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Parenting Skills Take on Project Management

Are you thinking what the heck does child discipline have to do with project management? Well, stay with us. Our Datamation columnist looks at setting limits and expectations, and how to enforce it all.
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''No!'' This is the response I got from my toddler daughter to express her dissatisfaction with my very polite request to clean up her toys.

I said, ''That's ONE. Now, please, pick up your toys.'' She giggled, not appreciating my poignant use of the word ''please'', and then kicked over a stack of alphabet blocks. ''That's TWO,'' I said, trying hard to sound indifferent.

Then she picked up a menacing-looking clown doll and proceeded to wind up like a big league pitcher. Before I could say 'boo', the doll bounced off my forehead. Fighting back the urge to exclaim, ''Great throw!'', I instead said, ''That's THREE. Take a time out.'' She skulked off with lower lip protruding.

Are you thinking what the heck does toddler discipline have to do with project management? Stay with me for a minute.

The point of the clown-throwing story was about setting expectations. If your child expects the same response when they do something wrong, they are more likely to anticipate your actions and act favorably in the future. When they hear, ''TWO'', they know that, ''THREE'' is always next. Eventually they will adjust their behavior to avoid the consequences.

Now let's try to put this into the context of project management.

At the start of a project, it can be easy to overlook expectation setting. Many managers would rather assume that team members and customers automatically will interpret project goals into their own expectations. It is one thing to tell someone they must meet a goal. However, the real management skill is gaining acceptance from that person on exactly how they will meet that goal. The acceptable methods and behaviors must be documented for benchmarking during the project and for review after completion.

Yes, write them down. No need to play the ''he said, she said'' game if things go badly.

Setting Limits

During the project post-mortem, it is typical to gauge success by whether or not project goals were met. But you need to dig deeper to ensure future success. Did the team members accomplish the goals based on the agreed upon expectations? If not, you many have a hard time repeating success the next time.

For example, meeting a software delivery goal by skipping the required peer review is not an acceptable outcome because now the precedent has been set and regular peer reviews will fall by the wayside. When an undesired action like this takes place, you must provide an expected, measured response.

Joe Spina, a client manager with CD Group, Inc., an Atlanta-based ERP consulting firm, agrees that you are heading down a slippery slope if team members aren't held accountable.

''The minute you give in, you are being taken advantage of,'' says Spina. ''You lose credibility with your team and your customer, resulting in unpredictable and costly project results.''

Sound similar to toddlers?

If you give them candy before dinner, after telling them candy is not allowed, you cannot be expected to be taken seriously the next time. And you can't effectively discipline a toddler or a team member if you haven't been consistent in the past.

But if you follow through with the same fair response when behavior deviates, surely future results will become more predictable. In the adult world of project management, predictability leads to savings in time and money.

Continue on to hear how to best captain your project management ship...


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