Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Can you project manage a baby?

I recently became a father for the first time. (or as I recently said to a colleague "I was given line management responsibilities for a baby")

As a project manager, I wondered if you can "project manage a baby".

We did a pretty good job of preparing the things that needed to be prepared and making sure that we knew if we were having a boy or a girl – no blue outfits for girls in our house!!  I also arranged a pretty good baby shower for my partner and her friends.

After the baby was born, it was a different matter.  I hadn’t quite fully grasped, is that babies are “drum resources” and that you have to completely fit your life around them.  Before becoming a parent, my only experience of looking after children was when I looked after my niece.  We could hand her back at the end of the day and that was the part of being a parent that was the biggest shock.

I started the “project” by researching lessons learned by other people.  Colleagues and friends were invaluable in this respect, but I firmly believed that it wouldn’t be possible to manage the culture shock of having a newly born baby in the house, so we didn’t do very much to prepare for the sleepless nights and just kept reminding ourselves that the importance was to be flexible and open to the changes.  This is very much like an Agile project – you can’t 100% know what’s required, so you accept that you won’t get it right in the first instance.  You have to plan that the project is a journey where you have to learn and refine things as you go along.

You can easily manage resources being delivered “to site” before you need them, although having stocks of things that are too large seems to be a bit of a mistake.  I never thought that she’d have gone from newborn sizes to 0-3 months and from size one nappies to size two in 14 days, but she did!  I recently went to watch cars being manufactured at Jaguar/LandRover and I wholeheartedly believe that the “just in time” approach which is being applied to vehicle manufacturing there would work equally well with a baby.  Luckily, they don’t have to change the wheels every two weeks because the hubs have grown!

I learned a massive lesson about the importance of being patient.  I mean, I thought that I was patient, but I realized quickly that what I thought was patience, was just a thin veneer of patience over the top of a core of pure selfishness.  It’s not the same as with a partner, where you can both take it in turns to be selfish – you have to really pull together as a team.  If you don’t do that, and act in a selfless manner then the baby will suffer and that’s not good.  Putting the needs of others above yourself is really difficult to do, but it helps that the baby is a vested interest.  The closest thing to the experience was being a member of a mountain rescue team, in the way that it was charitable, you often got woken up in the middle of the night by a wailing noise (pager) and you knew that the reason for having to get up was usually more important than your sleep.

I also learned the true value of communication difficulty.  Without the ability to communicate properly, the baby will just cry to signal that there’s something wrong.  It’s like having a car dashboard with no gauges, speedometer, rev counter but only one warning light that signals a problem, but has no symbol.  You have to work out what’s wrong yourself, and this makes things very complicated at the beginning, when you can find yourself muttering “come on, help me out here” to the screaming child.

This makes the baby very much like user politics.  Users will often complain/take issue about one thing, when they really have an entirely different issue at heart.  Luckily, the baby is only motivated by food, toilet, hugs and sleep at the moment, so everything else that might be wrong seems to fit within those headings.  I look forward to being able to develop a process for looking after babies.

So, can you project manage a baby?  Once you accept that control is an illusion, you can happily say “yes”.