Project Parenthood

By Geof Lory

Some twenty years ago, I was minding my own business, happily writing code and designing systems for a consulting company when the project manager on a critical project for a high profile customer resigned. I drew the short straw and got the job as his replacement. With little exposure and no experience or formal training in project management, I muddled my way through and actually met the project scheduled deadline. (We'll talk later about budget and functionality.)

About six years later, I became a father for the first time with the birth of my daughter, Jenna. Unlike my decision to get into project management, this step was taken with a bit more forethought. What I soon discovered was that I was equally clueless about parenting as I had been about leading projects. My optimism probably got the best of me. After all, everyone else was doing it, how difficult could it be?

Today, I am still a project manager and now also a father of two girls. My second daughter, Erika, was born just 16 months after Jenna, thus proving it takes me longer to get through the early stages of optimistic enthusiasm with any new endeavor. (A trick of nature that keeps the species from going extinct, I suspect.) Both professions -- or perhaps callings is a better word -- have provided me with tremendous joy and a fair amount of anxiety. Both also have been my greatest source of continual learning. With both girls now entering their teen years, I may be looking at an advanced degree.

When my daughters were infants, I probably subconsciously saw them as another project with an endless timeframe and a very large budget. Of course, I would determine their feature set (other than those predetermined genetically, but more on the nurture vs. nature argument in another article). Is this not the project manager's dream? I have since realized that these projects are being co-managed by them and by me. Any misconceptions I might be holding about actually managing them have long since faded. I have developed some sense of what my contribution is to the "project" of raising children, and the accidental education I have received has been the greatest source of learning for my role as a project manager.

Today, my two roles, as project manager and as parent, are tightly woven into the fabric of who I am and what I do. One feeds and develops the other. And at times, for better or for worse, I am not always sure when I am one or the other. Over the years, this has created some interesting family situations. (My wife said I was going too far when I created the WBS for the Thanksgiving dinner last year.) And now, through this forum, I have the opportunity to share all these experiences with you, the good, the bad and the ugly. Perhaps my stories will tickle your funny bone. Perhaps they will remind you of similar experiences you have had and will prompt you to share yours.

I need only to remain mildly conscious as a parent to find examples in my home life that resemble the activities, issues and learning opportunities of the projects I manage in my work life. Maintaining consciousness in both arenas is not always the easy. There are ample situations that deal with the primary disciplines of project management like budgets, schedules, risk, conflict negotiation, leadership, and my favorite, communication. I am fortunate to be in a profession where I can so tightly integrate my two callings. And if you are a project manager and a parent as well, you share my experience.

In each article, I plan to share my personal experiences as a project manager and as a parent, and illustrate how they relate to the other. You may find my techniques different or odd. You may disagree with them. You may have tried them with your children or projects and found they did or did not work. I don't pretend to know everything there is to know about either subject. I have made my share of blunders and also have had some successes. Most importantly, I'm willing to share those experiences with others in my professional field. No one has ever accused me of being shy.

One of my first experiences of seeing where parenting and project management crossed planes was with risk management. I instinctively practice it as a parent and I realized it also would be more helpful done deliberately on the job. My youngest daughter Erika is an accident waiting to happen (not uncommon for second children, as I am one myself and am guilty of the same curse). If something can be spilled, broken or soiled, she is the one to do it. Bruises, cuts and scrapes on her sensitive skin seem to appear from out of nowhere. Over time I have come to instinctively account for her propensity for accidents. At the dinner table, my eyes gravitate to her glass of milk sitting close to her elbow or the edge of the table. She owns mostly dark clothes to hide stains. My workbench is full of spare parts for her bike, which inexplicably gets broken while locked in the bike rack at school. My dream project to finish the basement, complete with a pool table, tiffany lamps and fireplace, is on hold until after she heads to college.

My lesson on risk management is not only to be prepared, but to understand that with risk comes opportunity. Erika takes more chances, pushes more boundaries and challenges more norms. She is energy incarnate. Fear is not a word in her vocabulary. I love her zest for forward motion. Haven't we all had this person on our team, or maybe even wished we had? Projects are intended to move the organization forward, separating it from the past, inherently introducing risk. But "Only fools go where angels fear to tred." An appropriate amount of conscious risk awareness with habitual management can mitigate the fear and temper the danger.

So far, it has worked for Erika. She has survived to her teen years without any permanent damage, and so have I.

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