5 lessons from a parent to a project manager

A 3 minute read written by Randall September 8, 2015

An illustration of a man in a suit holding a briefcase with a baby in a carrier strapped to his chest.

As a project manager by day and a parent all other hours (especially night), I have noticed several similarities in the ways problems are solved when dealing with a toddler or a project. Here are five lessons I have learned from being a parent you can apply to help improve your project management skills.

1) Always have a back-up plan and be prepared for the worst

I feel bad for any parent with young children who goes out of the house without a diaper bag. When my wife first bought it, I had no idea how useful this Swiss army knife of child rearing could be. It has diapers, wipes, change pad, water bottles, snacks, extra clothes, toys, books, medicine, bandages, sun hat, hand sanitizer, bibs, sunscreen, and diaper rash ointment. Basically, an item to handle any situation your mini-me throws at you. Even if it is a short trip to get gas and you have your kid with you, expect for something to go wrong.

As a PM, your diaper bag is a risk log. Work with your team to catalogue any risks, discuss and implement risk mitigation plans, and finally, formulate a contingency plan for if any of the risks occur.

2) Let it go!

As any parent with young children would know, last year the song “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen was the mind-numbing soundtrack to their lives. The subject of the song was that Queen Elsa’s life was entirely micromanaged by her parents and she never realized her true potential until she “let it go” and stopped living under a set of restrictive rules and expectations.

Have you learned that to get the best quality work out of your team members you need to let them go? You still need to drive the team towards the expected outcomes and monitor progress, but allowing them to define the solutions, manage their time, and communicate with clients results in a much better product and happier team. Not having full control of every aspect of a project may be stressful to start, but in the end, team members are more engaged, have more creative ideas with the extra freedom, and feel more responsible for delivering a good outcome.

As a bonus, with team members managing more of the work, you can take on more projects or focus your attention on portfolio management and business development.

3) The best way to learn is from experimentation — and sometimes failure

Every time my son puts on his shoes backwards, I want to jump right in and correct the problem. However, if I allow him to put them on backwards, he will soon enough find that it is uncomfortable and eventually put them on the right way himself.

When working on a project where you don’t know all the answers or how to do something, it’s OK, and time to start prototyping. We have had a ton of success on past projects by simply experimenting and learning from our mistakes or successes.

4) Offer praise for good work

I think this is something that is very important that we forget about often as PMs. As much as we praise our children for taking their first steps, dressing themselves or learning to use the potty, we should be doing the same for adults that step up and do great work. Studies have shown that praise is more motivating than monetary rewards. So whenever a team member delivers something of excellent quality, let them know. And if they aren’t embarrassed by it, recognition in front of their peers is also an excellent reward for hard work.

5) Start listening!

While guiding my son through the terrible twos, we found out that there were sometimes logical reasons for him melting down, and instead of giving him a timeout, simply listening and addressing his frustrations would solve the problem (obviously this doesn’t always work with kids).

Same thing with a project. If there are issues with a project or client relations, instead of reacting without thinking, it is important to instead gather information by listening and figure out what the issues are. This ensures you are solving the right problem and not wasting time or resources speculating.

An integral part of the YP corporate culture revolves around a healthy work life balance and ensuring employees spend a lot of time with our families. YP has recently experienced a baby boom and there are a ton of new parents. Below is a photo of my two monsters from a recent vacation.

A photo of Randall and his family by the lake.