Why Project Management Makes Me a Better Parent

I’m happy to say that the latest (and last?) addition to our family is here. Eleven days after her due date, darling daughter #2 made her arrival into this world. Clearly she is not going to be a project manager with that kind of inability to meet a deadline!

Adding another child doesn’t just mean that we have one more member of our family but that we now have to employ totally different management techniques to accomplish the same tasks we did before. I now rely more heavily on my project management skills in my personal life than I’ve ever done before. Five key project management skills in particular carry over and make my life easier as a parent:

  1. Risk Management
    Good risk management means identifying potential pitfalls that lurk around to derail your project. In my personal life I now proactively analyze the risks of almost every activity before undertaking it. Being caught out of the house without the diaper bag on more than one occasion in the past two months makes me a bit more aware of how great the risks can be. I now have the car stocked as a contingency plan just in case.
  2. Chaos Management
    A good project manager in today’s world realizes that change is inevitable. There’s no project plan that’s baselined and untouched, no scope that remains unscathed, and no project team that doesn’t change and morph over time. Being adaptable in any given situation makes your project team more secure in your authority and ability — just like being adaptable as a parent makes your children have more confidence in you as well. Sometimes giving up control and leveraging the unplanned in a positive manner can lead to better success in a project, or as a parent. An unexpected rainstorm the other night wrecked plans for an outdoor picnic but allowed my daughter to take her bath in the rain instead.
  3. Team Motivation
    Keeping your team motivated and on task is one of the biggest challenges we face as project managers. Rarely do we have direct authority over our teams; instead we must get work accomplished by influencing, persuading, and inspiring others. These team members are often not as committed to the project as we are and present challenges. The same skills that I use to convince reticent team members to stay focused on a given task I find myself using tenfold with my four year old daughter. Granted, I don’t reward my project team members with temporary tattoos and stickers — but I do set clear expectations and when tasks are completed take the time to give positive feedback, praise, and let people know that I appreciate their cooperation.
  4. Defining the Scope and Getting Stakeholder Buy-In
    Scope creep often occurs when requirements are not fully defined, documented, and signed off on. With my new family I find that my husband and I have to do a better job of communicating to make sure we are on the same page and have the same plans. Perhaps it’s the exhausted new parent syndrome, but if we don’t put playdates, family get-togethers, and plans on our calendar, we head in two different directions. Even figuring out who picks up which daughter must be documented and agreed upon.
  5. Lessons Learned
    As a project manager I haven’t done a great job documenting the lessons I learned. All too often I’m assigned a new project before the current project is even finished. The time I would spend archiving project documents and conducting surveys and analysis on lessons learned is instead spent initiating the next effort. In addition, I haven’t yet worked at a company that had an accessible project archive to learn from past mistakes. This means that much of the lessons I learned were through discussions with other project managers or through personal experience. As a parent, I now have the lessons learned from one child to rely on for the second. However, I know that my own experience is inadequate and to get a better understanding of what to expect, I should consult the experts who have also “been there done that”. My network of parents is getting stronger as I ask questions of other people online much as my network of project managers is getting stronger as I work more closely with experts in our field. Collectively the wisdom and knowledge of the community is far greater than anything I could hope to know in my lifetime, so I’m happy to be able to ask for support from others and learn from their past.

As my children grow I have no doubt that I’ll continue to use the skills I learned through formal project management. It’ll be interesting to see if I can find skills that I learn from them to apply to project management as well.

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