Woman Construction Engineer

Preparing Teens for the 21st Century Work Place: Project Management

In There's a Stranger in My House by Dr James Wellborn

Jobs in which workers are responsible for discrete, repetitive and isolated (assembly line) tasks are disappearing in the 21st century work environment. In all levels of employment, workers have to accomplish multi-step tasks toward the completion of complex projects. In this environment, your kid’s ability to plan, coordinate and bring to completion complex projects will give them a decided advantage.

To be an effective project manager, your kid will need to know the basic phases (and processes) of project implementation: initiation, planning and design, execution and construction, monitoring and controlling and completion.

Initiate. The beginning of a project is marked by the identification of the specific outcome or product that will be delivered at the end of the process. The principle advisors or sponsors (e.g., parents, employers, etc.) will assign a manager to oversee the project. The project manager (i.e., your kid) will work with the advisors to figure out what is required to produce the desired outcome. This includes

  • determining the specific project goals,
  • identifying the time frame for the project,
  • establishing the available funds and resources and
  • considering the types of material and personnel support needed.

It will also be important to determine whether it is even possible to deliver the product given these limitations. This may require the manager and sponsors to consider a less ambitious project (or to abandon the project altogether).

Design and planning. Once it is decided to initiate the project, the manager will need to assemble their team to begin the design and planning of the project. They will need to figure out what it takes to deliver the product. Developing a project schedule provides an efficient way to establish and track the specific tasks, time lines for delivery and costs. At the very least, the project schedule should include

  • A breakdown of the tasks required to accomplish the outcome (including getting the project schedule completed)
  • A timeline for the beginning and completion of each task
  • Assignment of people responsible for the tasks
  • Budget for each task
  • List of required materials or resources

Executing the plan. When the sponsors have approved the plan, it is time to get going on the project. The manager will then take the plan and put it into action. This means coordinating people and resources. The manager is responsible for insuring that needed materials are available and making assignments for the people involved in the project.

Monitoring and controlling the processes. The manager will also have to keep an eye on all aspects of the processes and procedures identified in the project schedule. They will have to track several different parts of the schedule at one time. They are responsible for identifying difficulties or challenges that arise and for taking timely corrective action to keep the project on time and within budget. It may require some adjustment and return to previous steps depending on the scope of changes that must be made. Managers are also responsible for quality control.

Completion. When the program is completed and the product available, the manager is responsible for closing down the project. This includes making sure that final tasks are completed, any necessary documentation is completed and a final review with the team to discuss what was learned in each stage of the process that could be of use in future projects.

As you can see from this overview, project managers need a wide range of skills in order to effectively manage a project from initiation to completion. Like other complex 21st century skills (e.g., problem solving, leading by influence), project managers benefit from a range of other 21st century skills (e.g., adaptability, initiative, communication, creativity, work ethic, patience, dissenting opinion, critical analysis, decision making, saving grace).

Project management processes can be applied to any self-contained outcome whether it is a specific product or skill set. The ideal sequence is to have your kid assist you while you manage a project followed by having them assume the manager role in a subsequent project. In both instances, it is important to explicitly lay out the specific decisions and steps to complete the project (even though they may be obvious to you). Going through the process is the important thing. As a way to show how this would look, consider treating a family meal as the project.

Family Dinner. As the principle sponsor (and source of capital), you will need to identify the goal (i.e., prepare and consume a family meal), identify the day and time it is to take place and set the budget. Dietary needs (e.g., protein, vegetables, breads, DESSERT) should be identified to shape the menu. And, the people responsible for planning, gathering ingredients, preparing the food, setting the table, serving and clean up need to be assigned.

Planning the meal. The manager gathers the team together (which will include you) to determine the menu and break down the various tasks into specific steps. The team will develop a checklist that includes gathering recipes, creating a shopping list, food preparation and cooking, setting the table and clean up. Family members will be assigned tasks from this checklist. A program schedule can be developed from this checklist to enable the manager to determine who is assigned what task, what tasks need to be completed when and whether the project is proceeding on time and on budget.

Food Prep and Cooking. Once all the components have been identified, the schedule is finalized and your kid manager gets a final approval from you, the program schedule is put into action. The manager will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of these tasks. The family members will be given their assignments. Food will be procured leading up to the day of the meal. Assignments and roles in the preparation of the meal will be reviewed. Your kid manager will oversee the ongoing process to ensure the prep, cooking and presentation are all progressing according to the schedule and end in a successful meal.

Keeping the line moving. During the prep and cooking phase, your kid manager is responsible for making sure things stay on schedule. They will check on the quality of the ingredients, preparation and finished foods. When problems arise, the kid manager will gather relevant team members together to resolve the problem while keeping the meal prep on track. They will need to keep up with several things at once including the preparation and cooking of the various dishes as well as setting the table. They will be watching the progression of various aspects of meal prep with an eye toward the final dishes coming together at the appropriate time for optimal taste. All the while, they will also be completing their own assigned tasks. (This corporation can’t afford any administrative dead weight.)

Clean up. Then, everyone eats. After the meal, the final clean up is conducted. Recipes are modified and filed. Finally, the team reviews the quality of the meal and the successful parts of the process and any need for future modification. A review of everyone’s contributions, dispensing compliments and a celebration of a successful project caps it all off.

That is an example of how one typical aspect of family life can be used to teach your kid about project management. Here is a list of other possibilities:

  • An important family event, party, reunion, etc.
  • Large (e.g., deck) or small (e.g., birdhouse) building project
  • Family tasks (e.g., garden construction, gardening, yard work, seasonal work, house cleaning, etc.)
  • Repairing things
  • Vacation or trip planning
  • Grilling

Teaching your kid how to manage a project will require an interruption of the typical ongoing family interactions; more so than any other of the other 21st century skills. On the other hand, kids with this kind of experience will have a serious advantage over their peers since kids are just not getting the opportunity to develop this skill. You have the opportunity to help your kid understand the specific steps of the project management process, practice it and position themselves into a leadership role.