In celebration of the holiday season, I’m going to relax a little and write about one of my favorite subjects – parenting. Those who know me well know that I took many years off from my professional work to stay home and raise a large family. Believe it or not, during those child raising years away from the professional realm, the project manager in me remained and I learned a few things about project management. Here are five ways to improve project effectiveness that I learned from parenting.
Reward systems can work, but be careful about what you measure.
So, yes, I did occasionally resort to bribes – like candy necklaces at the top of a mountain hike. (Yes, those munchkins are mine.)
At one point in my child-raising years, we played with some kind of a points system. We were thinking the children could earn a larger allowance if they contributed more to the household work. So, we posted a chart like this and allowed the children to log in their contributions.
- Make dinner for 7 people – 5 points
- Cut the grass – 5 points
- Do a load of family laundry – 2 points
- Clean the kitchen – 2 points
But when the laundry wasn’t folded and put away properly, did the child get only one point? When my youngest cooked, we had great healthy meals because she liked to cook, but when one of the older ones cooked, we had macaroni and cheese, with some raw carrots, and the kitchen was left a mess. Should both get the same five points? Does a child who cleans the kitchen after a three-pot meal get the same number of points as a child who cleans up after take-out?
We quickly abandoned this effort because it was too much trouble to figure out a system that worked.
Teaching chores to children requires a bit of process mapping.
I remember when I started teaching my “tweens” how to do laundry. I wrote down the steps:
- Load clothes
- Put in laundry detergent
- Start washer
What did I get? Pink underwear. Do I need to explain?
While process mapping and project management are not always thought about in the same paragraph, a good project team will focus on improving efficiency. One way to do that is to map out the different steps in a process. By mapping out the steps in a flow chart diagram, teams are able to identify bottlenecks, process breakdowns, and ways to improve efficiencies.
Humans are prone to hide bad news. Encourage full disclosure.
One of the chores that my children did was to make their beds and straighten their rooms in the mornings. But when the alarm clock rang and their tired bodies didn’t arise quickly, the short cut was always to hide any mess under the bed. Simple solution.
So what can project managers do about that? Set up a time each day (or very frequently) to review any problems. When appropriate, the project manager can later resolve those problems so that the project team can continue with its work.
When people are expected to encounter problems and disclose them, it creates a culture of full disclosure and team support. When team members are expected to solve every problem that comes their way without any support or disclosure, it takes away from time that could be used to work on project activities.
Don’t put your team in a situation where a lengthy delay or substantial cost overrun occurs because you didn’t know about an underlying problem that had existed for weeks or months.
Flexibility is essential.
Every parent (working or stay-at-home) understands that a sick child wreaks havoc with schedules. It’s not just sick children. What about snow days? That band concert that your child suddenly wants you to attend? The soccer tournament for the travel league that you were sure wouldn’t go past one round? I know project teams that try to plan out their work for the entire project and I’m amazed that it works as well as it does.
I don’t recommend it. My life was so crazy with a large family that I didn’t even try to plan my day until morning came and the children were on their way out the door. And even then, flexibility was still essential.
Chore charts on the refrigerator, like project dashboards, can be motivational but don’t stop there.
Sooner or later, most parents go through a phase where they put a list of chores on the refrigerator and allow the children to mark things complete. Stickers, smiley faces, points – you name it, we tried it. Seeing the public acknowledgement that to-do items were completed was an effective motivator.
While we tried hard not to raise children who were highly dependent on constant praise, we did find that thanking a child for a task particularly well-done was really effective, over and above the chore chart on the refrigerator.
Where Smart Projex differs from most project management software is in the way that it distinguishes between activities (the bigger items that need to be done to complete the project scope) and tasks (the little items that are associated with activities and that can’t be forgotten).
In my parenting experience, public verbal “high 5’s” are a very effective motivator. So the software methodology provides that the project manager mark activities (not tasks) complete during standing meetings, rather than providing that the activity leader mark them complete in the software. It allows teams to celebrate the simple accomplishments when this is done in a group meeting.
Want to know more about this software? Let’s talk.