Insight Blog

Let’s Talk Turkey and Project Management

by Eileen Koch

November 25, 2019 | Project Management

It is my 7th year hosting over 50 people for Thanksgiving.  And while I think I have it down, I rely on my years of experience in project management to ensure a successful Thanksgiving feast.  Here are the rules I live by to survive – a large project or 50 people for Thanksgiving:

Demystify the planning process.

No matter how big or small the program, project or task is that you are responsible for leading, start with a plan. Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that people are averse to planning because it actually triggers an emotion similar to pain. According to HBR, it is during the planning process that people tend to identify risks, discuss barriers, hypothesize worst-case scenarios, unearth team member deficiencies, voice vendor concerns, and discuss any number of other uncertainties. I say, yes! While this part of the planning can be frustrating and yes painful, it is time well spent to identify potential risk and mitigation methods and ultimately, bring greater clarity to the categories of work that need to be done to meet the objectives.

Invite your stakeholders to the table, literally.

If project managers didn’t have to worry about their stakeholders, projects could be run by robots. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. In addition to identifying your core project team, scan the landscape for all relevant stakeholders. According to Organizational Change Management expert, Dave Alhadeff, “each stakeholder or stakeholder group should be assessed and managed against two critical criteria. One criterion is the stakeholder’s power – If project managers didn’t have to worry about their stakeholders, projects could be run by robots. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. In addition to identifying your core project team, scan the landscape for all relevant stakeholders. According to Organizational Change Management expert, Dave Alhadeff, “each stakeholder or stakeholder group should be assessed and managed against two critical criteria. One criterion is the stakeholder’s engagement on the project. Clearly, the most important audiences are the more powerful stakeholders who are relatively unengaged. Continually monitor and evolve each stakeholder against this power/engagement relationship.”

Pause to reflect.

Post-mortems, the process by which a team discusses what went well and what could have been done differently, are invaluable tools if done right. In fact, I encourage pre-mortems, during-mortems, and post-mortems especially during multi-year programs. The most effective post-mortem reviews include the following three characteristics:

1) The review is facilitated by someone not on the project team who can be unbiased in leading the team towards strengths and weaknesses.

2) The review includes a tool like an Evidence Based Timeline (EBT). An EBT is a graphical timeline of project events that serves as a memory prompt for participants; it plots major decisions and/or events that significantly influenced the program.

3) The results from the review are used in preparation for your next project (i.e, the pre-mortem). It’s tempting to complete the review in a “check the box” kind of way. But the beauty of the review is to enhance performance, decrease “gotcha” type risks, and improve the overall health of the project team and results.

How do I apply these critical components to my Thanksgiving prep?

I create a 30-day plan to organize required tasks, plot when and where to shop, figure out who’s bringing what, and determine what can be made ahead of time. Who hasn’t started having fun at their own party, so in year two, I created an hour-by-hour plan for the day of Thanksgiving to reduce the risk of forgetting something.


My guests are my stakeholders and while I don’t do a stakeholder map plotting their power and engagement level (although that would be fun), I do think about each guest and what’s important to each of them. My Mom and my Mother-in-Law are at the top of the list.

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The next day, I reflect and immediately document what went well and what didn’t so I can remember to make adjustments for the following year. For fun, here are just a few things that I’ve learned over the years:

1.) Make more food than necessary; it can be delivered to local food shelters the next day.

2.) Take the butter out 30 minutes before serving to ease the application to the rolls.

3.) I can’t please everyone, but I learned that everyone is so happy that they aren’t hosting Thanksgiving, that they are willing to overlook any minor mishaps. Master the big stuff (turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy).

As I start planning for Thanksgiving 2019, I review my plan and notes from last year and get to work. Project Management does not need to be painful. Proper planning, understanding your stakeholders, and doing post-mortems can deliver results and bring peace of mind.

For more information on how Lake Shore Associates can help you with your project management needs, visit www.lakeshore.is. We will be most grateful to work with you.

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