Project Lessons From Parenthood

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By the time you read this, it will have been more than a month since my initiation into the fatherhood club with the most adorable baby boy in the whole wide world.

Through all the diaper changes, sleepless nights and incessant worrying about the baby's health, I began to reflect from a whole new perspective on some project management truisms:. 

Like a baby, projects begin to stink when the schedule fails to be updated or changed on a timely basis.

A year ago, my organization received a letter from a customer saying its independent auditor raised the red flag that a large, complex program we were running had overrun its budget by 20 percent. The customer was demanding to know why we hadn't notified them as required by contract.

The situation was embarrassing; the root cause turned out to be that the program schedule data (including cost information) was grossly inaccurate because it had not been updated.

When a customer cries, project managers, like parents, sense the urgency and react instinctively but often fail to take a moment and decipher the root cause.
Many times I have had the "pleasure" of putting on my firefighter hat to react rapidly to a customer request.

In one instance a customer was upset that based on our latest schedule submission, they would have to report a slip to their management. When our team started the variance analysis as demanded by the customer, someone noticed that the status file submitted to the customer contained last month's data but was mislabeled with this month's date. Problem solved.

Project managers, like parents, are constantly being bombarded with best practices and new or revised processes and methodologies that if utilized would ensure their projects never get sick.

I am quite guilty on this last item since I'm always anxious to apply the latest and greatest.

Then again, maybe if we apply lean Six Sigma with theory of constraint in conjunction with critical chain management coupled with extreme agile iterative spiral methodologies with capability maturity model integration and PRINCE2 and information technology infrastructure library and AS9100 and ISO9000 wrapped around the whole thing, our projects would never succumb to failure again...

Love to hear your thoughts and best wishes to you all!
Posted by Neal Shen on: January 20, 2010 11:20 AM | Permalink


Dina Garfinkel
Great points! I love the diaper-schedule analogy, just perfect.

As a parent now for a little over 5 years, I've also found many parallels between parenting and project management. I write about this on my own blog:

Of course I don't update it as much as I would like these days, you know how busy things get with kids :)

Congrats on becoming a father!
I think the key points here are knowing how to write a project plan to begin with. After all I know project manager's who write up 4,000 line plans and then either spend all their time updating it or give up with the consequent results.

The other point is that one needs to be clear and consistent in the weekly project management report. This is vital so that the key project management stakeholders are aware of where the project is at. For most of them it will be their only insight into progress as many stakeholders never bother to access the plan.

If you are clear on these two elements then your project will run far more smoothly.


Susan de Sousa
Site Editor

Ruchi Motial-Suri
Congratulations Neal, and welcome to the world of parenthood.

As a mum of an 8 year old and a 3 year old, I find my management skills have matured by the experience of parenthood. In addition to sharpening the planning and time management skills, you'll find people management skills will improve tremendously. Listen to your child and observe and you'll be amazed at how much you'll learn that you can apply back to your project management world.

All the best and enjoy ... till you reach my stage ... I am now sharpening my negotiating skills ;-)

Yaravi Cardoze
It's good to know I´m not alone. Great parallels, I agree completely, as a mother of a 4 year old and a PMO manager for an IT service provider.

B. M. Shahrier Majumder
I think the issues could be mitigated by using a web based Project Management tool where all project stakeholders should get access to see the Project Plan & WBS, Issue & Risk register, Status Reports etc. Then all stakeholders will act proactively, because s/he knows everybody is watching him/her.

Janice Talley
Wow...I say this all the time! And then my teenage daughter reminds me that she is NOT a project. I tell her that she's an Agile Project. She will be turning 16 this week and it's now time for me to revisit the scope statement as clearly our milestones will need to be updated such as choosing a college (with a budget) and finding auto insurance (again, with a budget). And the risk register will need to be updated to account for the external influences and competition changes. My children have a task list (our family work breakdown structure) on the fridge for everyday tracking. And since I'm their project manager, their level of work effort is part of their annual review (Christmas!). Our communications plan is very clear and concise: when I call their cell phones they had better answer! We also have status meetings every night at the dinner table. And to add a little fun to our project, we have family game night (kinda like a project team happy hour). Our resource management plan is updated yearly with a new set of goals to be learned by my children based on their age. As my daughter turns 16, her new goals will be more oriented towards going off to college. So in addition to her education tasks, she will also be assigned a meal task: prepare a shopping list, and cook one night a week for the family. I'm not sure whether Parenting taught me everything I needed to know about Project Management or just helped me to see how much of a natural I am at this. But either way, I Love It - Parenting and Project Management. Enjoy!

Sue Martin, PMP
I raised 3 beautiful young women. Well, I am almost finished, although, there may be no end. They are 26, 23 and 20.

I always thought it was impossible to have more than 2 opposites. You know, like black and white, on time and late, over budget and under budget ... but now, after raising the 3 children, I believe you can have 3 opposites. You may THINK your project is the same as the last one, but like Roseanne Rosanadanna said "it's always something." By the time you finish the second or third project, it may be totally different from the other project(s).

With my children, I admit, the first one was a little challenging. Did you know they don't come with manuals and they don't talk and tell you what they want? The second one was coming and I figured, no sweat, I've got this down pat after that first one.

The second one showed up and much to my surprise, she did not like to go to sleep at 9:00 pm. You could set a clock by the first one. We were still up at 11:00 pm walking the floor. Instead of being a friendly little kid that liked other people, she wanted to stay close and cling to Mommy. The first one WANTED to go to pre-school. She couldn't wait. The second ... no ... staying at home with mommy was just ok with her. The other little kids made her nervous. The first one wanted "sister babies" and the second one hated the idea. No more siblings. Things were just ok the way they were without any more "sister babies." Well, the third one was coming and since I already had the 2 opposites, I had it made. She would at least be like one of the first two.

Wrong! Not a bit ... She was the third opposite .... I won't go on with this. I will spare you the details.

All the time that I was having children, I would also manage projects at work. I would think I had a project that was just like another. Just another project to build a tool for the users to load data to a database...piece of cake. I've done dozens of those. I don't need to spend all those hours on a WBS and time estimates and budgets. I would just use what I used on the last one. After all, they are all the same.

Well, I found out the users needed a little more training than those on the last project. I hadn't counted on that, but no sweat, we'll make up the time on something else. The input data was coming from a source that wasn't quite as accurate as that other project. Oh oh... the data editing and fixes took a little longer than expected, but no sweat, we'll make it up later. Now I don't have access to the database that's to be loaded... What next? Heavy sigh ... Wonder how long that will take? Whew! That didn't take very long but the customer forgot to tell me that other users would be using the database while we were loading data. That's always a problem and it is getting too technical now so I will quit. Before I was finished with the project, I had something totally different than what I thought I had. The project came in late and over-budget. How could that be when it was so much like all the others?

I think you know where I'm going with this. Please take my advice. Even though they may appear to be the same projects, don't skimp on your planning. Don't just adopt the other project's budget and work breakdown structure. Don't use their time estimates and statement of work. Do your own. Find those differences. Like the kids, the differences are there and you will find them if you look hard enough. Plan, plan, plan, and never assume you have 2 projects exactly alike.

You may even find the 3 opposites!

On a lighter note...

One side effect of being a PM and a parent is that the child may become a natural at creating sub tasks and schedules!! So much of project management goes subconsciously into daily planning and executing at home.

An example: one day, my 3 year old asked me for the ball on the shelf. Being tired, I said, I cannot get it. He gave me the steps - "Get up from the sofa, walk 4 steps, climb the chair, pick up the ball, turn toward me and throw it to me. It's so easy, can do it."

This is a good example of a team aligning itself with you and learning from you.

Very happy parenting to you!!

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