Those who plan do better than those who do not plan even though they rarely stick to their plan.
~ Winston Churchill
As you may have noticed, the only certainty in life is change. Still, even in your “unplanned life”, you need to START with a plan. Let me give you an example. You may not have planned on getting laid off or being in a position where you just needed to change your work environment NOW. But when you do, your mind automatically inserts into “What do I do now?” mode. Logically, like most people who have bills to pay and perhaps family members depending on their income for support, you start to formulate a plan of action. As far-fetched as you may deem your plan to be, it doesn’t really matter how you start – it only matters that you start and figure out the rest along the way.
In my experience as a project manager in the world of finance (Investment Banking) for the last 10+ years, I’ve learned that the key skill sets of project management are transferable to all industries; and better yet, all walks of life! That is, it doesn’t matter so much what the project is because big or small, the point is that you are answering the same questions, over time, in a different format. As project management becomes a more popular job function across all industries, the most wanted (and successful) project managers are identified in their ability to understand the entire process, adapt to change, and still successfully execute.
While the level of complexity will vary, I look to answer very few questions when addressing projects:
- What is the issue?
- Do I understand what the big picture is?
- Do I know what the key milestones are?
- Have I identified the inherent risks in the process and do I have a mitigating action plan for each?
- At what point do I escalate? Who are the sponsors (also known as stakeholders) to whom issues are reported?
Now using the questions above, let’s use a real-life example. For reference, this scenario is truly a real-life scenario. While raising my daughter at the very beginning of her life, I went to school full-time at night (NYU), worked a full-time job in the daytime in order to attain my Bachelor’s degree, and I was a single parent. Doing so for four years until graduation proved to be an extreme test of time management – that is, I absolutely needed to “project manage my LIFE”!
Question 1: What is the issue?
Answer: I need to go to class (directly after work), but the sitter I use to watch my daughter while I’m in school has cancelled. (Let’s say you received word from your babysitter at 10 a.m. and class is at 6 p.m.)
Question 2: Do I understand the big picture?
Answer: I need to make alternate plans or inform my professor that I cannot attend,
Question 3: Do I know what the key milestones are?
Answer: I need to identify an alternate sitter no later than my 3 p.m. meeting. The deliverables from that meeting are due by the end of the day (5 p.m.). I will not have time to speak with anyone between the hours of 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Question 4: Have I identified the inherent risks in the process, and do I have a mitigating action plan for each?
Inherent Risk: It’s possible that an alternate sitter is not available.
Mitigating Action Plan 1: I can inform my boss that I need to leave work early. I also need to e-mail my professor to inquire if I can bring my daughter with me to class.
Mitigating Action Plan 2: Email my professor, to inquire if she teaches the same class on a different day. The students in that alternate class would be receiving the same information.
Mitigation Action Plan 3: E-mail my professor and ask if she can send me the materials for review (last option).
Question 6: At what point do I escalate? Who are the sponsors (also knowing as stakeholders) to whom issues are reported?
Answer: NOW! The issue was presented at 10 a.m. At 10:10 a.m, I begin calling alternate sitters, leaving voicemails (if needed), inform my boss that is it possible that I may need to leave earlier, and also e-mail my professor.
My professor emailed me back and confirmed that there is a Thursday night class that I could attend which would cover the same lesson plan. This option is perfect since I already attend classes on Thursday night, and my sitter would be available on that day. Just one more class for me!
The End Result (for “you” as an individual) – In ANY scenario
- You feel good about “proactive SELF”! You could have easily just given up, but you figured it out!
- The next time any difficulty arises, you will be mentally prepared to deal with the situation (no matter how chaotic it may seem)
- You’ve developed a relationship with an individual who can assist along the way (communication and transparency with “sponsors/stakeholders” are key)
Remember, our “plans” in life rarely go in the way in which we would like for them to go. As a matter of fact, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans! The “aha” moments are when we figure out that the process is leading us to our progress. Better yet, it the hardest journeys that push us to our ultimate potential! If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that our “unplanned lives” lead each and every one of us to our destiny. We just need to push ALL THE WAY through and learn from the lessons along the way.