Who Is the Real Project Manager on Thanksgiving Day?


You have been a project manager for more than three decades. You have received numerous awards and promotions for the many successful projects you have managed. You are certified in project management, program management, risk management, and almost every other certification known to man. Obviously, you can apply the principles and practices of project management to Thanksgiving Day activities, right? Well, think again because it may not be as easy as you think.

This year, you decide to make it easy for your spouse and family to get ready for Thanksgiving. You prepare a detailed statement of work, a breakdown structure going down through 12 levels of detail, a schedule broken into 15-minute time frames for the next several weeks, and a responsibility assignment matrix with assigned responsibilities for everyone who is part of your family and still breathing.

Now it is time to tell your significant other the great news and your good intentions. You are sitting with the dog (who happens to be your spouse’s pet) and tell them what you have done. The dog then looks at you with an expression of terror in his eyes, puts his tail under his legs, and hides under the bed. What brought fear into the dog?

Your better half then says, “Don’t you know my mother will be here with us?” Now you begin to understand that, as the PMBOK® Guide states, there may be enterprise environment factors that can influence the way the project will be managed and how decisions are made. Your spouse laughs, states their appreciation for what you have done, and tells you to throw away all of your great work. “Everything is being handled,” they assure you. Your spouse, who also happens to be a project manager, states that they, too, have created a responsibility assignment matrix for Thanksgiving Day and will give you your assignments and responsibilities as the critical path approaches.

On Thanksgiving morning, you awaken to the noise of something happening in the kitchen. Your extended Certified Associate Project Managers have all the pots and pans laid out and are in the early stages of prepping the feast. Looking for a place to sit for your morning cereal, it is suggested less than subtly you have breakfast somewhere out of the house. Obviously, the enterprise environment factors are kicking in. Before you can say anything, your mother-in-law hands you your responsibility assignment matrix which includes five activities:

  • Make sure all of the bathrooms are clean
  • Move some of the furniture
  • Bring home two bags of ice when you return from breakfast
  • Handle the garbage throughout the day
  • Take care of the coats as guests enter your home (correction: today, it appears that it should be called your spouse’s home!)

Within the list of activities been given to you, there may have be some room for negotiations. But since the list came from your mother-in-law, it is better to remain silent. Perhaps today is the day you should start taking tranquilizers and have an alcoholic beverage for breakfast.

Good project managers always have contingency plans in their back pocket… and so do you. Therefore, you decide to delegate some of the work to your kids. Unfortunately, all of them are gone; they are at the mall shopping (“Great sales today!”) until later and they all left their cell phones at home. Obviously, all of your kids knew something you didn’t know, and had their own contingency plans. You look around for your brother-in-law, but your sister-in-law tells you he doesn’t feel well and will arrive later. (Note: the correct meaning of ‘doesn’t feel well’ means my contingency plan is to watch the football game as long as possible on Thanksgiving Day).

It seems your better half had a project plan that was somewhat different from your plan. You return from breakfast… with your two bags of ice. As you approach the kitchen, you hear part of the conversation between your spouse, mother-in-law and sister-in-law. You see some really good looking hors d’oeuvres on a plate and decide to take one. Unfortunately, the game warden is watching you and holding a knife. You are informed that the hors d’oeuvres are for the guests. Therefore, you decide to keep all ten fingers attached to your hands. On this day, the kitchen is treated as “sacred ground” and you need permission to enter.

Did you really believe this was your house all this time?

Fear not… all is not lost. You go upstairs to the bedroom to watch some football. In less than two minutes, you hear footsteps coming down the hallway to the bedroom. Some more tasks have been found for you which it is inferred are more important than sports. Too bad the rest of your family didn’t play football or basketball in college. They would have a different outlook on life… perhaps.

Obviously your spouse knew exactly where you would be since they must have turned on all of the motion detectors. They instruct you to remain close by in case you’re needed, and say that you must wear an ankle tracking bracelet similar to what convicted felons must wear should you decide to leave the house.

Well, it seems that Thanksgiving Day was a success, but according to someone else’s project plan that may or may not have had any resemblance to the PMBOK® Guide. Good project managers believe in capturing lessons learned and best practices. Here are some of my best practices as they relate to Thanksgiving Day:

  • A man’s home is not necessarily his castle on certain days of the year
  • Sometimes you can learn contingency planning and best practices from your children
  • Traditional project management practices do not always work
  • Project sponsors on a $300 project can be more powerful and exert more influence than sponsors on a $300 million project, especially if they are part of your spouse’s blood line
  • Good project managers hope for the best but should plan for the worst (i.e. the amount of involvement by family members)
  • Project management happiness is a state of mind
  • There are times when a project manager must turn on his mute button to avoid creating a potentially bad conflict
  • If a conflict exists between you and your partner, you absolutely must forget about the conflict as quickly as possible because there’s no reason why two people should remember the conflict forever
  • Sometimes being humble and silent is better than being correct and homeless
  • Do not speak or taste anything unless asked to do so
  • Be sure you understand the organizational chart shown below  

The Organizational Chart

t day slide

Obviously, I am looking at this from a male perspective. Perhaps next year I can convince my wife to write a similar article from a female perspective. By then, however, I may end up writing a new book entitled “Project Management for Holidays.”

 Happy Thanksgiving!


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