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Project Managing Your Mother-In-Law

Mothers-in-law come in all shapes and sizes, and all moods too. So what’s the best way to handle a visit from your mother-in-law without having a social disaster?

Actually, it is remarkably similar to building the pyramids, or running an election campaign, or making a TV show, or developing a new submarine.

All of these are activities that involve multiple people working together to reach a specific outcome. And someone, somehow, needs to coordinate it all. Someone who is good at dealing with people.


A successful project manager needs to be part scientist, part artist. Tracking past progress and forecasting the future are pursuits that can benefit from scientific method, and automated tools which help implement method. But in the realm of the present, more is needed. It is not enough to measure the resources needed, to schedule tasks and to monitor the critical path.

What is needed is a “people person”: someone who can motivate, encourage, exhort and, when necessary, cajole each participant into performing as needed, into collaborating with others, and into working towards the end objective. Project management software cannot do this for you. The job calls for an artist, a specialist in the art of steering a team towards high output and high collaboration.

The well-known “golden trio” of project management is to deliver:

  • on specification,
  • on time, and
  • on budget.

The secret is to use the best tools available to help with the ‘scientific’ aspects of project management. Software can measure project performance and status, can report on past progress, can help with predictions and forecasts and can anticipate scheduling problems or critical path clashes. Spending less time on these tasks gives you more time to manage the people.


Software could even tell you where your mother-in-law’s last visit went wrong, what type of people to keep her way from, which conversation topics to avoid at all costs. It might predict how many other family members you’ll ideally need on hand to appease her, and which ones of them are available (even if they tell you they’re not!).

But in the end, whether the project is surviving your mother-in-law or building the pyramids, it is your skills in the ‘art’ of dealing with people that will make or break your project.

Software can’t help with the ‘art’, but it can make the ‘science’ quicker, so that the project manager can spend more time on the important people issues.

Like ‘motivating’ all those workers on the pyramids.

Or figuring out how to goof off unnoticed just before the mother-in-law arrives.



Alexandre Barret