This summer, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world, a beautiful boy named Benjamin George Stopps. Along with the joy and excitement that comes with a new child, we also faced inevitable challenges, including sleepless nights and other significant changes to the usual routine.
It recently occurred to me that the journey of raising a new baby was somewhat similar to managing a complex project. In this blog post, I share a few first-hand experiences and some of the tips I’ve picked up that helped me achieve positive results, both at home and at work.
Preparation comes as standard in our household: I’m a Project Manager and my wife is a Commissioned Officer in the Royal Navy. It’s safe to say that we prepared for the arrival of our baby to the most complete degree imaginable!
We researched different parenting methods, read all the books we could, made spreadsheets and created a contingency plan in case something went wrong. We attended NCT classes (which were very helpful), completed the St John’s Ambulance course on infant safety and spoke to all of our friends who had recently had children. As a team, we were able to take in all of this information and prepare ourselves as best we could.
And this is exactly where a new, complex project begins – with research and preparation. A Project Manager will need to understand their customer, how they work and what it is they want. To lead a team requires a good understanding of the project as a whole as well as what will be delivered. The contract, proposal and benefits (or deliverables) will become a reference point that guides the process from conception to completion. Whether raising a baby or handling a complex project, knowledge is power!
Recognising that one person cannot do everything alone is key. It’s human nature to want to control everything. However, sometimes you have to let others help you. With a project, this means empowering a team to make decisions and ‘own’ their areas. This reduces the burden on the Project Manager and allows team members the opportunity to grow and develop. Of course, each member of a team will require different levels of supervision and it’s up to the team leader to decide how much input is needed.
Raising an infant poses the same issues, with the parenting team having to decide who does what. It’s common for one parent to try and do everything and this can cause difficulty, especially in the first few months. For example, in the case of my son, my wife took on most the of the night time duties as I had to continue getting up for work. To help, I took on the midnight feed and at the weekend, I got up early so my wife could lie in and gain some much needed rest. This also allowed me some quality together time with my son.
Creating a solid process, where each team member has a role to play, makes for an efficient team structure. Empowering the team and checking that the process is on track means the project leader can focus on what they are meant to be doing: leading the project towards success!
Every company that I have worked for has taken a different approach to risk. Knowledge of risk thresholds is achieved through a mixture of trial and error, collective experience, attitudes within the sector and, perhaps most importantly, through the confidence and direction provided by senior management. It is within this environment that the Project Manager will have to make decisions and lead actions that will guide a project. Assessing what the risks are and how they might be dealt with is vital to ensuring things go well, but also important in allowing the team to operate without fear.
Similarly, once Benjamin was home, despite having a ‘safe’ house in a ‘nice location’, cars that are both NCAP 5 safety-rated and numerous other ‘risk-limiting’ factors to reassure us, we still felt the fear of new potential risks. Every small item was now a choking hazard and drawers represented the possibility for lost fingers. During the first night, I awoke every fifteen minutes to check our baby was still breathing! Such an approach was neither beneficial for our family unit or myself.
Clearly, we had to change our approach to risk so that we could function well as parents and enjoy the experience. Installing a baby monitor and keeping his room at the right temperature meant that we could relax while Benjamin was asleep in his crib. ‘Baby-proofing’ the house meant we stopped panicking every time he looked at the plug socket or pointed towards the TV.
So far, thanks to our son, we’ve learned to continually reappraise our understanding and appetite for domestic risk, growing in confidence as parents, even though new risks pop up as he grows and develops. This is similar to the development of a business project. In the conceptual stages of the project, the attitude to risk might be overly high or low as the team finds their feet but as the project develops in maturity and potential risk is properly assessed and managed, this attitude will balance out to a sustainable level.
When setting up a project, many hours can be spent developing a comprehensive project plan which details numerous factors. This includes deciding on the structure of a team, what exactly is to be delivered and how this will take place, plus working out a timeline of dependencies. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes just one last-minute change to reset all of this hard work.
Attempting to leave the house with an infant in tow presents a similar scenario. Your best-laid plans will quickly evaporate when (not if!) an unscheduled feed, nap or change is required. Being more agile and accepting that our lives are now different has helped us in ensuring that we have a ‘plan B’ up our sleeves in expecting the unexpected.
Throughout a project’s life cycle there will be drivers for change too: a customer might look for improvements or the team will identify a new strategy that delivers a better product, maximises profit or adapts to new policies. Change is not something to fear and where possible it should be embraced. As the experts, it is up to the team to handle new challenges elegantly. A robust, well-defined method for dealing with change and the costs it sometimes brings makes all the difference.
Apparently, babies have no concept of time and routine in the way adults do! Learning to rest when babies do can be a tough lesson to master. We’ve worked on training ourselves to nap when Benjamin is asleep which has really helped and so has making use of CRITICAL Software’s flexible working scheme. Being able to get to work early means I can come home earlier, allowing me to feel more rested.
Rest is a vital aspect in doing a good job at work too. Modern technology has made it easier to work remotely and at odd hours, but this also means people find it hard to switch off. Trusting others to take up the reins in your absence can also prove difficult. But, if a team leader can take a vacation and refrain from checking their emails, this demonstrates an ability to delegate and plan work well within a team.
The raising of a baby is one of the most challenging tasks that my wife and I have undertaken, but also one of the most rewarding. By adopting a true process and having well-defined ‘terms of reference’ we have been able to manage the first six months with relatively little pain. This has also helped Benjamin develop healthily and happily.
Much the same is true of delivering multi-layered or highly technical projects. A Project Manager with a positive approach to team management, a mature appetite to risk and an ability to cope with inevitable changes is far more likely to deliver a successful project.
John F. Kennedy put it well when he said: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” In order to achieve the best results possible in any area of life, we need to recognise what’s in front of us and develop efficient strategies to handle it.