4 Lessons Project Managers Can Learn From Parents

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If you don’t know my mom, you should. She would be the ultimate PMP, leadership advisor, scrum coach, you-name-it project management expert known from here to Botswana—and she’s not even formally a project manager.

Between my two brothers and me, we were never late for school. We were never poorly dressed, never without a neatly packed lunch (with a note!), and never (sometimes to our chagrin) without a dedicated time to complete our homework.

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In many ways, mothers and fathers are their own form of project managers. As Ben Ferris wrote for Cobalt PM, “anyone who has children has already got a head start in a few different aspects of the project manager job.” And Ferris is entirely right—project managers can take a number of lessons straight out of parenting books.

Here are just four of them.

1. Establish expectations.

In another post titled “Parenting Skills Take on Project Management,” Eric Spiegel details how counting to three helps create the expectation of discipline when working with his daughter. He argues that this translates over to setting limits and expectations with team members.

While team members are not necessarily children, creating a clear set of expectations not only helps the project management process, but can also lead to a more cohesive project squad. This means defining clear objectives, setting clear milestones, and outlining what task is of a higher priority.

Additionally, should it be your job to review your team members’ successes and weaknesses, detail what will be on the performance review so that there aren’t any surprises.

2. Be the adult.

My mother had surgery on her right eyebrow and can’t lift it. Since I was a baby, I would mimic her and only raise my left eyebrow, even though I was always capable of lifting both. This is an example of mirror neurons in action.

Kids will pick up on everything, from facial expressions to behaviors. And, like kids look toward their parents, team members are going to be looking to project managers to set the tone for their organization.

Project managers should be careful to practice servant leadership and take pride in their jobs as role models. Remember, just like at home, you set the standard of behavior in your office.

3. Don’t be afraid to be the bad guy.

Kids need to do chores. They need to do their homework, brush their teeth, make their beds, and learn to use the bathroom.

None of these tasks are fun, and it comes down to one or two people to be the enforcers: parents.

In every project, there are tasks that no one wants to do. There are deadlines that are forgotten, miscommunication, and, in worst-case situations, project managers must act like disciplinarians.

No one likes to be the “professional nagger” of the corporate world. But that is oftentimes a project manager’s job—it’s your job to make sure that your team and the project are on task. Project managers must not shy away from hurting a coworker’s feelings if they’re underperforming—instead, they must be motivated to address and fix the problem. (Perhaps that’s why certain personality traits are better suited for project management than others.)

4. Organization is the key to success.

Soccer practice.

Band rehearsal.

Meetings with stakeholders.

Juggling all of these events requires strong scheduling and deadlining skills. And it requires a level of risk management; just as parents have to anticipate a sudden runny nose with an at-hand tissue or a babysitter cancelation, project managers have to deal with “bugs” and changing priorities.

While parents can get away with a packed calendar and a stuffed purse, project managers should turn to their equivalent: project management software, like Wrike or ProWorkflow.

More?

There are obviously significant differences between working with kids and managing a team. You can’t let go of your two-year-old if they’re struggling to get to the toilet on time, you can’t turn on a movie to calm down your team if you need a break, and you can’t send an annoying team member to the corner and put them in time out (for 40 minutes—one minute for every year they’ve been alive).

I’m sure that there are many more parenting tips that can translate over to project management. Are you a parent? What did I miss? Leave your thoughts below!

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a former Capterra analyst who covered project management.

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