4 Things Project Managers Can Learn From Having a Baby

Planning is key, but so is flexibility.

Last year I got married and shared my experience with Government Technology readers in my article What Government Agencies Can Learn from a Good Marriage.

This year, the Steve Ressler news continues as my wife and I are expecting our first child (though my wife is doing all the hard work).

In preparation for our first born, like most new parents, we’ve been doing a lot of planning: preparing the nursery, looking at day care providers and generally thinking about what our lives will be like with the new addition.

After countless hours of preparation and discussion, the more I thought about it, planning for a child is really no different from planning an important project. (No, the baby isn’t a project; he will be the most beautiful thing in the world. Don’t get me in trouble with my wife.)

So in that vein, I thought I’d share my project management tips gleaned from baby planning.

1. Ask for advice. When we found out we were expecting, we started asking our friends and family members for tips on everything from the pregnancy to hospitals to clothes. The good news is that everyone is really happy to give advice. The bad news is that it’s often conflicting, so you have to see commonalities, understand the source’s perspective and decide what you care about.  

The same is true with projects. It’s important to ask others why certain projects succeeded or failed to get an understanding of key issues. It’s great to ask for advice on a given project, but in the end, you’ll have to decipher the various inputs and then make your own decisions.

2. Get the stakeholders on the same page. With a baby on the way, everyone has a different opinion about what’s going to happen when the baby is born. Some family members want to be at the hospital, others want to stay and visit for a month, while quite a few expect us to tell them when they are wanted.  

Having a clear understanding up front makes the process better for everyone. For us that meant having discussions with our various friends and family about visits and where we needed help. Because in the end, there’s only one key stakeholder — the mom-to-be — who needs to be happy.  
This also is true with an important project: It is worth the effort to spend time up front to get all the key stakeholders on the same page. Also, it’s important to diagnose the various inputs, as often there is one person who is the definitive stakeholder who will decide if the project is complete and a success.

3. Know what you want. After reading numerous books and attending classes, we have an idea of what we want out of the birth. There are multiple variables, birthing philosophies and critical decisions that are as controversial to talk about at a dinner party as politics and religion. But we know what we want and that’s documented in a requested birth process that we shared with our midwives and the hospital.  

This also applies to project management — project leads should define and be clear about what they want, what success looks like and understand the process to achieve it. Often in government, you may be under certain rules regarding materials to use (must be made in the U.S.) or procedures (only build on certain days, etc.) — the key is to know what you want.

4. Be flexible. Even the best-made plans are subject to change. For all the work on writing down our requested birth process, my wife and I are both aware that it may change radically once the process begins. A number of doctors told us that their biggest issue these days is that women have a hard time adjusting when nature takes a different course from their plans.

In any major project, you should have a good plan, but remember that it could change. There are always variables you never thought about or are outside of your control. Instead of focusing on how this is the undesired process or outcome, spend your energy adjusting to the changes and optimizing your energy under the new circumstances.

As my former boss always said, “A successful project is a completed project.” So wish me luck as we “complete” our first project and hope for a healthy baby boy Ressler.  


Miriam Jones is chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. She joined e.Republic in 2000 as an editor of Converge magazine.