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Gardening and Project Management

My garden

My house was built in 1874. Space was not a premium in what was then a small market town, so it has a long garden. (I could live without at least half of it!) Each year I face a constant battle to keep it under control. It has struck me how much overlap there is between the routines of gardening and project management.

Keeping on top of the garden – especially at this time of year – requires endless weeding, pruning and tidying. They are all small jobs individually but if left for any length of time at all the garden rapidly becomes overgrown and each one becomes a big job in its own right.

As a Project Manager, I face a similar range of tasks needing constant attention – reports, plans, issues list, defect queue, documents to review. As with my garden, these are all small jobs individually but if they are left for any length of time each one becomes a big job in its own right.

In fact I think the garden in springtime is worse – if left alone the amount of work grows exponentially.

Both garden and project need to be kept under constant review; a repeated quick survey of both is needed to see if any single task is becoming urgent.

Another similarity is the need for good planning. As well as all the background tasks, each year I have to find time for a number of significant jobs, with a large enough block of time to get the job done. They also have deadlines, e.g. certain trees must be pruned in a particular month, but still everything else has to be done as well. This is similar to planning a new development cycle, with its own set of tasks and deadlines, while continuing to produce all weekly or monthly reports and such like on time.

Finally, contingency planning is important for both, as the best plans can be derailed by events outside my control. Particularly at this time of year when everything grows like mad, it only takes one or two weekends when other things come along to divert my attention (a wedding one weekend, continuous rain the next), and suddenly everything’s out of control again. Likewise in project management – a big crisis arises, causing new requirements to emerge suddenly and lots of meetings, and my spare day to do all the paperwork has suddenly been used up. A flexible approach is essential, not just to make sure there is some spare capacity in the plan, but also to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Both gardening and project management require constant vigilance, keeping a step ahead to provide some spare capacity to cope with the unexpected. Both assume a degree of planning to make sure everything gets done at the right time. A similar strategy is needed for both, for example making good use of spare half hours (cut the grass, update the plan). Finally both need flexibility to respond to changing events at no notice.

And, of course, neither job is ever finished…

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Categories: Work Tags: ,
  1. May 20, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    Hi Peter,

    I love those project management analogies, I have published an article once on project management and running.

    I would like to publish your article on PM Hut (I’m sure PM Hut readers will appreciate it), please either email me or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on the PM Hut site in case you’re OK with this.

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