Rearing complex projects: ensuring that your “baby” survives and thrives

By Christine Wall

If you’ve ever worked on a complex project, you know just how much time, attention, and energy they consume. And how, despite your best efforts, outside influences can derail your attempts to grow your project into the transformational change that your business or client needs.
I have two children who demand my time and attention, with absolute disregard for anything else I might consider important. They keep me awake at night: if I’m not “working late” caring for them, I’m thinking about how to help them learn the skills they need to navigate their changing worlds. No matter how much I might hope they grow into productive members of society, my good intent and worrying won’t change the end result. If I want to make change happen, I need to roll up my sleeves and be actively involved – as with any major project I have taken on.

The more I think about it, the more parallels I see between project management and parenthood. The below are just some of the lessons I’ve learned from this analogy…

Protecting your young

During a project’s infancy, it demands around-the-clock protection from outside shocks that might deal it a fatal blow before it can build any of its own resilience. So we spend time understanding the outcome that is needed, engaging project sponsors and building alignment around the solution, to give our project baby the best start possible.

First steps

As the project matures, it becomes less fragile, but requires more management to keep it on track. Anyone who has ever watched a toddler careening towards the corner of the kitchen table or a flight of stairs knows sometimes you have no choice but to intervene. However, sometimes a bump to the head (or a delay to the schedule) is unavoidable. Keeping a focus on the outcome helps us make good choices about when to step in.

Letting go

Eventually the project reaches the point at which it is well enough established to maintain its own momentum. It’s time to step back and let this fledgling initiative, into which you’ve poured so much of yourself, stand on its own two feet. In much the same way that the first day of kindergarten is often a juxtaposition of excitement and trepidation, it can be difficult to ‘let go’ of our projects – but let go we must, with confidence that we have set them up to achieve their outcome.

Personal lessons learned

One of the main things I’ve learned about work through parenthood is that it keeps me grounded. I need the intellectual stimulation of complex problem solving and the personal satisfaction that comes with knowing the work I am doing will make someone’s life better.

I’ve also learned that it’s OK to sometimes let the baby play on their own for 5 minutes while you have a tea and a bikkie. It’s all about balance. Especially when you know there is another “baby” on the horizon…