Everyman’s project management

The View From Taft
By Tristan H. Macapanpan

Posted on November 03, 2011

We undertake a lot of activities every day. There are routine tasks which we customarily perform daily, often without giving much thought to them. How often have you brushed your teeth without even realizing it? Worse, how often have you driven to office without consciously choosing the route, even in the worst of traffic? I have, and it scares me that I could do those things almost subconsciously, if not unconsciously.

While routines put order in our life, accomplishing tasks as a matter of rote can often lead to disaster. There can always be unanticipated, uncontrollable occurrences that can derail your routine. Systemizing activities does not mean mindlessly doing them. In doing so, you can get confused when unforeseen snags are encountered because you have not made any allowances for them.

To be more efficient in any undertaking, I suggest that we use the perspective of Project Management in planning and accomplishing our activities, no matter how mundane they are. I am not advocating full-blown project management (PM) but rather using PM principles in planning our tasks. It would seem unusual to do this. A project is defined by the Project Management Institute as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service.” Our daily routines are not temporary nor do they usually result in a unique outcome. However, by using the PM principles, you can more efficiently perform these tasks.

In the Project Management module of my Operations Management course, I ask my MBA students to apply the principles to simple activities such as getting to work in the morning or preparing a meal. When they view these as projects, they are able to realize the value of systematizing the activity.

The very first principle in project management is to know and understand the purpose of the project. Secondly, there should be a clear picture of the tasks, chores, etc. required to accomplish the project and the sequence or precedence by which they must be performed including which can be performed simultaneously. Thirdly, have good estimates of the times necessary to accomplish the tasks. Lastly, determine the resources (human, equipment, materials, money) needed. If we analyze anything we set out to do, routine or otherwise, we apply all these principles.

In any thing we do we usually have an objective in mind, whether it is to get to the office in time or to have a delicious, nutritious meal. Unless we are doing things without a purpose, we must understand why we are doing things. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to do them systematically.

We also have a feel for the various components of the task. For example, in preparing a meal, we know that we have to have a menu in mind, break it down to dishes and acquire and prepare ingredients, and cook them. We also have to set the table before finally serving the dishes. These are just the major parts of the activity and there are more details to each. The whole activity should be broken down to a detail that tasks will not be overlooked. However, the breakdown should not be so detailed as to be micromanaged. One need not get down to the details of applying toothpaste to the toothbrush when defining the task of brushing teeth before going to office. However, it is necessary to specify that specific items of clothing be chosen when dressing for office.

Estimates of times are important because they will determine when the start and end times of any activity will be. In preparing a meal, we know when to begin for a meal to have it at a certain time. The start time will be dependent on the times necessary for the individual tasks. It may be necessary to have several estimates of probable times. The PERT method uses the following: most likely, pessimistic, and optimistic. In everyday life, we have this at the back of our minds and can easily define them. In going to office, we have ideas on how fast we can get there on the average (most likely), how late we can get (pessimistic), and how early we sometimes arrive (optimistic).

To put a system to these, we can put all these tasks and their times in a GANTT chart where columns represent the time periods and the rows show the different tasks slotted into the times when they can be done. In creating the chart, we can see the total time required and plan accordingly, allowing us to use our time more efficiently.

Tristan H. Macapanpan teaches Operations and Innovation Management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. He may be contacted through tristan.macapanpan@dlsu.edu.ph or macapanpant@yahoo.com.

The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of De La Salle University, its faculty and administrators.