This is the fourth and final blog in my series on the Project Management lessons I learned from my father. The five lessons in “A Generous Way” focused on how my father’s generosity of spirit can make for better projects, by treating people well and celebrating their successes. In “A Harmonious Way”, I discussed how my father’s attitudes to life and to time can make us better project managers. We would recognise all five lessons as coming from the world of Positive Psychology; he would not have recognised the term and would probably just have called it optimism.
Lessons from Business
In this blog, we get to the basics as far as project management is concerned. These are the most obviously relevant lessons and most of them reflect how he did business. Dad built his own business from nothing, and I think these lessons will serve anyone looking to do the same.
One of my favourite stories that my dad told me concerned the first days of running his shop. I could argue that this represents a demonstration of the old standby of the self-help movement: “fake it ‘til you make it.” In truth, I am sure this was not his intent. What he was focused on was managing his risk in a time of uncertainty.
He opened his shop (a hardware store, which explains my abiding love of all tools, fastenings and ironmongery) with very little capital and, I am sure, a determination to take no unnecessary risks. So he negotiated with his suppliers the absolute minimum stock levels of each item, which allowed him to maximise the range he could open the shop with. However, he also persuaded the suppliers to send him a load of empty boxes, which he used to fill his shelves and create the appearance of a well stocked shop.
Measure twice; cut once
I think this phrase comes from the tailoring profession, but I learned it from my father. He used to cut up plywood, blockboard, hardboard, chipboard and asbestos (yes, you read that correctly) to size for his customers, using a circular saw that he had for over 25 years, and used every day. “Measure twice; cut once” – what a great rule for so many aspects of project planning and delivery.
I learned my sense of order from my father. Everything was always where it belonged in his shop. Boxes of screws were stacked in order of size, and work tools were kept in the tool box. Hardware was displayed in logical groupings and stored on shelves in labelled boxes. Rarely was there ever a delay in finding what the customer wanted.
The Power of Routine
One of my favourite things about working in the shop on a Saturday was doing the cash. Totalling the till, entering it into the daily record, and totalling the week. Record keeping like this is not a fun thing, but it is necessary – although it was a joy to me, that was because it symbolised my father’s trust.
For him, it was one more thing he had to do each day before he could go home. But by staying on top of it, he maintained a good understanding of his business and never built up a foreboding stack of admin. This discipline served me well in managing large projects with complex financial administration.
My father was always concerned to mark milestones in his business and family life. He understood the powerful motivating impact of celebrating successes. As a project manager, I was always keen to use more milestones, rather than fewer for that reason.
The “so what?”
There is a place for risk taking, but being cautious and steady will always remain in fashion when working on a project. With so many uncertainties, look for any opportunity to retain contol and spread your risk.