Life is one big project. The trick is in managing it” (Maylor, 2010)

Project Management.What does it mean to you?When I was studying for my PRINCE2 Practitioner’s qualification in 2015 when I told people I was studying Project Management they looked at me blankly.Awkward pause.”HS2?” said I.Ah.Penny drops.Big engineering projects.

We tend to view Project Management as the management of business projects which may occur across a multitude of commercial and social organisations.Which is good because they are.Harvey Maylor proposes life is a project.

Harvey Maylor is the author of Europe’s best-selling project management text (Maylor, H (2010) Project Management, 4th edition, FT Prentice Hall) which has been translated into four other languages.I think he may also be a fan of rollercoasters judging by his book cover.Please sit down.Pull down the overhead safety bar and buckle up.I may have to shout when we’re going upside down on the PM rollercoaster due to the screams.

Ok.So we define a project as “a unique, transient endeavour undertaken to achieve planned objectives” (Association for Project Management [APM], 2012).

We need a positive business case to justify proceeding with a project.In the business world, we use this structured and logical approach to articulate our strategic goals, define the benefits we seek to realise, calculate the costs, evaluate our options and appraise our risks along the way (APM, 2017).

Hold the phone.Does that sound familiar?What was your positive business case for going to university?Getting married?Making a hasty exit when you knew the mother-in-law was visiting?(It better have been a good one I can tell you)Pivoting your business during the pandemic?Helping your children catch up on the 115 days latest research advises they have lost due to the pandemic?

You may not have called it a business case at the time but you made one and are in the process of making them all the time.

You articulate goals to yourself and others.

You define what benefits you seek.

You calculate costs,evaluate options and manage risks along the way.

We have skilled and experienced Project Management practitioners capable of guiding business projects through to completion, navigating the constraints of scope, time, cost and quality.Trust me.Look for the highlighter pens.It’s a dead give away.

In Maylor’s musings we have a radical departure from this mainstream view. Here we have the concept of Life being viewed as a series of related tasks which can be planned and managed as “one big project”. Is it a valid view?

In the sense that Life is temporary, unique and has a purpose, Maylor’s quotation is valid. In theory, the tools, techniques and skills of project management can be applied with equal efficacy to any endeavour that meets the project criteria of temporariness, uniqueness and purpose, including “life projects”.

This mindset is the driving force at the heart of growing interest, in the Project Management world, in a concept which may be loosely termed “project skills for life”. Academic studies have begun to explore the potential developmental and social benefits of teaching project skills to children via “project-based learning” in the classroom. By and large, the concept remains a new frontier, of interest mostly to charitable organisations and intrinsically motivated volunteers(like me).

During 2016, one such volunteer-led “project skills for life” initiative was devised to explore the feasibility and potential socio-cultural benefits of empowering an “at-risk” community group, in this case ESL (English as a Second Language) migrants in the process of cross-cultural transition, with a basic set of project management “skills for life”.

The “Life is a Project” (LIAP) initiative was conducted in Ealing, West London, as a series of weekly project skills workshops, deliver to a small group of ESL participants, in a zero-cost community venue, over a five-week period.

A basic curriculum was developed to introduce the concept of a project-based approach to life-task planning and achievement. Language-graded, visual training materials were developed to demonstrate a simple, five step Imagine-Plan-Do-Check-Achieve project life-cycle approach to the pursuit of life goals. During the workshops, fundamental concepts of project management, tools and techniques were reinforced with practical “life project” applications defined by participants.The programme culminated in the planning and delivery of a community-based project – a fund-raising “Refu-tea” party in support of the British Refugee Council.

The LIAP initiative proved the concept that a “demystified” set of project management skills, tools and techniques can be shared successfully with the wider community. LIAP participants embraced these new skills enthusiastically, participating actively in team-based activities and developing their own personal life project plans. In one exceptional instance, the participant pursued her workshop project through to the real-life launch of her business concept. http://ealingnewsextra.co.uk/features/learning-the-language-of-success/

The exciting outcomes of the LIAP initiative inspired further academic research into the nuances of cross-cultural transitions and the potential of project management “lite” as an enabling life skill. A cross-discipline literature search on theories and case studies of cross-cultural adaptation, migration, project-based learning and skills for life training culminated in the production of a novel academic research paper “Life is a Project: Project Management as an Enabling Life Skill”. This paper has recently been awarded the PMIEF 2017 James R. Snyder International Student Paper of the Year Award for the EMEA region.

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