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It's August 23rd. Do You Know Where Your Project Is?

John_stoddard_cancer_center OK, busted again.  Another two week lag.  I alluded to some things going on in an earlier post, but after a comment I received this past week, I figured it best to lay it on the line for you, my readers.

When the summer started, I had made plans to step away from consulting for a couple of months to focus on my books.  Race Through the Forest entered a successful second printing last month, and it appears to be selling well.  SWAT - Seize the Accomplishment will be going to print before Labor Day, allowing me plenty of time for marketing before its release date in January, 2010.  What I didn't anticipate at the beginning of summer was yet another project, one where my participation was mandated... out of duty, out of love, out of necessity, out of care, out of need, and out of concern.  My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Now for those who have read this blog for a while, you know that my family is no stranger to the "Big C" - we wished we'd never met it, but sometimes it just happens.  I'm considered a subject matter expert in a few areas:  project management, office politics, creativity, etc.  Handling cancer is a topic on which I wish I were completely ignorant.

Anyway, back to the comment.  One of my well meaning friends asked me how it felt to have the summer off from project management to enjoy myself.  I know they meant nothing bad from the comment, and that it was well intentioned.  However, the more I thought about it, the more irked I found myself becoming.  Let's get this straight:  Not all projects occur in cubicles, in laboratories, or at construction sites.

Every single one of my project skills has been put to the test this summer:

  • When it comes to communication (90% of a project manager's time), there have been discussions with surgeons, oncologists, nurses, attending physicians, siblings (my sister walks on water, in my assessment), well meaning relatives and neighbors, and clergy.  We have to craft our messages for the audience and the time and hope for the best.
  • The resource management aspect has been critical.  Again, my sister and I have done a fairly decent job of picking up a lot of transportation to and from appointments and handling some things around her house.  We've learned to rely on friends and relatives for those times when we both had to be attending to other things, and we're blessed that Mom is surrounded by so many willing and helpful people.
  • On the issue of scope management, we're learning new terminology every day as we talk with Mom and her doctors about what treatments work and which ones don't.  While there is no "requirements document" that can blanket every cancer case, we keep up on the adjustments and check the results with the precision of a Six Sigma Master Black Belt.
  • Wanna talk risk management with me?  OK, when fevers spike and blood counts drop and a 9-day hospital stay occurs unexpectedly, you get very good at having "what if" discussions about contingency plans and scrapping current plans for new ones.  Flexibilty is as critical as oxygen at the moment.
  • Finally, time management and prioritization skills are put to the test.  I'm addicted to accomplishment.  There's no wing at the Betty Ford Clinic for over-achievers.  But I'm becoming better at telling other people and things in my life "no, thanks" and "not right now" - it just doesn't fit.  I wish there were more project managers who knew how to keep their scopes simple and focused.

I have a few projects under my belt over the past two decades.  There have been fun projects, intense projects, scary projects, screwed up projects, cool projects, and complex projects.  This project doesn't take place within cubicle walls, but it uses all the skills.  I've said for years that project management is universal, and this just supports that premise.  Some day I may have the summer off from project management.  Aw, who I am kidding?  Project management isn't a job; it's a lifestyle choice.


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Ms. Admin

Thanks for summarizing what I knew but hadn't verbalized. Throughout my husband's illness and death we joked that he was like any other project I'd undertaken. We had one doc which served as the General Contractor; the surgeon's nose was constantly out of joint because I informed him he was a subcontractor and was not allowed to discuss details w/my husband--the other specialists all understood the scope of the project and the need for one source for complete communication and planning. My other "aahh" moment came when I learned to accept help when it was offered and to know whom I could rely on when I needed help. Same as any other project, a team w/a specific goal, learning new vocabulary/techniques, continually monitoring/watching the time line and eventually achieving (?) the goal and signing my name on the final page of the completed, audited documents. Now, go take care of your mother, I know you hug your sister, don't forget your wife and daughters and take care of yourself---all of which should be included in your project.

Timothy Johnson

The true test of a project manager is how well they can exhibit their skills when they are NOT at the work place. These skills are universal, and the best project managers I've known can extrapolate.

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