Because life is a project that could use a little formal project management occasionally.
Yes, this may seem a little off-piste but stick with me.
This blog was borne out of a desire to help find ways to improve myself and, in doing so, help others do the same. I’m not exactly sure how, when or where I plan to measure this improvement but we all have to start somewhere.
Two things I find fascinating are symmetry and reflection, not least because they can look an awful lot like coincidence. When reflecting on various areas of life, there are often connections and patterns to be observed in one way or another.
Recently I’ve been ruminating on how the lessons I’ve learned from the world of project management are directly applicable to how I approach the titular project of this site: how to find balance in a stressful world.
Project Management – is this really relevant to anyone, ever?
So, if you’re interested in personal development of any kind, then it may be worth checking out the world of Project Management. No, that’s not a sentence that I ever thought I’d write but time is a great teacher.
I have a distant memory of being a teenager, considering my career options and wondering what on earth a ‘Project Manager’ actually did.
Fast forward twenty years and having worked with a number of project and programme managers, I’ve come to adopt the view that we’re all project managers, we just don’t necessarily know it.
The whole point of a project is to introduce a change but do it in a way that is thought through with consistency and cohesion.
Projects are all about getting from A to B in a way that makes sense, underpinned with sound reasoning. Which is pretty much how most of us try to live our lives.
So, it kind of makes sense that there’s a lot Project Management can teach us about how to make positive, successful changes in our lives.
Because when you start to treat the elements of your life as projects, you automatically increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Here are 6 lessons from the world of project management that you can adopt and apply to any area of your life to be more successful.
Lesson 1: Projects have only one goal
Ok, so in project management land they’re called ‘outputs’ but one of the ‘rules’ of a project is that it is looking to introduce a change that will result in only one thing that is different (two different things = two separate projects).
Project managers are constantly focused on avoiding ‘scope creep’ because the project then becomes too unwieldly, unfocused and unmanageable. If those last three words describe any part of your life, you need to get focused and ignore everything else.
Takeaway: When you’re looking to make a change in your life, focus only on that one thing. You can make other changes later.
Lesson 2: Recognise the Triangle of Constraints
Project managers are judged on three things; time, cost and quality.
It’s generally recognised that unless you have unlimited resources, you can only have two of these by compromising the third. Want it fast and cheap? Then it will not be A-grade perfect. Same in life.
Unless you have unlimited amounts of time, energy and money, neither the process nor the end result will be perfect.
But that’s ok. Few people are looking to make their life perfect, just a little better. And that’s totally do-able.
Takeaway: Understand your constraints and manage your expectations from the start. Know what you’re prepared to compromise on and what’s non-negotiable.
Lesson 3: If there’s no plan, there’s no project
Never has the old adage ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ been truer than in the world of project management. No project manager worth their salt works without a plan. Yet, ironically, many project managers hate planning.
But unless you know what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it, how will anything ever get done?
The best planning happens when you take a big task and break it down until each small activity feels achievable and completely non-scary.
Takeaway: It’s only a plan if it physically (or electronically) exists; in your head isn’t enough. Write it down and you’re halfway to making the change happen.
Lesson 4: Recognise risk is something that hasn’t happened yet
Whenever you look to introduce a change – in your personal or professional life – there’s always a risk things can go wrong.
Project Managers understand this and are ready for it. They don’t try to avoid risk, nor do they seek to eradicate it.
Instead, they spend time considering what could go wrong, how likely it is to happen and what the consequences would be if it did. They then come up with an action plan (yup, plans again) in case it does happen of what they will do.
Project Managers only worry about things they can control and not about the things they can’t. And neither should you.
Takeaway: Spend time thinking about ‘What if’ scenarios and what you’ll do if it happens. The likelihood is it probably won’t and you can’t control the world so don’t try to.
Accept there’s risk in everything but that most of the things you worry about will never come to pass.
Lesson 5: Accountability matters
Projects can spend huge amounts of time and money and end up delivering precisely nothing. Or, arguably even worse, they deliver the wrong thing.
Reporting progress at regular intervals is one way of making sure everything is on track. It also ensures the change being made is the right one at the right time.
As well as providing a measure of progress and success, giving a status report keeps the Project Manager accountable by making sure they are sticking to the things they have been asked to do and not focusing on something else.
Takeaway: Find a way to measure whether the things you’re doing are working. Are you on track to meet your goal? Do you need more time? Is it still the right thing for you to be working on?
Reporting to yourself, someone else or to a group – any of these will work just as long as you actually do it! If you need some help, check out StickK.
Lesson 6: All projects have an end date
Once a project has delivered what it sets out to, it’s time to reflect. Part of the closing down process is to spend time capturing ‘Lessons Learned’.
For example, what went well? What could have gone better? What would you do differently next time?
Lessons Learned offer the opportunity to reflect on the past with a view to informing the future. It’s a vitally important but all too often, neglected elements of a project.
Ironically, the more successful the project, the less likely people spend reflecting on what made it successful so these lessons can be used to increase the chances of success for other projects in the future.
Takeaway: Regardless of whether you achieved the goal you set out to, spend time reflecting on your experience.
What have you learned that you will use when planning your future goals? Were there any unexpected setbacks or obstacles you experienced? How will you deal with them differently in future? How would you define ‘success’ next time around?
Project Management has a lot of moving parts, many of which are discipline-specific. However, at its highest level, it offers a simple but effective framework to plan and carry out changes in any area of life.
Do you find yourself ‘project managing’ areas of your life to achieve the things you want? What are some of the tools you use? Let me know in the comments below.