When my daughter was small, she was a master of wearing 4 – 5 different outfits a day. Much to my surprise on laundry day, clothes that I hadn’t seen on her body were back in the laundry. My immediate response was I wasn’t washing clean clothes that never made their way from the hamper to her dresser or closet depending on the storage requirements. So at age 8, my daughter was going to do her own laundry.
The quandary! How was I going to communicate to her the basic requirements of doing laundry? She could read but she just wasn’t overly organized when it came to putting her laundry away or choosing the outfit of the day and returning the unused, clean clothes to the appropriate receptacle.
I decided that the best way to provide a framework for laundry was to make a list with detailed instructions just like I would for a project. I ended up with two lists; one for washing clothes and the other for drying clothes. My friends and family thought I had lost my mind. It worked. After about six months, she didn’t need the list anymore.
The process was expanded to a weekly list on the refrigerator that listed chores by day. The chores by day model was used to pay a daily allowance instead of a weekly one. At the end of the day, we reviewed the list and she received her allowance based on the actual chores completed. I still have some of the lists downstairs in a box of training material that I used to show project managers that no task is so small that you can’t break it down. One of the items on the chore list was to do the dishes with two of us responsible for making sure it happened. If you have two people assigned to do the dishes, it can be broken down into one task that each person will complete (One washes the dishes while the other dries the dishes). An activity of ‘Do laundry’ can be broken down into washing the clothes, drying the clothes, ironing the clothes and putting the clothes away. One activity just became individual tasks.
The golden nugget for today is ‘that it is never too early to learn to organize the work. Work breakdown structures allow you to chunk the work into bite size pieces. The bite size pieces can be communicated one at time for children and some adults or all at once to others. One of the most important responsibilities of a project manager is to communicate the ‘what, where, when, why and who’ of a task.’
The lesson learned from this exercise is ‘if your mother did everything in your house when you were growing up, don’t tell her that you are practising project management techniques on your children and partner.’ My mother and daughter remind me frequently that my family isn’t supposed to be my personal lab experiment.