Project Practitioners > The Art of Parenting and Project Management

The Art of Parenting and Project Management

By Margaret de Haan


I recently took my twins in for their yearly checkup at the Pediatrician’s office, and for those of you with kids, you know that they send you home with a summary of your child’s growth statistics.  Of course, part of the sheet has a section for “Parenting Tips”, which I read and realized that some were great fundamentals for Project Management!  So, taking it a step further, I went out to see what types of expert Parenting wisdom I could find, and lo and behold, Time magazine posted an article “7 Rules for Parents”, dated May of 2004 that I came across on the Web:


  In reviewing the article, the simplicity of these rules apply as much to Project Management, or any type of Management really, as they do to parenting.  Below are the rules listed in the Time article, and my take on them:

1. What you do matters.
What was it that we learned in school?  Wasn’t it “lead by example”?  I can’t see a Project Manager being successful long term if they don’t DO their job well, and if they don’t DO enough to get respect from their team, they aren’t as successful as they could be.  Remember, people are watching!

2. You cannot be too loving.
I don’t know that we really have to be “loving”, but I know that we have to appreciate and rally our team members.  You can’t support your team enough, and you certainly can’t be an evil tyrant and expect your team to meet deadlines and try to make you look good!  I mean, this is just common sense, right?

3. Be involved in your child’s life.
Well, obviously you need to be paying attention to what the “kids” are doing.  Being involved in the Project is obvious, and being aware of what the team members are doing, and how close (or far) they are from reaching their deliverables is the job!  So pay attention!

4. Adapt your parenting to fit your child.
Just like no Project is the same (and for any of you that have ever read some of my prior articles, “one size does not fit all” comes to mind) it is required that your team members are managed differently.  As the deliverables and timing are different, so are the management and coordination techniques required. As Project Managers, we must be flexible and adapt to whatever situation that presents itself, and be capable of thinking on our feet.  In the same vein, not all team members are motivated by the same things, and they have to be managed differently as well.  That is just a fundamental for any good Manager of any team, isn’t it? 

5. Establish and set rules/limits.
At every Project kickoff, I have always made a point of setting the rules of not only the engagement of the meeting, but I throw out my expectations on the table.  I let everyone know that if there is any kind of train approaching at high speed and someone notices, they need to let me know sooner, rather than later, so that I can manage whatever expectations lie external to the team.  What is, and is NOT, appropriate (we all have to play nice kids!  No hitting or name calling allowed) and it helps to set the stage for how the team is expected to behave.  What the escalation processes are, what the change management process will be, and anything else that they need to know including the risks and identified fail points.  I mean, how can you “win” if you don’t know how to play?

6. Foster your child’s independence.
I’m a big proponent of teaching the team how to fish.  Offering the opportunity for the members of the team to learn how to better manage their own deliverables, and I don’t micromanage unless there is a team member who needs that kind of hand holding in the beginning so they learn what is expected and how to be successful.  I work on software Projects mostly and don’t code, but I am able to provide different options and solutions in ways to meet the requirements when necessary.  Some individuals need that and others don’t but when anyone on your team needs assistance, you can’t ignore it.  Sometimes using the buddy system can help by teaming them up with a more senior associate that performs the same function, but ultimately you want them to be able to perform and meet deadlines on their own.  I don’t know about you, but working with seasoned Project team members always makes my job easier, and I prefer that to having to kill myself keeping track of every minute detail.

7. Explain your rules and decisions.
Let’s face it, everyone needs to know why.  As we are the face of the Project to the world outside of the Project team, we hold more information than they do on why certain aspects of the Project are what they are.  I believe that the more information that the team has (to a degree) the better.  “Just do it” works for Nike, but I don’t think that’s the best way to get a team to stay inside the lines when it is important for them to do so.  That is especially true in relation to the threats and risks to the Project, especially if there are deadlines where if missed, can be detrimental not only to the Project, but to the health and well-being of the company.  I mean, who wants to be ultimately responsible for costing the company a boatload of money because they didn’t realize that if they didn’t implement a particular piece of software by December 31st that the company was out of compliance with a regulation and was levied a huge fine?  Now I’m not saying we should tell the team everything, but if they need to know, it’s on us to tell them.

Now that I’m a Mommy, I readily admit that parenthood has taught me more about conflict resolution (I mean, c’mon, I have twin nine year old boys!) than any class I ever took, or ever book that I ever read.  Even basic management skills regarding communication fundamentals and managing expectations are honed through the joys (and challenges!) of parenting.  Sometimes you can find alignment to basic lessons by just looking.  Good management techniques are universal, regardless of where they are applied.  

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