Project management lessons from our mothers

mother-and-childThe cynical among us might feel that special days like Mother’s or Father’s Day were created to boost the profits of greeting card companies, however there’s no doubt that we owe a great deal to our parents. Giving birth to a child meets the usual definition of a project in that it is a temporary and unique endeavor, it consumes resources, is fraught with uncertainty and yet is expected to deliver great value.

So what lessons could be learned from Project Baby?

Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff

When a lady is expecting a child, the flood gates seem to open for both wanted and unwanted advice from almost everyone around her. The key is to figure out which lessons are valuable and worth implementing – the same holds true when we manage our projects. Just because a particular lesson was applicable to a past project doesn’t mean it would apply to yours.

Celebrate the journey, not just the destination

The baby at the end of the pregnancy is the primary outcome we are hoping for. But that shouldn’t mean you don’t recognize the milestones leading up to the big day such as the first ultrasound image, the first time you hear the baby’s heartbeat, the first sign of the baby kicking or the baby shower. Even on projects which are structured to deliver a single, large change right at the end, we should still build in intermediate milestones to retain stakeholder interest and to renew flagging spirits of hardworking team members.

Planning is helpful, over-planning is not

A certain amount of planning helps to reduce the stress of a pregnancy. Scheduling regular doctor’s visits, booking prenatal classes, and preparing the baby’s room in advance are all good ideas. But too much planning could create its own stresses and you might be blindsided when a significant change (“But we thought it was going to be a boy!”) happens. Planning is an activity designed to shine a light on the unknown but there is always a risk in planning to a level of detail beyond the boundaries of the predictable.

Risk management should not be practiced just at the beginning of a project

Early in a pregnancy, we are informed of risks to the delivery of a healthy baby and we plan and implement risk response plans to manage them. This could include a commitment to controlling alcohol intake or putting our obsession with bungee diving on hold. However, based on our regular doctor’s visits, if we are informed of a new potential threat, we will re-evaluate our habits and adopt new countermeasures.

Stakeholder engagement is crucial but the buck stops at you

It’s important to understand and try to respect the suggestions and wishes of those closest to you when making decisions leading up to the baby’s birth, but the final decision must rest with you as you are primarily accountable for the health and well being of the newborn. On our projects, we’d like to have nothing but happy, supportive stakeholders, but sometimes doing the right thing means not pleasing everyone.

It’s a team achievement

A whole team of people collaborate to build a better baby. While the mother does the hardest work, her significant other, parents, other family members and friends, and the medical staff supporting her up to and during the delivery all work together to achieve project success. While there are opportunities for each team member to be a hero at one time or another over the life of a project, a high performing team is greater than just one or more of its parts.

Robert Heinlein wrote “Being a mother is an attitude, not a biological relation“.

Being an effective project manager is also an attitude, not just a role.



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