But I’m no good at managing projects!
I hear this a lot. Heck, I’ve been known to say it myself. At work we’re often tasked with managing projects on top of our already ridiculous workload. This can be a daunting proposition for those of us who aren’t process-driven or haven’t undertaken training in project management. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be. We manage projects every day and one in particular translates quite nicely into how you might want to look at projects from now on.
You don’t know how to manage projects, huh? Well, have you ever moved house?
Having recently moved, it got me thinking about how some of the principles might be used to run projects at work. It’s an absolutely painful process with many moving parts, competing deadlines and co-dependencies. Add to this budgeting, leadership, negotiation, compromise and tight timeframes and we’ve got the perfect recipe for potential disaster. Does this sound too different to any project you’ve ever run?
As with workplace projects, moving house is always initiated to solve a problem. It might be that you’ve run out of room, you’ve got a child on the way or you’re a millennial who wants a bigger yard for your French Bulldog. Whatever the case, there is a problem which needs to be solved. What’s more, there’s always a deadline!
So you start out the process by searching online for options which meet your criteria, including budget (price of new property, removal costs, bond, cleaners etc.) There are often two sets of conditions to consider here – negotiables and non-negotiables. What you want versus what you need. You may be willing to compromise on a pokey little kitchen if you have a huge balcony, but you know that you need to have at least 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. God forbid having to share a bathroom with your loved one.
Next, once you’ve found several properties to visit, you organise to attend inspections. Usually these are at some obscure time like 3.15pm on a Tuesday afternoon. At this point, you negotiate with your boss to take some time off. You’ve already told them the reason you’re moving, so they’re receptive to your request. Sometimes though, you may need to negotiate. “I’ll put in some hours at home tonight” you promise.
Once you’ve inspected the properties and found the one which most closely aligns to your requirements/desires, you start the arduous process of completing the application form. This feels like an invasion of privacy where you’re giving away a lot of details to someone who really should only be concerned with whether you can afford the rent or not. Again, we find ourselves at a point of negotiation. Asking questions like “Have you had much interest in the property?” or “Is the owner willing to move on price?” Once you’ve settled on price and the landlord has contacted your nearest and dearest to ensure you’re not a serial murderer, finally you have an approval. Now the real fun begins. The project has been given the green light.
You start your list of things to do:
- Engage with stakeholders. Notify your current landlord you’re moving out. This usually ends up in an awkward conversation where you feel like you’ve really let them down. Additionally, and invariably, the end date of the lease will not align with the start date of the new lease and you pay through the nose for 2 properties at once.
- Revisit your budget. By this point, you may have paid a deposit and you’ll soon have to pay bond, leaving you in the limbo land between paying new bond and receiving the return of your existing bond. You also start to get quotes for removalists, cleaners, electricity and gas providers, internet providers… the list goes on.
- Align your dates. Getting the new electricity and gas connected. Disconnecting the old utilities, ensuring the cleaners and landlord still have power to clean and show people through the property. You know at this point that something is bound to go wrong, but you have to keep progressing.
- Delegate tasks. Knowing you can’t possibly juggle everything, you ask your partner to look after the utilities, usually forgetting all the information you need to provide to even make this happen.
Starting to get the picture?
Now, all of a sudden, it’s moving day. You’ve arranged for the removalists to be there at 7am. You shouldn’t be surprised when they call in the morning and let you know they’re going to be late, but you’ve so carefully aligned everything to work in sequence that it shatters your dreams. Now you spend the morning calling around negotiating new timeslots with building management, utility providers, maybe even cleaners.
The removalists arrive. They start packing your gear which you’ve spent hours sorting into boxes, always forgetting the random items under the stairs. When you booked the removal, you haggled on time and cost. You were quoted 4 hours for the move but, of course, you believe they can get it done in 3. You’ve carefully boxed up your life and commit to helping with the heavy lifting. Two hours in, you inevitably find yourself looking at your watch as it dawns on you that this is going to be more like 5 hours!
When you arrive at the new property (which, for storytelling purposes, is an apartment building) only to find there are 3 other groups of people moving in today and that the electricity hasn’t been connected yet! It’s not the end of the world, but it means you’re going to have to work with some limitations, make some uncomfortable phone calls and probably adjust your budget as you’ve just added another hour onto the move.
Once the removalists leave, you’re left with an apartment full of boxes and randomly arranged furniture. Now starts the process of finding where everything will fit. You unpack a box full of kitchen utensils and put them in the second drawer (usually in no particularly order, but shoved in so tightly you can hardly close it). You wrangle with the Tupperware, playing a game of Tetris to neatly align everything just so. You know this order won’t last, but you foolishly tell yourself “this time will be different.”
Finally, it’s the end of the day (AKA Day 1, because we all know the process of unboxing and rearranging your life takes weeks). You’re pretty happy with your progress, particularly you’re methodically arranged kitchen. This is when your wife gets home and starts to open all the drawers, questioning why you’ve put the pots there, or why you’ve organised the cutlery in that order.
That night, you go to bed utterly exhausted. Falling in to your reassembled bed, which you’ve ensured is positioned to be Feng Shui, you sleep like a baby despite the weird feeling of being in a new environment. Gradually, as the weeks go on, the new normal sets in. You’ve found the nearby café and dog park, the problem has been solved and life either seems better or the compromised position at least leaves you feeling like you’ve done the right thing. Sure, you faced some difficulties along the way, but the project has been a success.
If you’ve made it this far, I hope my analogy hasn’t been so vague you’re lost, but you feel a sense of comfort with taken on projects. Nothing is too difficult if you follow some really simple principles:
- Clearly define the problem you’re trying to solve. This will give you a sense of purpose to help you drive towards the end goal.
- Create a project plan. Align dates, service providers and resources.
- Know your budget.
- Delegate wisely.
- Track your progress. This will keep you on track and make you feel like you’re continually achieving something.
- Break large projects into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Create milestones as you drive towards a deadline.
- Ask for input in the early stages rather than at critical moments. Before you spend hours putting the Tupperware away, not after.
- Celebrate your success.
So, next time you’re asked to run a project, keep these in mind. Say yes and jump at the opportunity! The world is going to need brave people to take on big projects. Here’s hoping you’re one of them!