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This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series The Parent Project

Project managing the freezerThe house is in crisis. The middle pages of Percy And The Kite have fallen out. Without the mid-section, you have no way of knowing how Percy fares in the kite contest although he does look (spoiler alert) very pleased on the final page. The final page is sticky-taped to the back cover. That one also fell out and was repaired.

I look for the missing pages under the wardrobe, under the cot, under the changing table. I look in the book basket, in the toy box, in the bag of pram essentials we take with us everywhere. Jack runs around the house shouting, “Percy! Percy!” I never expected to feel so much anxiety over a green train. It isn’t even Thomas, for goodness sake.

The pages are eventually found in the laundry bin (of course, why didn’t I look there first?) and I repair the book (again) with tape that evening. It is on days like this that I am glad of our chest freezer.

Since moving out of London we have – to the envy of our friends – a garage. The garage is a place of wonder, housing the amazing tumble dryer and a bottomless chest freezer. These are the two gadgets that contribute the most to the smooth running of the house, not counting the TV remote and the kettle, which also do their fair share of helping us get through the day. I love the freezer and I’ve gone all project management-y about food and meal planning.

I’ve discovered Once A Month Meals and I’ve made a chart so that I can systematically review all the past menu planners and make a note of the ones I want to cook. I go through the site on my commute, then transfer my chosen recipe names to the monthly meal planning book. Each week, the lunch and dinner plans get transferred to the fridge door. That way, I’m always ahead of myself by about seven days and I don’t have any “What’s for dinner?” crises to deal with.

The best thing is that by making the portion sizes on OAMM there is always enough left over for the freezer. My aim is to have a pasta thing (like a pasta bake or sauce), a pastry thing (a pie or quiche), a bread thing (like calzone) and a risotto in the freezer at all times as a minimum.

It sounds regimented but it really isn’t. I swap meals in and out, change my mind, use up ingredients and flex the plan if we are out (not that we get invited or choose to go out spontaneously much anymore). It’s also really easy to put together the shopping list: review the meal plan for the upcoming week and shop accordingly.

I know this is way more planning than many families do but I enjoy it. I like feeling organised, at home and at work, and meal planning is just one more way to add enough structure and process to keep things manageable while allowing enough wiggle room for a change. Then on days where finding Percy is more important than cooking from scratch, there is the bountiful chest freezer and a grand choice for dinner.

This entry is part 18 of 19 in the series The Parent Project


I said we’d never resort to television while Jack is still under 2, it’s not good for his development, language learning, he’s too young, blah blah blah. But we’ve soon found out that the gap between the end of his nap around 4pm and tea at 5.30pm is awful.

So hello, Mr Tumble. You are the saviour of my afternoons. You have the power to stop tantrums and make my son sit (sit!!!) for 15 minutes. I think I love you a little bit.

Mr Tumble is a character on the programme Something Special, which uses Makaton signing to help with language learning and expression. If you talk about Mr Tumble, Jack runs to find the remote control and points it at the TV, or does the sign for ‘bag’ (as Mr Tumble has a spotty bag). So we try to avoid talking about him too much if we don’t plan on watching one of 40 or so episodes we have recorded.

And what is Mr Tumble’s approach to project management? Well, if Mr Tumble was a project manager he’d be pretty good at it. Because…

He repeats everything

“Don’t forget the magic,” says the child’s voice.

“The magic?” says Mr Tumble.

“To send the spotty bag to Justin and his friends.”

“Ah, the magic. Will you help me?”

And then the magic rhyme: “Take your finger and touch your nose, blink three times and off it goes.” Jack lacks the dexterity to connect with his nose every time but sometimes we get a good touch and then a waggle as off it goes.

This is repeated in every episode, along with lots of other catchphrases, a hello song, a goodbye song, a… you get the picture. Repetition helps you remember the words and the signs and recall them more easily later in a different context – in the bank today a teller said she needed to find a bag for some coins and Jack shouted and signed “Bag!” I think Jack’s life would be complete if he had his own spotty bag.

Project communications often need to be repeated several times in different ways so that the message gets through. Risk management should also be repeated regularly throughout the project – too often we do risk identification and then forget about the process to identify new risks. Repetition is good!

He makes it fun

Mr Tumble’s tales are little stories of him and his friends from Tumble Town. It’s slapstick comedy but it’s funny. One of his other catchphrases is, “We’re all friends.”

Projects are better if the team gets on well and the work is fun. OK, you won’t get many laughs pouring a watering can on your head in the office but you can do your best to consider team morale when planning activities and try to factor in some fun. You don’t have to be best friends with your colleagues but treating them with respect and professionalism (even those you don’t like very much) will go a long way to making the project a pleasant place to be.

He’s inclusive

Mr Tumble’s alter ego, Justin Fletcher, appears in the show as well doing everyday activities with children and their carers or parents. Many of the children have special needs and the show is very inclusive. They’ve visited a temple, gone down a zip wire, done a circus skills workshop and visited a lifeboat station as well as things like going to the post office, on a train, and to the park.

There’s also something in it for adults. While I can’t sit through many episodes of In The Night Garden, my capacity for Mr Tumble is (at the moment) limitless, because I’m learning to sign too. Just because something is aimed at pre-schoolers and children with special educational needs doesn’t mean it has to be patronising or low quality.

Project communication is the same: making it basic and clear so that everyone can understand it means it is effective, as long as you avoid being patronising. As a project manager you have to work effectively with people at all levels of the workplace hierarchy and of all abilities.

He follows steps to make it safe

On the zip wire: an expert went down with the children. On the trapeze: adequate airtime given to the need for a harness. Life jackets for canoeing, helmets for horseriding, adult helpers and so on. Justin makes it safe, following the process to get a quality experience for everyone.

Project management processes won’t always guarantee you a quality result but you will have a better chance of achieving safe project success if you are careful and follow a process. Take your time and do it right.

Finally, project management takes a little bit of special sauce to get right, so don’t forget the magic! Project managers are extraordinary people. We get things done that other people can’t and often work in challenging situations. It’s not really magic but sometimes it looks like that, and if that’s what people want to believe then I’m not going to stop them!


The Parent Project: Month 19

This entry is part 17 of 19 in the series The Parent Project

I been back at work full-time for a month. I am not superwoman. The only way I have been able to do this is to have an excellent team around me at home and at work and fab systems in place to make everything run smoothly.

However, it is very clear that things are far from perfect and some quality standards have been lowered!

picture of socks

Do these socks match?

For example, is this a matching pair of socks? They are both from the Thomas The Tank Engine set, but one is Thomas and one is James. There is another Thomas sock and another James sock, but I couldn’t find either of them. Socks from the same pack, I have been told, do not make a matching pair. My view was that this is Good Enough (and regular readers will know that Good Enough is OK for me).

These are Jack’s feet. You can see how much he’s grown by comparing them to this picture.



No time to read (The Parent Project Month 18)

This entry is part 16 of 19 in the series The Parent Project


August PP 18

I don’t have time to read any more. While all the book reviews this month make it look like I sit around reading all day the truth is that I read most of them while commuting or in the weeks before Oliver was born when I didn’t have the energy to get off the sofa.

I miss it.

Not the sofa – reading.

I have a stack of novels to read: Incendiary by Chris Cleave, a book about Houdini, even The Soldier’s Wife by Joanna Trollope that I thought would be easy enough to get through with a sleep deprived brain. But I haven’t opened any of them: you can’t hold a novel and a squirming baby at the same time.

I thought ebooks would be the answer so I downloaded a Richard Castle novel (yes, my love of US procedural crime drama knows no bounds) and I haven’t even got to that. I forget that it’s there, or I’m using the iPad as a baby monitor. But mainly because at 5am I want to curl up on the sofa with the baby, a cup of tea and DIY SOS: The Big Build as it’s too early for anything else.

I expect there will be a time when I read for pleasure again. In the meantime, I read project management books because I’m going back to work and I want to prove to myself that I still understand phrases like ‘schedule feasibility risk’ and ‘planned velocity’ after months of reading Dear Zoo and Is This My Nose?

The thing is, I’m not sure that I do any longer.


Travelling light (The Parent Project Month 17)

This entry is part 15 of 19 in the series The Parent Project

View from the plane window, and me in the cabin

View from the plane window, and me in the cabin

It’s the night before I fly to Dublin to speak at a PMI Ireland Chapter event. I’m all organised and sitting relaxing with a glass of wine, my bag packed in the hall for the early morning flight.

Ha! Did you honestly think that was true?

In reality I’m sweeping 600 peas off the floor that have sat there for a couple of hours since Jack’s tea time. ‘Spoon training’ is not going well and he sees even less value in plates. I brush the peas into the bin.

“OK,” I mutter out loud. “What’s my next priority? Eyebrows. Yes, eyebrows.”

There is a guffaw from the other room which I can just about hear over the pacing footsteps and the sobbing baby. Given that there’s no meal for adults prepped yet, I can understand why. However, it’s the first time I’ve spoken live in front of an audience (i.e. not a virtual Skype-style conference) for a long time, and my first international trip since the boys were born. And as I can only fit into my suit skirt if I don’t do the zip up to the top I want to make sure I look as good as I can as that will make me feel more confident.

Brows done, bag packed, clothes hung on the back of the door (spare tights in my bag just in case). Label cut off the top I bought just this afternoon. I even dig out some make up from where it’s been languishing at the back of the cupboard and put it on the bathroom shelf, ready. Now we can do dinner.

In the morning, I do my bits of the breakfast routine in an old T-shirt and shorts just in case someone flicks Weetabix at me or is sick down my suit.

At the last minute, “pretty mummy” comes down the stairs and we load the boys into the car for a family drive to the airport.

They are both asleep when we arrive, so I don’t wake them to say goodbye. The flight is less than an hour and I’ll be back tonight, but it feels like I’m going away, properly. It’s sad.

I love my job and I love travelling but from now on it will always be like this. Won’t it?


The Parent Project: Month 15 and 4

This entry is part 14 of 19 in the series The Parent Project


“Is the entrance that way, love?” said the delivery man as I was walking past a local school.

I replied that it was.

I didn’t have the children with me at the time but I must have looked like a harried mother who would know how to get to the school. When I got home I realised I had baby sick all down my jumper so yes, I definitely looked like I would know that kind of thing.

I know a lot of things now that I didn’t know 15 months ago. For example, I am pretty adept at measuring out 80ml of water for the steriliser by eye now. I know that red cheeks are probably teething and not carbon monoxide poisoning. And I know that toddlers are supposed to test their boundaries in a safe environment at home. However, this whole testing boundaries phase apparently goes on for quite a lot longer than just the toddling stage, and we already have plenty of testing going on at our house.

Things Jack knows he shouldn’t do but does anyway:

  • Pull books off the antique bookcase (now removed to the office)
  • Climb the stairs by himself (stair gate bought but not yet fitted yet – must remember to keep the lounge door closed!)
  • Bang on glass, especially the glass fronted TV cabinet (footstool now in front of cabinet to make it harder to reach)
  • Throw food on the floor and then sign “Where’s it gone?” (this is a fun game when we hide toys, but not so great at meal times)
  • Pull hair (he looks like he is growing out of this one, thankfully).

In Healthcare Project Management, Kathy Schwalbe and Dan Furlong write:

It has been said that any decent project manager should have been told, “You went beyond your authority,” at least once a year or they are not being as effective as they should be. Why? Because if you have not tested your boundaries, then you do not know exactly what they are.

So I am Jack’s project sponsor – helping him understand the boundaries of behaviour. Luckily Oliver isn’t capable of much beyond a little giggle if you tickle him under the arms but heaven help me when they’re both at it. That will bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘the testing stage’.


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