Insight Blog

Let’s Talk Turkey and Project Management

by Eileen Koch

November 14, 2016 | Project, Program, Portfolio Management

There are 589 pages of information and 147 references to tools and techniques in the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK). Impressive and yes, overwhelming. I suspect we all agree on the definition – Project Management is the discipline of planning, executing, measuring, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals. But we differ on what’s most important. In this article, I focus on three critical components to managing any piece of work that will deliver results as well as bring peace of mind. Because project management is not only a discipline; it’s an art that you can apply to any facet of your life.

Four years ago, my Mom asked me if I would assume the role of hosting Thanksgiving. She had hosted Thanksgiving for over 50 years. After a mild panic attack, I agreed to take the reins. The same year, my Mother-in-law also decided to retire from her Thanksgiving hosting duties. In a moment of weakness, I accepted the challenge of combining both families and hosting over 50 people for Thanksgiving. So what’s the first thing a junkie project manager like me did? Fire up a spreadsheet to start planning. That and other ways I applied the discipline and the art of project management to the successful implementation of hosting my first 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 – that is, the extent to which the stakeholder is impacted by the project and/or can influence the project’s success. The second criterion is the stakeholder’s current and desired level of 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.


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 needed improvement from year one:
1.) Make more food than necessary; it can be delivered to local food shelters the next day
2.) Allow for more time to carve and put carved meat into large bins instead of fancy platters which are too small
3.) More people prefer dark meat than planned for (grilled two thighs for subsequent years)
4.) Take the butter out 30 minutes before serving to ease the application to the rolls
5.) Add more places for garbage and recycle
6.) 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. Worry about the big stuff (the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy)

As I start planning for Thanksgiving 2016, 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 We will be most grateful to work with you.

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