Use Project Management Skills to Manage Your Life

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

If you’re a successful project manager, you have crucial skills that not every else has: time, cost and scope management, planning, scheduling, risk identification and mitigation, etc.  These skills are not just useful for managing projects at work - you can apply the same skills and techniques to manage your own life and career.

Before starting my own business as a speaker, trainer and coach, I worked as a project manager and I earned my PMP (Project Manager Practitioner) certification. I managed many re-engineering projects, and there were two things that I used as my not-so-secret weapons: Gantt charts and asking “dumb” questions. 

Using a Gantt chart
A Gantt chart is simply a graphical illustration that shows a schedule of specific project tasks, their dependencies and timelines.  The power of a Gantt chart is simply that all the tasks are in one place.  When managing a project, I took the information out of people’s heads and put it in some kind of order -- who’s supposed to do what, for how long, what has to happen first – so I could manage against it.

That same technique can be applied life and career development.  Any time you want to do something, whether it’s renovating the kitchen, planning for a child’s college education or looking for a new job, you can put together a Gantt chart.  (You can just draw it on paper, use Excel or get fancy and use Microsoft Project).  What is the first task that has to get done? Who can do it? What comes next? What or who is each task dependent on? How long should each task date? What is the deadline for completion?

Asking “dumb” questions
I used to facilitate meetings with all the people involved in a process that we were trying to re-engineer to make it more efficient (faster, cheaper, less labor intensive, etc.).  People processes were often more difficult to deal with than purely technical processes because of the emotions and egos involved. 

I would say, “My job in this meeting is to ask the dumb questions that nobody else in the room is going to ask, because you think you’re supposed to know the answer.”  I would ask, “Why do we have to do this report? Why do we need 10 signoffs to spend $10,000? Why is step in the process here?”  And I truly wanted to know so I would ask them in a nonjudgmental way.

The answers to those “dumb” questions very often would help diagnose the root cause of the problems and identify what to change as we designed the future state.

The willingness to ask dumb questions still allows me now to be creative, because I can look at my own life or my client’s situation and ask the questions that seem to be obvious, but that no one’s willing to ask, “Is there another way we could do this? What do other people do? How could we do this completely differently? What if we didn’t do this at all?”

As a project manager, you can borrow these same techniques or use some of your own to apply to your life and career.  They can help you manage elements such as schedule, budget, scope, communication and risk that can impact your plans to build a happy life and a successful career. 

Gilda Bonanno's blog