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.
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!