I Didn’t Even Realize I Was Baking

Nov 10, 2010 3 Comments by

As a part of rolling out big changes, I sometimes teach a series of workshops called Project Management-101. In the workshops, I help change teams understand and apply the most basic techniques of project management to reach their goals.

One of the most refreshing things about helping people who are new to this field is that they usually have no problem understanding or benefiting from these seemingly complex ideas as long as they are presented clearly and simply.

Case in Point: I love to cook, so I often use a reference list from a 1933 General Foods Cookbook called “All About Home Baking” to illustrate how effective project management largely involves applying simple rules and common sense. (I bought this classic cookbook at a yard sale years ago and keep it on my desk as a reminder to keep things simple.)

In the introduction to the cookbook’s first chapter there’s a wonderfully straight-forward list of six baking rules that could just as well have been titled “Six Rules of Project Management“. Over the next few posts, I’ll share these six insights.  The first is “Be Orderly“…

1. Be Orderly.  The cookbook tells us to do a bit of planning before we start to bake. Watch how closely these tips apply to the planning steps of any project:

  • Choose your recipe, read it carefully & understand it clearly.
  • Gather your ingredients before you start.
  • Assemble your utensils and lay them out in the order you will use them.
  • Cultivate a “do it right” attitude and you will make the baking process a joy and save time, money and many a worried moment as you go along.

So plan to plan your project.

A little organization can go a long way in the kitchen as well as in the project world.

Have a recipe. Some Project Managers call their favorite recipe a “project delivery methodology”.  Others call it a PMBOK-compliant process. I argue that it’s not so important exactly what process you use – but it is critical that you have a proven process to plan and execute your change projects and it’s critical that you at least try to consistently  follow it.

Get Your Act Together. Don’t skip the important step of laying things out before you start to dig in.

Consider what phases your project can be broken into.  Give yourself the time to understand the overall initiative and how it fits into the strategic goals of your team, department and company.  Get the big picture right and you will avoid clashing with immovable objects downstream.

Get Off on the Right Foot: Finally, the best time to set the pace for diligent project management is Day-1 of the planning process. Get the project team and stakeholders used to your expectations for clear activity definition, resource commitments, fact-based status reporting and sign-off for accepting deliverables. It can be just as difficult to introduce discipline half-way through a change project as it would be to add a forgotten teaspoon of baking soda to a cake once it’s been in the oven for 25 minutes…

In my next post, I’ll get into the second project management recommendation from the kitchen: Use Good Tools.

-Steve

Question for Chatter:

  1. Can a complex topic like project management really be compared to such a simple thing as baking?
  2. What other disciplines have you applied to explain the basics of your profession?

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

3 Responses to “I Didn’t Even Realize I Was Baking”

  1. Steve says:

    Thanks for the comment and Merry Christmas to you too Sanni!

    Our house will soon be covered in flour and sugar once the shopping is done and the Christmas baking begins!
    -Steve

  2. Tweets that mention I Didn’t Even Realize I Was Baking | theBigRocks of Change -- Topsy.com says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sanni Kotamäki. Sanni Kotamäki said: RT @chihos: As you #bake those cookies today, consider what #project #teams can learn from Betty Crocker: http://thebigrocks.com/project … […]

  3. Sanni Kotamäki says:

    Thanks for this excellent comparison! Long time ago I spent 6 years as a full-time mother with three kids, and I’m still confirmed that cooking as well as other daily routines with children helped me to find the role of a project manager somewhat comfortable (yet it’s always a bit uncomfortable :). So my answer is yes to both of your questions. Complexity can be then reached by wondering what are the ingredients we use for cooking, actually made of? What if I run out of sugar and use honey instead? How will the other ingredients behave? Is there a chemical reaction to be studied a bit more or is it wiser to take a few minutes and go and buy more sugar? What if one of the kids get sick and the whole cooking process must be interrupted? :) And I forgot! There’ll be more guests than originally planned sharing the meal with us, my oh my, let’s split the cake into 12 bits instead of 8.

    Fishing is also a great methodology: check the weather, plan the route, collect the equipments, be prepared for surprises and don’t get frustrated, and finally take the responsibility for whatever you’ll get, or not :)

    Happy Christmas!

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