So today I forgot my daughter. Okay really I forgot that my car was at the repair shop and that I needed to get that first before I could get my daughter. How do I forget that my car is in for repair when I dropped it off this afternoon at 3 p.m.? Well let’s just say that when I am working on a project I am really in the project. We have a rule that there is no computer time until post-bedtime for the girls in my house for some very good reasons. My husband and I are both pretty focused people who tend to get entrenched in the details when we start working and often become rather oblivious to the world around us.
Anyhow, today I blame my lack of time tracking on a failure in my critical path, lack of risk analysis, and inability to delegate. I was in the basement, in a corner office, heads down on a critical project. My critical path was car shop calls at 5 to say car was done, I conclude meeting, I head upstairs to my office to collect belongings, get ride with colleague to repair shop, get car, drive to daycare, get daughter, drive home. From an effort perspective this entire sequence of activities could easily fit in the hour time frame I had before daycare pickup at 6 p.m.
Without the cues of people leaving the job (basement office with no windows) or seeing the daylight waning (basement office with no windows), I had no idea what time it was. My risk analysis of the situation didn’t consider the thunderstorms that came through today. I never considered that weather could knock out power and phones and make the car repair shop unable to contact me about my car. Again, basement office with no windows meant that I didn’t even know of the storm, so I was truly oblivious. If the first task of your critical path that everything else is dependent upon has a risk that you don’t see and cannot be completed, then there is no way that your schedule is going to hang together.
Anyhow, so finally someone said “how long are we working”, and it dawned on me to look at my clock. It was 5:30, so I went to find my keys and get out of the office so I could make my timeline. Of course I didn’t have my keys because they were with my car at the repair shop, so my critical path and schedule were shot. New critical path became get ride with colleague to car repair shop, get car, frantically call daycare saying that I would be late, call husband in panic to see if he can get there first, drive like crazy (through a town with non-working stoplights because of earlier mentioned storm), apologize to daycare, get daughter, apologize profusely to daycare some more, drive home.
As I put this new critical path into action I realized a few key things.
- Controlling the critical path is essential. I should not have my critical path rely on someone else’s unmonitored activities. If I had set a reminder for myself to check with the car repair shop, I’d know that something was going on with their phones and could head over there at a reasonable time to figure things out. One of the first things we learn as project managers is that we are ultimately responsible for the tasks and activities of a project. Even if we do not have the responsibility of doing the work, we have the responsibility to make sure that it is finished on time and done correctly. I failed to do any type of monitoring of activities today and so allowed my project to run out of control.
- Poor risk analysis means critical path failure. Okay, so maybe I don’t need to do formal risk analysis for every activity in my life, but I do need to think about how to have less reliance on other people so the risks are reduced. If I had set simple calendar reminders about when to leave and arranged for a ride earlier with a colleague, I would have had triggers that could have helped me get back onto schedule. When you do a project plan you should have some type of warning system to let you know that a risk you have identified just might be looming closer.
- Delegation is key to success. Two kids might as well be a football team to manage right now — it feels that chaotic. I have always done pickup and drop off for my oldest daughter, and when our second daughter was born I just assumed that we’d just add her to my morning driving circuit. What I am quickly learning is that it is really hard for me to do afternoon pickup and make it home or anywhere in a reasonable time. Leaving work at exactly 5 p.m. gives me barely enough time to pick up the oldest at one daycare and get to the youngest’s daycare for pickup at 6 p.m. Days when we have gymnastics at 5:30 or dance at 6:00 are impossible to handle solo. Clearly I need to sit down with my project team (a.k.a. my husband in this case) and review the project activities and talk about new roles and responsibilities. If you find yourself working late hours, feeling frantic and rushed, or just are overwhelmed with your project activities it is clearly a time to identify ways that your project team can help. No project manager can finish all of the project work alone, so learning to effectively delegate is clearly a skill to master (and one I’ll be working on over the next few weeks with my husband…)
Oh, it all worked out okay today after all. I got to daycare in time (6:29 and they close at 6:30), hubby pulled into parking lot just as I was exiting the building, but the stress to reach task completion was too much — next time I must plan better! Lesson learned for mommy.
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