Category Archives: Planning

Project Management Lessons Learned from Thanksgiving

Project Management Lessons Learned
Project Management Lessons Learned from Thanksgiving Dinner

This past Thanksgiving my daughter Emily was selected to travel to Florida for an elite soccer tournament. Because of the cost of the trip and the fact that we traditionally host Thanksgiving for my side of the family, we decided to divide and conquer.

My wife Heather, along with three other moms on the team, went to Florida with the daughters. I stayed home with our two older kids and hosted Thanksgiving.

Normally, my wife takes the lead in preparing the meal. I help out, but she’s in charge. She’s had enough practice that she just seems to know how to get everything done.

A well-defined plan

I needed to be a little more organized. You should have seen the project plan I put together for the meal. I had the list of dishes I could prepare the night before. The plan had the cooking temperatures and durations.

Each item was listed in order of when it needed to go in the oven. I had tasks for others as well. My sister Cindy would begin preparing the dinner rolls at 12:15 PM. My niece Katie was in charge of making gravy at 12:30 PM. My kids, Holly and Sam helped get the table set and water glasses filled so that we could sit down at one o’clock.

For more information, check out Project Management Planning Considerations.

Running like clockwork

I thought the plan went down fairly well. There were a few people who arrived later than expected, which slightly delayed the meal. The turkey got done a little before plan, but we let it sit and it didn’t dry out.

We sat at the table and went around saying what we were all thankful for. As we dug in, I probably had a smug little smile on my face thinking how smoothly everything had gone down.

Then somebody said, “It’s just not the same without Heather.” There was a brief, selfish moment where I arrogantly thought I had successfully replaced her. I had the plan down. It went so smoothly. How could you miss her?

A leader in the kitchen

But I quickly realized how right they were. I followed all of the same recipes she did. I planned it all out so that everything was ready when it should be.

But, in addition to her charming personality, my wife added that special something to the meal. She wasn’t just performing tasks. She was preparing a meal. She inherently knows how and when to do things and how to work with the other people in her kitchen.

Leadership in project management

Project managers experience the same thing in the business world. A project manager can list all of the tasks that get done and determine the optimal times to start and end each one. A project manager can assign tasks to others and hold them accountable for getting them done.

These are all things that a good project manager should be able to do. But a great project manager has the leadership skills to deal with the human side of things. Redirecting people when they have momentum on a different course requires diplomacy. Assigning tasks to people so they enjoy the work makes them do a better job.

My wife adds love and leadership to the kitchen for a big project like Thanksgiving dinner. Do you add the same aspects to the projects you manage?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

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Assessing Risk in Project Management

assessing risk
Are you assessing risk effectively?

The Scout Motto is “Be prepared”. I don’t know if a study has ever been done to determine whether former scouts make better project managers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a correlation.

The most successful project managers I know are prepared for almost anything. Over the years, the most successful way I’ve found to be prepared is to have a formal risk assessment process, in which risks are addressed early and often.
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Project Risk and the FedEx Truck

project risk
Assessing project risk
project risk
Assessing project risk

I recently went on a family vacation to Vermont. Even while I was admiring the beautiful green mountains of that state, I couldn’t help but get distracted thinking about project risk.

We were visiting some family who took us on a drive to Stowe, VT. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains with dense trees and mountain scenes. There was a narrow pass named Smugglers Notch, in which the road narrowed and curved sharply. The lane was wide enough for two cars to meet, and still pass. But it required them both to slow down enough to avoid hitting each other or the side of the mountain.

When we entered the mountainous area, I noticed a sign that read “Road ahead unsafe for trailers, trucks and buses.” I didn’t think too much about it until we got a few miles in and an oncoming car flagged us down.
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Running Things as Projects


I’ve been a project manager for so many years that it’s part of everything I do. In the morning, I get my coat on and grab my bag while the Keurig is running.  I just don’t want to waste that minute standing and watching coffee brew when I can be doing tasks in parallel.

My wife laughed at me when I used a Microsoft Project plan for our move to a new house a few years ago.
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In Defense of Checklists

Defense of checklists

A 2009 study from the New England Journal of Medicine showed that when surgeons used a basic checklist prior to a surgical operation, deaths were reduced by almost 50%, and complications due to surgery were reduced by more than a third.

These basic checklists included steps such as verifying the identity of the patient and the type of surgery to be performed, as well as making sure blood was available in case it was needed during surgery.

Pilots go through the same type of checklist before ever flight.
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