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What Having 13 Kids Taught Me About Project Management

October 28, 2013

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Where’s David?

Well, he’s somewhere between Ann over there, and Rose over there.

There’s gotta be 70 kids in that pool. How can you be so sure?

Because those two are the end points. The rest of the kids are somewhere in between. Not sure exactly where, but they haven’t gone past Ann or Rose.

People often ask me if it’s true that I have thirteen children. Not only is it true, but they are all within 12 years of each other and the youngest 8 are within 4 years of each other. After assuring people that I really have that many kids, the next question is often “How do you manage that?”

The truthful answer is that I get up and go to work everyday, that’s how *I* handle it. My lovely wife, on the other hand is brilliant at managing kids. But, I’ll share one of the techniques we use and show you how it relates to project management.

When we had one child, watching her wasn’t an issue. We could even trade off. When we added a second child a few years later, it was still pretty easy to keep track of them. You each watch one, or if you’re by yourself, hold one in each hand and you’re covered. However, numbers three and four arrived within a couple of months of each other. Now, we started to get into issues of being outnumbered. Over the next few years we added 9 more. And like all parents we worried about keeping track of our kids. So, we developed a technique to keep track of them in a public area, like a playground or a pool, since it is impossible to track 13 kids at the same time.

I would find my kid who was furthest to the left and the kid who was furthest to the right. I only had to watch those two. Now, if some kid in the middle fell off a swing or started kicking his sister, I would naturally deal with the exception. But, for the normal “everyone is playing nicely” times, I only had to keep track of my end points.

When my wife and I would take the kids somewhere like a hike in the mountains, or a walk through a crowded mall, one of us would be the leader and the other was the sweeper. The rule was “Everyone has to be in front of me and behind Mom.” Again, we didn’t worry too much about the issues in the middle. We watched the end points.

In many ways, project management is like our family. Most projects involve lots of moving parts. There are assignments, subprojects, milestones and deadlines. Trying to keep all the details straight can be a daunting task for one person. So, I typically try to make sure I’m giving my team very clear instructions at the beginning on what I want accomplished. I then leave it up to them to figure out how to accomplish it. I’m concerned with the endpoints. I want to know the project is starting on time and I will produce the desired result at the end. The middle? I’m going to ignore that unless there’s a problem. If a team members gets stuck, either because they’ve hit a roadblock, or they are unsure of how to move forward, I’ll step in and help them solve the problem. Then, I go right back to watching the end points.

I’ve known a lot of managers who just can’t stand the idea that their team members might be doing a task differently than they themselves would do it. My thought is “I certainly HOPE they are doing it differently.” I try to hire people who are really good. . .I mean stellar at what they do. (I Want The Jacks Not The Balls) They should be much better than me at managing SharePoint, or configuring Microsoft Exchange. I don’t have their expertise, so I expect they will do it differently than I would. And do it better. And generally they do.

So, on your next project, take a lesson from my 13 kids. Keep a close eye on the end points (start and end) and only get in the middle if one of the team members starts kicking his sister.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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