Putting the man in project management

"God is in the Details"

“God is in the Details”

The weather has been like a Greek play and I don’t understand what’s going on, one moment it’s calm and there’s singing, the next it’s like the world will end.

And you would have thought with all this fussiness I inherited on my mom’s side, this need for constant circling around the house to keep things in order, I would have made for a better project manager. Like, if you’ve got that compulsive need to keep things in order and you’re well-organized, you could be good as a PM, you could sort of like it.

But something went afoul in me or the state of Denmark, and now here I am folding my kids’ laundry and learning how to handle bleach, taking notes and then blogging about it.

The one thing about being unemployed the past few months is getting to really know my kids. Before (this is a confession), the kids kind of got in the way of my work, that’s how it felt. Like they were on the outside of this cocoon I’d spun around myself. It was this Point A to Point B thing, skipping from task to task hoping I’ll get across and not go under.

And with Lily small for her age but a couple years older than Charlotte and Charlotte pretty much normal-sized, their clothes are like indistinguishable to me, a blur of ponies and cartoon characters and ice cream cones.

So to hunker down and actually wash, dry, fold, and start to identify each garment as unique to each girl, that’s new to me. To hold a shirt up and picture one of them inside it for a second makes me smile and gets me through any begrudging or crappy feelings I might otherwise have as a stay-at-home dad.

For our wedding anniversary, I gave the house a deep clean and realized the scent of bleach triggers a special place in my brain that brings pleasure and comfort, a natural relaxant, and not bad for huffing.

And like a lot of our friends and people we know, we had professional cleaners before I quit my job. Despite what any therapist or financial planner will say to convince you why it makes sense to hire help, it’s still a kind of leap to pay someone else to clean your house, it feels unusual. It violated some code I had in me, some discomfort I was now part of a class I didn’t picture myself in or necessarily like. I thought I was too down to earth, but I soon got over that.

So you would think the compulsive fussiness, the constant up and down around the house picking things up and putting things away, that would incline me to project management, a paid gig for endless woes and miscalculations and shit not put away or broken or just about so, stains that will never come out however hard you try, socks missing their mates and reappearing in the wrong places, ants getting in under the door sweeps and like talking shit about you, the ants: nothing ever quite right again after you see them, the ants.

I got outed as a project manager, or passed the litmus test, with a business owner who all but puked on a piece of paper she put on my chair, bullet pointing everything she thought we needed to manage it with an almost Beat irreverence, off-the-cuffness.

And when we sat down to have a proper discussion about it and she sensed my unease, my tightening jaw, she grinned a bit behind her glasses and said, What’s the matter, you don’t like it because it’s not organized?

And I nodded yeah, of course: and it was like I’d advanced a rung with her, to reinforce why I was the right guy for the project, even though I wasn’t. You think you can do anything until you stop thinking you can, which is true of just about everything.

So it’s ironic that after quitting my job to redefine myself now, at the end of the day the task before us, to relocate our family to Europe for a year, really just requires a solid project plan.

I bought a white board and last week, Dawn and I had a status meeting where I facilitated and drew columns, color-coded things by priority and even used some acronyms.

And like they will jam down your throat in the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), the need to reiterate, to go back and refine plans once you’ve completed them, is the most important thing to effectively manage a project. Because the plans are never done. Plans change. But planning…is still important.

We had this foolish assumption it would be a lot easier to live in Europe for a year. We’d never heard of the Schengen, underestimated the complexity in shopping for health insurance or how long it would take to get the paperwork to fly with pets.

And that’s why companies hire project managers, to find people who get off prodding all these little details out and fitting them together, like drawing a map, complete with the mythical dragons in the water because they really are out there and do have multiple heads, they’re uglier than the drawings, impossible to imagine, but know how to sink you on email and pretend like it never happened when you see them in the hallways.

The good project managers I knew I didn’t like. They had qualities I admired because I knew how hard it was, but because they were true PMs, it’s like I never really saw them without their costumes. They didn’t seem like happy-go-lucky people, because they’d looked inside the ass of the world and seen it for what it is, infinitely dark and untenable.

And I knew I couldn’t worry about being a nice guy but I never stopped worrying. There was a guy, a mentor of mine who is the reason I got into it all, who had an eye-twitch, a recovering alcoholic and brilliant PM who said I really don’t give a damn if you don’t like me, if you don’t think I’m nice. It’s not my job for you to like me.

You really have to get over that, or not even know what I’m talking about when I say it, if you want to be a good PM. And it was my Achilles heel to be nice, to want to be liked.

Because like parenting, you teach people how to treat you. And people are like kids, they will push to see how far they can go, how little they have to do or how much they can get away with; they will define your level of authority unless you do because it’s all just words until you act on it, how much you really mean it when you warn there’ll be consequences.

No, at the end of the day when I was leaving the best comments about me spoke of my integrity and having a good heart.

You can be a good PM and be all of these things, just not me.

Categories: death

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. I so like what you are saying! It’s all about integrity…


  2. The moral is, never look inside the ass of the world. You won’t like what you see.

    If you haven’t seen this Curb Your Enthusiasm clip, it will make you laugh. But warning – foul, foul language ahead. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEhk5N32Tec


    • I know you know that moral too, Walt. I look forward to this clip, thanks for sharing and will ping you this weekend. Hope you’re enjoying your time and I’ll get your snail mail to send you a robe. You look about 6′ from your linked in photo I reckon, should work.


  3. it must be incredibly hard to balance both, as a pm and a person of integrity


  4. My personality makes me opposed to too much order. Just looking at the picture of all those wires makes me sweat. I also want to be liked…guys like me (you?) don’t work on Wall Street.


    • Yeah I think we have that in common Jon, the desire to be liked, to please. I have a good friend who’s an expat and worked on Wall Street, took quite some time for her I think to recover and heal from the physical/emotional stress. She lived above a bar that closed down at 4 AM in Manhattan and it was a good day if she got home before it closed. I’d be OK with that feverish kind of pace if it was something I loved (wouldn’t we all, though?). Mine is no different tale, but it’s therapeutic for me to tell it so thank you so much for reading, I appreciate it. (I think you can relate to that ‘therapy’ thing perhaps, with all your family has dealt with this year.)


  5. It’s all over once you start speaking in acronyms. You may as well go work for the UN ;-).


    • Too much time, too many words, pack them into tupperware bins and move on. Like a lot of corporate places probably, we had quite the glossary of acronyms at Starbucks. That’s its own story, probably should pay someone to listen to me talk about it rather than spew all over my friends here on the Internet. But thanks for letting me cry/laugh on your shoulder, Dina. Appreciate it.


  6. There’s this idea that people pleasing is bad and weak, and, sure, it can be. But what’s wrong with being kind and compassionate and cooperative? I’d much rather be remembered that way than efficient or maybe even effective. Our traits are just that and not flaws, though they can make a job feel like it fits poorly. Good luck with the whiteboard and planning. Also, my husband has such a hard time putting away laundry. He frequently gives our older daughter my clothes, like she’d want anything to do with those.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had that same problem as your husband yesterday, where I was holding some things up and honestly not sure if they were my wife’s or my daughter’s. I like your comment about being remembered as nice and cooperative; I am proud of that, you’re right Kristen.

      Hey — went back to that castle place I wrote about a while back, when I was in PA a few weeks ago. We didn’t quite get to the castle, but we did stop in a rare gems store in Boyertown, and I mentioned to the woman there I was looking for that place, and she said her nephew is helping the owner renovate it, so I got a lead. It’s a kind of Moby Dick thing, maybe, and I’ve got that same hubris that there’s a story swimming under the water there.

      I hope you’re well and can squeeze out a post sometime, I miss your Friday stories. Best, – Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I got a lot of “me too” out of this post. Doing it right takes a lot of effort especially when you have to deal with people who won’t play by the rules. To make a long story short, I’m burning out and the saying says “those who can’t teach”, so I’m looking at getting into training.


    • Sorry to hear you’re burning out – would like to hear more if you’re willing to share via email or something. I know that saying of yours too. I’ve been curious to know what you do for work, if you ever want to share. I’m lucky now I can take some time off and sift through just what the heck happened the last 20 years. Better now while my brain can retain some of it and I might be able to work it into an interesting story/memoir. What’s that saying, If Not Now, When? Doesn’t that feel corporate? If Not Me, Who? If Not You, Why? How about we put some X on the radio and just forget about it all for an hour. Wild Gift for me.


  8. I am an extremely organized person, so I’ve had those management positions for years, which beg for all sense of decency to be bureaucrat-ed right out of me. I’ve learned that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Also, it’s easy to see how diametrically opposed one’s work life can be to one’s creative life and personality, and how jarring that is, once you realize it.


    • You are extremely organized – I get that from the fact you know where everything in your house is, in all your boxes, and I love that! We are getting closer to that. But having two kids seems to like more than double the complexity of it, to keep them penned-in and still relax and let them be kids, and a bit piggy. I like the last line of what you said because it kind of nailed it, for what I’m working through now. “Heavy.” Glad you are on the armchair with me Michelle, it’s a comfort. And that’s poorly put maybe. I wrote something like ‘crying in Dina’s lap’ on another comment and then switched it to shoulder, in case it reads funny. It’s funny, I feel like I had a nice week of connecting with you, Mark and Ross — thanks for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My wife actually asked me to stop folding clothes because I was putting my 13-year old’s clothes in my 8-year old’s dresser and vice-versa. I got points for being a team player but I busted the system.

    Nice post. I’m glad I circled-back and didn’t miss it. I’m not sure what gave you the idea it’d be easier to live in Europe. Or was that one of your clever sarcasms?


  10. Parenting is the best form of “project management.” It is an investment of time and patience and you will be glad that you gave them your full attention, including folding their clothes.


Leave a Reply to pinklightsabre Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: