You’re in project management because you are attracted to organizing, creating processes and order, and you like working with people, communicating with them and drawing out their expectations. OK, so most of those things. Maybe you’re strong at some things and working on others; trying to get better every day. However you came to the field because of some passion that struck a raw nerve.
I have been off-line for about six months helping my wife build her business. She is an artisan baker, and when I say artisan I mean it in the true sense of the word. You cannot find her breads anywhere; nope, nowhere. Breads like double-smoked bacon and sautéed red onion, goat cheese and roasted red-pepper Fougasse, Pain de Campagne (country french bread) that is misted so perfectly throughout the baking cycle that it “crackles” when removed from the oven (by the way that is considered perfection), petite pain au chocolate (which visitors from France have told us tastes authentic), and the list goes on. Where was I going with this, oh yeah, well the other day we were talking about our different strengths and passions – because someone had offered to hire her to help with some cooking or baking type of work. The work would involve creating processes and educating people on how to organize for cooking, purchasing and storing groceries and generally how to get their own personal kitchen working. I argued that I didn’t think she would enjoy it because those weren’t her strengths, or weren’t really what she liked to do. And I illustrated with a comparison.
She had a business baking in the market a number of years ago before we started having kids. She would decide on the recipes, get the ingredients together and bake through the night Friday. I would get up early Saturday morning, just as she was finishing, load up the bread and sell it at the market for her. She tried coming down a couple of times, but with hours of hard work and no sleep in 24 hours, she was a little wasted and couldn’t connect the dots, so she did the baking and I did the selling. I built the relationship with the customers and it was a very loyal following; which included all types; even one jock I remember in particular who would buy three loaves, for him and his friends, of this cracked rye, cracked wheat, and whole flax bread. He called it Drano bread because of its effect on his digestive system and we laughed every time he came around and asked for his usual order. Well she found that kneading the bread was actually causing mastitis (if you need more detail, look it up yourself, as this is not a medical blog), and she had to stop baking. I did not want to disappoint all those customers so I said, “Fine then I will learn to bake bread on top of my existing regular job”. Now she was baking between 150 and 200 loaves a week and varying the recipes every week. I aimed for 100 loaves and narrowed down the selection. Here is where our difference came in, and my point.
When I took over, my focus was approach, structure and repeatable process. I measured, analyzed and tuned every aspect of bread baking. I found out I could do the dark breads on Thursday night from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM, as their flavors improved over Friday to sell Saturday morning. The lighter breads had to be made from 6:00 PM to 1:00 AM Friday. I only had one oven and had to ensure that all loaves in a recipe could fit in the one oven, that the pans were maximized for space and that I understood how to rotate them for even baking. I knew that Monday was planning and inventory day, Tuesday was ingredients buying day, Wednesday was marketing material and prep and then Thursday and Friday were baking days. When I was done each baking day, the kitchen had to be spotless and clean because of young kids and at that time I was also doing the house work and it would be waiting for me if I left it. However my bread selection was limited. I just wasn’t interested in pouring through baking cookbooks looking for new recipes. I could have on Monday nights, but I didn’t want to. However, and here is the difference, whenever she had spare time she was always trolling baking books looking for new recipes. Whenever I had spare time, I was looking through the steps and processes and trying to figure out how to do it more efficiently.
As a project manager I was interested in taking requirements that had been defined and were acceptable to the stakeholders and figuring out how to execute most effectively and timely to deliver within expectations. Today and always, I genuinely enjoy looking for patterns and structures to make things work better and you probably do too. You most likely see the big picture, all the moving parts, all the people involved and are constantly trying to understand how to make the machine work more efficiently. Yup that’s you! Think about the number of different things in your personal and work environments that you get involved in and think about what you are drawn to. What do you like to do, given the choice? You’ll find as a PM that you probably like to organize, sort, and structure. And that is good. Recognize too that other people look to you for that expertise, just as you should look to them for what they bring to the table. My wife brings a flair of creativity and passion to what she does and the value I provide is helping her to organize and structure things for the most efficient delivery. It’s all good and I and you have a role to play, that’s us! – and we have to appreciate others as well for what they provide.