Project management is beyond a profession.
It is the way of life.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mom's Project

( Niagara on the Lake, picture taken by Azra, May,o7)
I cannot believe this day has finally come. My project, “Raise a Boy” reached its biggest milestone yet- Go Live Weekend- and it was a brilliant success. Or so I thought.

My company, called My Family, finally completed this project after 24 years of execution. The product, a-BOY-A, rolled into production last weekend, but the final phase, similar to the other phases, was not completed without many challenges.

I remember how the project was delayed for few years during its Test Phase when BOY-A took a trip to Europe. I had concerns that one of its tests failed when additional money suddenly had to be sent to Europe to pay for unexpected expenses. My sponsor, called My Husband, finally had enough and warned me that by prolonging this one I was jeopardizing other projects in our organization.

I still had a nagging feeling that there were many risks lurking, which could negatively impact BOY-A’s operation and that because of them, the operation could go astray. After many sleepless nights of deliberation, I had to admit that once the product was in production I would have to let it go. I would have to have complete trust in the production managers to do a good job.

Let’s go back to last Sunday, when the final step of the project was completed. A-BOY-A moved into an apartment in Toronto, shared with other two operational products, themselves being the results of other global projects. I am not sure what their names were; I only know that they are a boy-kind of product. This fact is very important because my sponsor did not agree with an idea that our product solution would be joining operations with even one of a girl-type product.

So, a-Boy-A was officially handed a set of house keys by a Landlord Operational Manager. Prior to this, I had given Boy-A a User Manual, with instructions like “What to cook for dinner every day”, or Boy-A could utilize “Different methods of status reports deliveries”, which could be done either verbally by phone twice a week, or via Skype communication over the Internet at least once per week. Another instruction was a face-to-face status meeting every weekend. I exacted a promise that this reporting execution would last for at least couple of months. Of course “Weekend visits back home” instructions had train and bus schedules attached, as well as detailed instructions on the light packing of dirty clothes in a bag, to be returned as a bag, of folded, clean clothes along with food and other interesting items.

This final phase of the project did not come without a lot of challenges. Along the way I tried to apply PMBOK, Possible Management of Boys, Body of Knowledge. I collected many templates, tips and techniques; I researched extensively the PMI – People Management Institute website and finally went to many PMI-CTT – Community Team Training Chapter dinner-meetings. I am hoping to achieve a PMP designation soon, which for those who do not know is acronym for “Projects by Moms Professional”.
I must admit that my sponsor, My Husband, did achieve his “People Management Professional” certification a few years back.

Even so, there were many activities that came out of nowhere and without any warning. I did not have them in my WBS dictionary; however, they needed an immediate attention. Once, during an automated test in a pilot “temp job” project, a-BOY-A announced that he had executed a “Quit job” task, which consequently shut down one of its pilot operations called “EB- part time customer support job”. I knew that this action would result in an issue escalation because additional budget would have to be approved. I must admit that this risk never even crossed my mind, let alone that I was prepared for it by identifying this risk, and applying appropriate strategies, such as risk response planning or monitoring and control.

I immediately called a meeting with My Husband sponsor, who is by the way also my primary client, and explained the issue, by announcing that project was in yellow status. I was criticized for not following the established communication plan framework, which by the way, was never signed off by this very same sponsor because of disputed verbal communication method. He insisted on written progress reports instead, to be read between dinner and evening news. He agreed though on weekly, preferably monthly status meetings, held during “TV commercials” tasks. These meetings, however, had to be randomly scheduled between “Soccer game” activities and such, as part of “Sports channel” work package activities.

When I explained that this was news to me as well, I was blamed for applying human resources practices and presented a-BOY-A organizational policies and procedures, such as “Do not quit a job without asking your parents first”. I tried to explain that a-BOY-A probably misunderstood another policy, which we have mentioned many times: “Your school is a priority number one job” and the other called” If you make mistakes you have to fix them yourself”. I knew at that time that I should have had more frequent verbal communications with a-BOY-A, but kept communications with the sponsor only at the high level.

To achieve good quality with “Second semester” work package, we needed to increase the budget, I explained to the sponsor. Because of lost revenue from “Temp job” we needed to find some other revenue sources towards grades improvement requirement. After all, “Raise a boy” project had to continue and without essential resources given to this project, such as new clothes, phone bill payments and occasional movie tickets the project could be still delivered on time, but the quality of final product would suffer.

Listening to my impact/analysis explanation, the sponsor became agitated (which reminded me of the time he was project managing “I Will Build a Shelf in the Basement Myself”. Though under budget, the project was delayed for two months, because as a one-man project did not have enough resources.)

Because of my knowledge of “Emotional Intelligence” I noticed sudden warning signs of an emotional amygdala hijack attack on my sponsor, so I quickly applied the SOSS formula I had learned about at a PMI Chapter meeting. SOSS is: Stop, Oxygenate (breathe deeply), Strengthen Appreciation (think about lying on a beach, for example) and Seek (remove the amygdala attack trigger (i.e. have a break). My approach was to suggest he stop for a coffee, or even better, a cappuccino, accompanied by a piece of home made cake I had previously baked for these critical moments.

My sponsor finally agreed that he would find a way to provide additional budget, which I suspected may eventually be re-distributed from my new shoes expenses. I quickly remembered a budget-related lesson learned during initiation phase of our company, when the cost of my “Shopping” project doubled. Only my sponsor’s double shift work for two months saved our company from bankruptcy.

After this successful negotiation I then had to negotiate with a-Boy-A to work harder to achieve a minimum of 80% average in his “Second semester” course load. This time, however, to break the news to my sponsor, I had to make sure that in addition to cappuccino and cake, home-made lasagna was served at our next status family meeting.

The meeting was success, the change order was signed and agreement was reached by all attendees that the project could continue, however, it would have to be closely monitored and all new milestones would have to be incorporated into the plan.

I also introduced regular performance reviews, as well as variance and trend analysis. I monitored performance by making sure some measures were incorporated in the project, such as “Not going out during the work week”, “Not missing any class”, “Doing assignments on time” and “Going to sleep before midnight”. I added appropriate activities in the quality plan to be sure that deliverables meet the identified quality standards. Finally, the next phase-end review was signed off by both client and sponsor, and an average mark of 87% was achieved. This project deliverable actually exceeded the stakeholders’ expectations by 7%, since a minimum of 80% was needed for the admission to university, which consequently was a pre-condition or dependency for “Raise a boy” project to proceed into next phase.

Lessons were learned, of course, which I recorded in our organization’s best practices database. Here is just an excerpt from this project, which could be applied to other similar projects very easily:
1) If you work on less important tasks, such as watching TV, you could be in danger of jeopardizing high important tasks, such as study for exams.
2) If you try to make up for lost time by compressing the test schedule and studying late at night, or even worse, in the morning before exam, it will impact negatively the quality of your product and your course marks will be lower than you expected.
3) By doing the above on regular basis, you will also miss some of your client’s, (read: teacher’s) signoff phases for assignments, or meetings with other clients, a.k.a. attending classes.

Consequently all the above will definitely lower the quality of your deliverables, even if you meet deadlines. These were the reasons that my sponsor explained why a-Boy-A had a deficiency of 13% on his “Second semester” marks; consequently as a PM I barely made a “Meet expectations” assessment in one of my performance evaluations/reviews.

I haven’t yet mentioned that this was not my only project. In fact, I have a whole portfolio of projects under my belt and also juggle different roles within these projects. Some examples are: House Cleaning, Cooking, Guests Entertaining, Shopping and Work for Pay projects. No matter what role I would take, even if given without consent, I was expected to deliver on time, on budget and in scope.

I have to mention that my sponsor also has lot of projects in which he is the PM, along with other roles. Some of these are: Yard Work, Fixing and Driving. For these projects I usually play a client and/or sponsor role and I make sure that I frequently criticize my PM so that he achieves perfect results.

The other critical project in our organization is “Raise a Girl”, which I must admit, is becoming even more of a challenge than with Boy-A, so My Husband and have I decided to work jointly on this project. We’ll need training for conflict resolution, as well as having to pay a visit to our PMO - Steering Committee, whose members are Grandpa, Grandma, Next Door Neighbour and Best Friend. We will go there next week to strategize the approach for this project. We may need to implement the Agile project methodology in this case. I will let you know how this turns out.

The project management discipline is becoming more complex and demanding. The competition is fierce as my sponsor will demand that the final product, a-GIRL-M, be nothing less but of the highest quality. As well, it will have to meet My Family’s strategic goals. In the meantime, the “Raise a Boy” project continues to be important, even though it is in the operational stage, and some day it might even become a capital project again.

Finally, the most important business objective of this project is to expect cash in-flows over the years and to gain ROI on its initial capital invested. It is also expected, looking at five and ten year’s organizational strategic plans, that these products will create future revenue generation, by planning critical projects in their own portfolios, such as “Get Job”, “Get Married” and “Raise Children” projects.


Anonymous said...

It was fun to read this amazing report about Raise-A-Boy project. My compliments to Azra ( and her Sponsor as well) on their achivement. I never thought about Project Management Art as part of Familyeverydaylife.
This experience was very educational for me (I am Mom, too).

Jeannine said...

Brilliant! Having been involved in a number of work-related projects using project management discipline and tools, and as the Mom of three teenagers, I can certainy relate.

Keep on blogging Azra!


Dr. PDG said...

Hi Mom,
Great article, but (as a parent to 5 kids) is raising a child a PROJECT or a PROGRAM?

As I subscribe totally to your theory that project management is in fact a life skill, because the definition of a life matches more closely with program (start but no predefined end) than project (defined end), I would urge you to reconsider the use of those definitions;

On a related issue, research funded in part by PMI by Bill Zwerman, confirmed by my own PhD research, concluded that "project management is not now, nor is it likely to be in the foreseable future, to be a profession".

Project management is nothing more than a process, system or methodology.

Keep up the good work, Mom!!

Dr. PDG, Jakarta

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