4 Project Management Lessons Learned from Real Life

December 06, 2021

After working as a project manager on JCA’s Consulting team for over a decade, I’ve learned a lot from my ongoing project management training and project experience. After each project, we identify “lessons learned” so we can recognize patterns and develop strategies for each type of project we lead.

However, I recently had to re-learn some of these lessons from projects in my personal life. You see, I’ve been preparing to sell my house and move, which has resulted in numerous projects around the house. Most of these were new to me and I did not necessarily have deep domain knowledge, so it was an opportunity to re-learn some project management lessons. Since we often compare migrating to a new database like moving to a new house, I thought some of these lessons would be good to share with our JCA network. Here are four project management lessons learned from real life:

Lesson 1: Prioritization is Key

Since many rooms in our house have not been renovated since 1984, I knew I’d need to make some updates to make it attractive to potential buyers. I couldn’t afford to remodel the house from top to bottom, so I needed to prioritize the work to focus on the items that would make the biggest impact. I recognized early on that I needed a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to help me, so I asked my realtor for advice. With his guidance, we identified that the kitchen needed complete renovation, the interior needed a new coat of paint, and the powder room needed minor improvements—a coat of paint and a new faucet.

To keep costs as low as possible, I decided that I could do the work in the powder room myself. I also determined that the best bet for controlling costs in the kitchen was to keep the same layout. This did not match my vision for the kitchen, but I had to keep my end goals in mind and adjust my expectations. In this case, my goal was to make the kitchen look new and fresh within a short timeframe, while staying within budget. My new expectations aligned with those goals, even if I wouldn’t get the gourmet chef’s kitchen I had always dreamed of.

At JCA, we start each project with a thorough discussion of goals, priorities, and success criteria so we can ensure the scope and budget are aligned with those goals.

Lesson 2: Don’t Forget the Prep Work

If you have ever renovated a kitchen, you know that it is a huge interruption to your daily life. I’d have to clear out the cabinets, of course, but I also had to consider where I could store the relocated items. Since I don’t have a lot of extra storage space, I figured this was a good time to go through all of those drawers and cabinets, and donate items that I really didn’t need. (Or in the case of the “junk drawer”, get rid of of some things.)

This process added several weeks to the front end of the project—I had to do this before the contractor could start any work. However, the result was a reduction in the number of moving boxes cluttering my house during the renovations. As a bonus, this process will also simplify my eventual move.

At JCA we often recommend cleaning out old data prior to a move to a new system, or at least taking the time to evaluate what you might be storing that is no longer useful.

Lesson 3: Expect the Unexpected

Remember that powder room that needed to be painted? In the process of trying to remove the wall-hung sink so I could paint behind it, I uncovered a larger problem—the sink was barely attached to the wall. The drywall anchors had pulled through the slightly damp drywall, and it would all have to be replaced. Determined to do this myself, I consulted my brother, my neighbor, and multiple YouTube videos to figure out what to do. I cut out the old drywall, inserted a new wooden brace between the studs, replaced the drywall, painted, and rehung the sink.

This turned what was meant to be a single day’s worth of work into a multi-weekend project. I got it done, and it didn’t break my budget, but it did cost me a lot of extra time and labor. Also, my drywall mudding skills are at the novice level, so the end result is passable, but not great. If I had more flexibility with my budget, I would have hired an expert, who could have done this perfectly in a couple of hours.

Another lesson learned. There are always unknowns in any project. It’s best to expect them and plan contingency time, budget, and resources to address them when they pop up.

Lesson 4: Break Larger Tasks into Smaller Ones

The thought of painting every room in my house is daunting. I was tempted to hire someone to do all of the painting work because it was too overwhelming to think about. However, I remembered that the best way to tackle a project is to break it down into small, actionable steps. So, instead of thinking about painting the whole house, I divided it into smaller parts—living room walls, living room ceiling, living room trim, hallway walls, hallway ceiling, hallway trim, etc.

Now I have a much better idea of how to estimate the time it will take to complete each task, and I can schedule the time accordingly. When I compare that time to the number of weekends I have left before my desired listing date, I can see that it is too much for me to do without help. So now I know that I can do some of the tasks myself but need to outsource some of the other tasks. A professional painter can get a lot done while I’m at work, ensuring that I’ll meet my deadline.

In Project Management terms, this breaking down of work into smaller pieces is called a Work Breakdown Structure. It’s one of the first steps in the project planning phase, and it allows the project team to better estimate time and work hours, and make assignments for each task. We all have our own daily work to do, and it can be difficult to add project tasks on top of that. Understanding the full picture of the work involved for each tasks helps identify opportunities for outsourcing to experts.

Apply the Lessons to Future Projects

If you are an experienced DIY-er, these lessons may seem obvious to you. But sometimes, it takes a little trial and error to really get the hang of it—or at least know when to call in the experts. By framing these lessons in terms of Project Management methodology, you can apply them to your technology project as well—and get your house in order.

Don’t Worry. We’ve Got You Covered.

Superb project management is essential to ensure that your project is completed on time, on budget, with quality. At JCA, we are dedicated to providing the best outcomes to our clients—and it starts with project management.

Contact Us