you leave.
Ask if the timeline is realistic
In project management, you live in a tension between collaboration and top-down leadership. You are constantly balancing the need to get stuff done with allowing your team members to learn and discover on their own. After setting a goal, casting vision, and making a plan, it’s important for you to pull your team together to ask them if your expected timeline is reasonable. Is it realistic for me to expect you to put your dishes in the dishwasher at night before the end of the year? Is it realistic for me to think that we’ll have the money to take our family to Disney this summer? Is it realistic for me to tell our shareholders that our team will produce a new product in three months?
Look through your list of tasks, and through everyone’s task-list. Decide together what is urgent and what can wait. Is it more important to save money for your daughter’s education or an in-ground pool? Is an email marketing strategy more important than developing a top-level service for your people?
Plan for changes
If the parenting metaphor breaks down anywhere, it’s definitely not here. Ask any human being, especially a parent, about life and they’ll tell you that it’s always changing. Kids get sick, friends and family move away, and plans change. Project management involves an awareness of potential risks. Are there internal or external factors that could disrupt the process? What will you do if and when there are set-backs?
Execute and adjust
Some of the best project managers, and parents for that matter, are fast, fluid, and flexible. Parenthood is a lesson in building the plane while you’re flying and, in a lot of ways, so is project management. No matter how much you plan and communicate with your team, you eventually have to start moving. You have to get in the car and start driving to Disney World. As you encounter roadblocks, or learn new things about the market, your flexibility and fluidity will give you the ability to adjust course and keep moving.
Celebrate and have fun along the way
You’ve probably heard someone say, “Don’t always look for the next phase of life because, if you do, you’ll miss the moment right in front of you.” As cheesy as it might be to hear, it is true for parenting, project management, and any area of your life. Don’t get so caught up in the goal, or reaching the next milestone, that you miss the opportunity to celebrate how far you’ve come or how cool it is for you to be doing what you’re doing.
This is the family meeting to debrief the trip to Disney. Would you drive the same route or would you just fly? Should you stay in a different hotel? Why did Sally get sick? What was it that caused so much frustration on day 3?
Here are four good reflective questions you can ask after the project is finished:
- What did we set out to accomplish? Go back to your goals.
- Were there points along the way where we hit or missed our mark? Be honest and get as close to consensus as possible.
- Why did we end up where we did? Go deeper than anecdotal evidence. Look at as much data as possible.
- How should we change because of the project? Nobody’s perfect. Not in parenthood and not in the workplace. Think about how you and your circle can improve for the next time.