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Friday, February 21, 2014

Life? Projectize It

     “Well, if you’re such a great project manager, why did you let this happen?”
     Good question, and it is applicable across a very broad swath of our lives.
     Here’s the story:
     The builder had finally finished the new house, two months late and now just a week before Christmas.
     Moving in would take a couple of days of long hours. The owners, empty-nesters, were going well into the first night with the help of an adult daughter who had dropped by. Washing a few dozen windows and scraping off those super-sticky labels they leave on the glass.

    Once this place could be occupied, all the stuff would have to be hauled over 20 miles of back-country road, and the former rental home would have to be cleaned. The owner there had contracted painters to come in the day after tomorrow.
     Nothing had been packed or otherwise prepared for the move, and it was too late to line up a volunteer crew from friends and family. It was holiday season, and no one was around/available.

     The father of the family had finished complaining about the laggardly builder. Now he started on the fact that no one had lifted a finger to organize the multiple chores of this complicated and pressured family migration.
     His patient spouse silently kept scrubbing, fully aware who was being considered the guilty “no one.”
     Not the daughter. She addressed the project management question – bluntly – to her dad: “Well, if you’re such a great project manager, why did you let this happen?”  Everybody was tired and frazzled. The ensuing conversation was animated and brief, with the net result that the work crew was reduced by two.
     The daughter left precipitously. The wife said to hell with it and went home to bed. The father scrubbed on alone. Sometime during those lonely hours, it dawned on him what the fundamental problem was.
     The guy was not a particularly chauvinistic type, and there was in fact a lot of gender role blurring between man and wife. His blunder here did not result from any conscious decision that the whole house matter was the woman's sole responsibility.

     No, he blew it because of a flaw much more personal to himself – he allowed himself to stay on autopilot when he should instead have taken a firm grip on the controls.
     He actually was a project manager, and this was, actually, a project. His wife was a doer, and this was not a strong suit for her. She had done the best she could, and he hadn’t done anything.
     His failure is common, and probably not just for task-driven, energetic types. These folks, though, most noticeably habituate mental patterns as well as work practices. They are focused on that outcome up ahead there, captured by the momentum of their own need to get going and keep going. They stick with what has worked.
     Those of us who live this way often find ourselves well into a task, or even a conversation, and suddenly realize we have been following accustomed practices without realizing we’re halfway down a different street, one on which our unplanned behavior is seriously inappropriate. This isn’t stupid, although it sure looks that way to many an observer.
     If such people are to develop the ability to identify, grasp and manage change and new situations, they must work up a brand-new sensing mechanism. This is not easy to do, but it is essential to figure out how to do it, and then build it in to daily thinking.

     It’s as if you want to install a new gizmo in your set of perceptions, a red light that blinks when a certain kind of change has occurred in the environment. It stops the automatic machinery and switches on a set of inquiries to examine the new reality and develop options for dealing with it. 
     This is what you might call the “projectized life.” You train yourself to be alert to shifting circumstances – including the unexpected eruption of the good and the bad. You prepare to prevent the negative events from throwing you off, and you don’t zip on by the developing opportunities. You make risk management a regular activity.
     Any sizable undertaking deserves to be examined from a project management perspective. And many little things are mini-projects, or could be done so much better by using project management skills and practices.
     You don’t have to look far to find project management. The real thing is all around you. In fact, you almost certainly have been doing it today, or maybe missing opportunities to use it. Why not invest some attention in doing it well, consistently?

     This shouldn’t be carried too far. It’s not sensible to stop everything too frequently, or try to operate entirely without autopilot. Just listen to your daughter – when it’s a project, Dad, manage it!

See also: "Life? Projectize It"

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