Agile Parenting: Geof Lory

Geof Lory

Geof Lory

As a writer, speaker, trainer and practitioner of project management, I make it a point to read daily on the subject. I have my backlog of five to ten books, all threatening to be read, as well as a number of articles, white papers and web pages on leadership, teaming, process and personal development. I enjoy the variety of thought and perspective each data-byte brings. It is one way I attempt to stay fresh and continue to develop my craft.

Over the past several years, there has been an increasing emphasis on a diversion from the traditional approaches to project management in favor of something less rigid and more adaptive. This continues while membership in PMI and PMP®certification are at an all time high. This divergence has caused me to think about the underlying impetus for pushing the ends of the spectrum of project management.

On the one hand is the traditional plan and control mindset that encourages process and seeks to measure against preconceived or committed expectations. On the other hand is the more facilitative approach: document “what is” and realign as necessary, and if you can’t, reestablish expectations. And of course, like any good ice cream shop, there are at least 31 flavors in between.

I’m not going to advocate one approach over the other because I believe that each has its place depending on the project characteristics. I also feel that understanding both ends of the spectrum provides the flexibility to choose the approach that best fits your project. After all-as I have said many times in my articles-the goal of a project manager is to maximize the productivity of the project resources. Employing the proper project management approach is one key way to do that.

Since I write not only about project management but also about parenting, I can’t help but see the similarities between the spectrum of project management approaches and those of parenting. I have seen both ends and even employed both extremes, as well as most of the flavors in between. It seems each situation is like a separate project, with its own unique characteristics and commensurate need for structure. Certainly every child is unique and therefore deserves at least the conscious consideration of just how much rigidity and structure is necessary or warranted.

The key seems to be that, in order to choose the best approach for the situation, not only do you have to know, understand and be proficient at all levels, but also be open to considering the alternative approaches rather than defaulting to a prescribed or personally comfortable modus operandi. This sounds like a lot of work-the work of a craftsman who loves his craft.

I was using this analogy with a software development team I was working with a few weeks ago when one of the team members posed this question: “In project management terms, how would you describe your parenting style?” Being someone who does not like to be labeled, I was at first reluctant to respond and end up boxed into a corner of prescribed parental behavior. But before I could start my tap dance around it, I blurted out, “I would be an Agile Parent.”

Knowing that several of them were pretty familiar with the principles behind the Agile Manifesto especially as it relates to software development, I started to rattle off some of the principles, paraphrased for parenting. More specifically, they are Agile Project Management principles, as set out in the  Declaration of Interdependence from the Agile Project Leadership Network.

With all due respect to the pundits in this field-people like Jim Highsmith, Robert Wysocki and fellow ProjectConnections featured columnist Doug DeCarlo-I beg your tolerance as I take a few liberties with your genius.

The first principle that came to mind was, “Be Situationally Specific.” One size does not fit all. What works for one daughter is not necessarily appropriate for the other. What works at one age may not get the desired result when they are older. Different situations require different approaches. Recognize it, and be consciously prepared to alter your methods to get the desired results.

The second one was, “Choose people over things, values over tasks.” Task management may work when children are young and unable to make many of their own decisions, but maintaining that approach encourages a prolonged dependence that stunts their growth. Building values in children frees them to make their own decisions and own the consequences.

Not every principle that guides me as a parent is directly relative to a defined Agile software or project management principle, but the conversation got me thinking. Why not an Agile Parenting Manifesto, a list of core principles for parenting?

They would not be earth shattering, and in fact would mostly be a lot of common sense. But then again, most of the stuff you read about Agile Methods is a lot of common sense. Unfortunately, just like Agile practices, good parenting may be common sense but it is not always common practice.

So, I decided to reach out and collaborate with Doug DeCarlo, author of several books, most recently eXtreme Project Management to create an Agile Parenting Manifesto. Doug has graciously agreed to offer up his experience in leadership and I’ll propose cross-applications to parenting. Although I am far from an expert in the field of parenting-and can always learn more about project management-collaborating with Doug will provide rich material for several articles, while I get to work with someone I admire. The learning opportunity is just too good to pass up, for all of us.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to receive many responses from people all over the world with personal stories and great ideas from their project management and parenting experiences. Therefore, in the true spirit of collaboration, and attempting to practice some principles of virtual teaming, I invite your ideas for the Agile Parenting Manifesto. I will act as the scribe and we will create something together. And maybe somewhere along this path we will all learn something. Because in spite of what my daughters believe (mostly because I have promoted it), parents don’t really know everything.