Grandma The Best Project Manager
– Vishwanath Thanalapatti
Did Grandmas manage projects at all? And if so efficiently? Yes they did to my knowledge and did well at that. As I take a stance at being a devil’s advocate, do read through my case study and there will be something for us to speak.
Let me start with a story. My grandfather was a man of the world. He lived a life with his heart and doors open. All those who visited our village without fail came to our house exactly at the luncheon gong. A sudden burst of voices and laughter was the first indication for my grandma that there will be additional people for lunch. My grandfather never once communicated the arrival of guests for lunch. He just invited them over. From there on it was my reverent grandma who managed the situation flawlessly; never once, never twice, it was all the time. As I look back and think through her management skills, I always concluded she would have made a perfect Project Manager. It is so devilish, at times I get a weird feeling if she was surveyed for the PMBOK or for that matter the PM triangle. If so it is not surprising at all.
Let us dive into the now established PMI process; a sample of few reins that a Project Manager (PM) needs to control to keep a project on track are the following:
a. The stakeholders – These are the folks who tap a PM on the back at all times to say a word, share a view or just ask “Hey! How’s it going? ”
b. Time – That ticks away relentlessly and decays by the second. A constraint that is closely tracked.
c. Cost – The buck stops here. To the budget office all other projects run above cost. So when we knock on the door for the extra dollar, there is nothing much left to speak; QED.
d. Scope – This is the bulging middle. No one knows how it grows. When it does the PM has to bring it down to zero size (meaning to the original scope) or initiate a change management process.
This is the set of constraints that my grandma had as well. The ‘organisation culture’ to her was informal communication. Her secret sauce for success. The grand children were the messengers or more appropriately the project team.
Project Management process:
My grandma always slept in the kitchen with her head on the raised threshold. One never knew if she was sleeping at all. The first signs that triggered the ‘Project Management process’ were the loud and booming voice of my grandfather inviting the visitors.
No sooner she heard a voice from without, she called one of us to go check who and how many are there. Her assumption from several years of experience was that eventually at the lunch hour additional people will stream in for food. We sneaked around to take stock and quietly whispered to her “Grandma. Five people from neighbouring village.” She always gave us an incentive for information.
Project Management touch point: A PM spends 80% of time communicating. This is an example of perfect piece of communication, instinctive, informal, complete, Good enough to act upon. The only risk is if we lied. The incentive was the mitigation strategy. The value of informal communication is immeasurable.
She further enquired from us if we could guess from which village the visitors could possibly be from. With the scrappy information she made a guesstimate of food she had to make. By this time she had the stove running and sent us on couple of errands to the local sety’s provision store.
Project Management touch point: The outcome from our communication was scope planning. It was ‘Expert judgement’. She collected requirements through ‘interviews’. The scope was validated with decision making technique based on information.
She had a gut feeling to light one, two or three stoves. And always told time by the crude sun dial looking at the position of the sun’s rays that came through the roof and fell on the kitchen wall. The food was prepared just in time to be served hot. Like all villagers the final serving was after the diner said enough, I am full. There was always room for one last extra spoon to show the largesse by the host, factoring for shyness of the visitor.
Project Management touch point:
The scope was now fit into time. The ‘organisation process asset’ was her previous experience. ‘Expert judgement’, ‘Activity list’ (maintained in mind) ‘ ‘Resource requirements’ (people and ingredients) and ‘Schedule control’ (timely completion) was done to perfection. The food had to be served hot and in time.
She was very smart in managing resources and cost. At any time she had the extra buck; very prudent. Grandfather simply paid the provision bill once every month the day after he got his pension. It was all standardized. He must have had a benchmark in the back of his mind and my grandmother had an uncanny ability not to breach the budget and mind you she never kept account.
Project Management touch point: The cost was estimated through ‘Expert Judgement’. She did follow the ‘Zero based budgeting’. Never bought anything unless there was a strong business case. She did manage very well with one vendor and managed inventory ‘Just in time’.
The above narrative is a true rendition from a ‘project team member’ in the household. And to this day, I sit back and wonder how an uneducated lady managed her projects so creditably. This line from the poem ‘The Village School Master’ by Oliver Goldsmith, aptly describes her wisdom “The one small head could carry all (s) he knew”…She did know Project Management as we practice today.