The new parent method of project management

Almost three weeks ago, I became a father (see left Exhibit A, Laurelin Frances), and my life changed quite dramatically.  As any new parent will tell you, having a baby turns even the simplest action into a logistical nightmare.  In effect, it’s like having the manager from hell, who drops extra work on you at no notice, which is instantly hugely critical (and even overdue) and could take 10 minutes or 3 hours.

So what’s this got to do with project management?  In a smaller department without a lot of resource ‘fat’ its difficult to dedicate uninterrupted staff time, and even when you do find some spare resource a service outage or security incident can force you to divert resource back to reactive support work.  This is exactly how your average new parents day goes, so the lessons learned in one environment can be translated to the other.

Lessons learned

Over the past three weeks I’ve found five key factors which are common to both scenarios;

  1. Preparation. Setup everything you need (documentation, hardware, software) exactly where you need it.  This allows,
  2. Agility.  You need to be able to complete tasks without a lot of warning, preparation is one part of this but attitude and commitment on the part of staff is the other.
  3. Persistence.  If something interrupts what you’re doing (as it inevitably will), pick it up again as soon as possible, and ensure your project documentation supports working in an interrupted pattern.
  4. Pragmatism.  Set realistic targets, nothing ever goes completely to plan, assume there will be interruptions and schedule accordingly.
  5. Structure.  Make sure the individual project tasks are suitably sized so they can be completed as quickly as possible, minimizing the likelihood that they would be interrupted.

Make the best of what you’ve got

This scenario isn’t the ideal, it would be preferable if project resources were completely ring-fenced and inviolate, but when institutions are reluctant to fund staff to undertake capital expenditure project activity (as opposed to operational expenditure) this is the reality of the small IT department.  Neither should any IT Manager ignore the other options for proactive project work in a largely reactive department, including outsourcing or partnering with a third party and contract staff.  However, I’ve learned that staff who completely understand the users, their requirements and their working practices, have a far higher chance of a positive outcome.

Even with a limited amount of resource if you follow the practices above, you should still be able to deliver successful projects (a theory which I’ll be testing out over the next 3-4 weeks with a deployment of Druva InSync across our network at CSCS).

Richard Bartlett

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