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Friday, October 25, 2013

Life Skills through Project Management - Projects for Kids

This article celebrates International Project Management Day - November 7, 2013. One key theme this year is Life skills through project management – Teaching project management skills such as planning, organizing and leading to young people in grammar schools and high school. 

Managing Projects is tough, right? You need a lot of training, experience, an iron will and a cast-iron stomach in order to be able to deal with all of the challenges and complexities that your sponsor, stakeholders, vendors and customers can throw at you. And yet somehow, you manage to survive the experience, and take those battle scars with you as you strive to improve on the next project. Sometimes it seems that if you are not some sort of Superman, you won't survive.

Hardly sounds like fun - who would want to ever manage a project with a bleak future like that ahead of you, with all of your projects viewed as uphill battles?

Not all projects are like that - and in fact, many activities that happen in our everyday lives are, in reality, projects. The problem is that most people don't realize that fact - and yes, I even include the experienced Project Managers.

I also submit to you that managing projects does not have to be tough. It can be fun!

Not only can they be fun, but managing projects is so simple that a child could do it. They may not be quite ready to tackle your multi-million dollar project, but I assure you that children can - and do - manage projects every day. The big difference between their projects and yours is scale and language. But even at that, you may find yourself surprised at what 10-12 year old children (and even younger) can actually do.

Learning to manage projects successfully is an essential life skill - and you are never too young (or too old) to learn how to do it.

Even a Child can do it

Project Management concepts are actually not that hard to understand, but you do need to consider the language you use when teaching children. Let's take a look at how one Project Manager tries to explain things to his 11 year old daughter, and ends up adapting his teaching so she can better understand and use some simple project management techniques to solve a big problem.

Extract from The Ultimate Tree House Project

6. This Means War!

When Amanda got home, she went into the kitchen to talk to her Mom. Instead, she found her father getting a drink of water from the tap. 

“Where’s Mom?” asked Amanda.

“She just went to the store to pick up some spices for dinner. We ran out.” Her father said. 

“What’s up, kiddo? You look upset.”

“Boys are stupid.” she said.

Her father raised his eyebrows. “All boys? Including me?”

Amanda looked at her father. Oops! “No, of course not YOU, Dad. You know, BOYS. Especially Ben.”

“Oooh, Boys. What seems to be the problem?” asked her father in a gentle tone.

“They just, they just….ooooo! They are so annoying sometimes!” she exclaimed. “I know how to do what they need to do and they won’t let me help them because I’m a GIRL.”

“And what do they need to do?” he inquired.

“Build a tree house. I mean, the rope ladder for it. I know how to make one, I learned it in Girl Guides. But they won’t listen. They are just dumb boys. They said that No Girls were Allowed, and that’s not fair!” she pouted.

“Well, what’s stopping you from building your own tree house?” asked her father, looking at her closely.

“I….what?” she stopped and looked at her father. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you seem to know how to do some of the things that these silly boys don’t know how to do, so why don’t you build your own tree house?” He looked at her with a sly smile on his face. “We have lots of wood left in the yard from the old fence, and you are welcome to use it to build your own tree house too.”

Realization of what her father was saying crept across her face like a sunrise. “Really? Can I? I mean us Girls? Can we?” she blurted out.

“Of course. Girls are just as capable as boys. Plus you will have a secret weapon!” he announced.

“What secret weapon?” she asked.

“Me!” said her Dad.

“Huh?” she looked at her father closely. “What do you mean?”

“Do you want to make a tree house like your brother?” asked her father.

“Yes! I mean no, the boys’ one looks silly. I want to build a better tree house than them.” She crossed her arms and raised her head defiantly. “I want to build a much better tree house than Ben and his gang.”

“Oh really?” smiled her Dad. “Are you willing to pay the price?”

Amanda suddenly looked uncertain. “What price? I don’t have much of my allowance left. It’s not Saturday yet.”

Her Dad smiled. “Not your money, Amanda. You keep that. The price I am talking about is taking the time to learn how to build your tree house the right way.”

“And what is the right way?” asked Amanda, now puzzled.

“As a PROJECT.” declared her Dad.

“Awww Dad, not work stuff!” groaned Amanda. Her father was a Project Manager for a local construction company. “Work stuff is boring!”

“Just wait and listen,” continued her father. “You need a bit of this work stuff in order to make your tree house better than Ben’s.”

He paused, noting his daughter’s scowl. “Not only am I going to tell you how to make a better tree house than Ben, I am going to show you that you can do it easier than him. Are you interested?”

Better? Easier? she thought. She liked the idea of that. “Okay Dad, tell me how to do it!”

“Well first, Mandy, I need to draw you some pictures.” her father replied. “Please go into my office and grab some blank pieces of paper and a ruler and meet me at the kitchen table.”

Amanda went down the hallway and entered her father’s “home office”. She opened the printer tray and pulled out five pieces of blank paper. She closed the printer tray and walked back to the kitchen where her father was waiting at the table.

“Have a seat, Amanda.” said her father. “No, not in your normal seat. Sit beside me so you can see what I am drawing.”

Amanda moved around the table to sit beside her father.

He pulled a mechanical pencil from his shirt pocket and drew some lines using the ruler and wrote some notes.

“There are four steps to every project,” her father spoke in a formal voice. “Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closeout. Well, five if you count Control, which kind of happens for the whole project.”

Amanda looked at the words. “Initiation? What’s that? And Execution – people don’t get killed on your projects, do they Dad?”

He father looked at the paper thoughtfully for a moment. “Initiation is getting things started. And no, honey, we don’t kill people. I think I might need to use some better words for you. Let’s try something else.”

He flipped the paper over, lined up the ruler and drew another diagram.

“Okay, how about this. Idea, Plan, Do and Finish Up. Sound better?” he asked.

“Much better, thanks Dad.” smiled Amanda.

“And then instead of ‘Control’ we have ‘Lead, Check and Correct’.” Her father suggested.

“Ok, I guess…” Amanda wiggled in her seat. “You explain it first and I’ll tell you if we need different words.”

“Ok honey, that’s fine. So you know what an Idea is, right?” asked her father, with a wink.

Amanda sat up straight and stuck out her tongue. “Of course I know what an Idea is. C’mon, Dad!”

“Okay, just checking.” He smiled. “And you understand what Plan is, right?”

“Like when you want to do something but you are not sure how, so you have to think about how you are going to do it?” Amanda suggested.

“Right, that’s pretty close. Though at work, even when we pretty much know what we are going to do, we still take time to discuss it and see if we want to do it the same way, or if we want to try to do it a different way.” Her father replied.

“And ‘Do’?” her father asked, “That’s an easy one too. Not too hard yet, right?”

“Not too hard, Dad. I am Eleven you know…” she squinted up at him.

“Right, of course, you’re Eleven.” Her father drew out the last word.

“So ‘Finish Up’ is pretty obvious too, huh?” asked her father.

“Yeah Dad, our teacher keeps telling us to hurry and finish up our work.” She yawned. “Sorry, Dad, it’s kind of boring so far. I’m not a little kid. So where is the secret weapon part?”

“Almost there, I will speed it up a little. The bottom part is important. Well, all parts are, but that part is kind of a big part of my job at work, so at least I think it is important, anyway.” Her father paused and rubbed his eyes.

“Ok Dad, tell me…” she started.

“Ok, well the ‘Control’ part, or ‘Lead, Check and Correct’ as I wrote it for you, is important because it is how you make sure you are still doing what you are supposed to do – and will end up with what you wanted in the first place.” 

“Like when we do a quiz at school and the teacher tells us to check over our answers before we hand it in?” asked Amanda.

“Kind of like that, yes.” said her father.

“Ok Dad, that’s great. Thanks!” Amanda started to get up from the table.

“Hold on honey, there is a little bit more for tonight. I need to explain some more before we have dinner.” Her father motioned for Amanda to sit.

Amanda sat down.

“Now what did you see when you were watching your brother and his friends today at the tree?” asked her father.

“They were arguing and fighting over things. They didn’t seem to know what they were doing,” she said. “Each one of them had ideas they were saying but the others did not seem to be listening.”

“Hmmmmm,” said her father. “I think this might be what is going on then.”

He pulled out a fresh piece of paper and drew another picture.

“I think they went straight from ‘Idea’ to ‘Do’” mused her father. “That’s usually a recipe for disaster.”

“They weren’t cooking, Dad. They were trying to build a tree house.” corrected Amanda.

“Yes, dear, you are right. What I mean is, it sounds like they skipped Planning and jumped right into Doing. I see people try to do that a lot, and it rarely works out well. They usually fail.” Her father rubbed his temples.

“Fail? Like on a test at school?” asked Amanda, with a curious look.

“Different. Fail in a way that if a person does not do their job right, people can get hurt,” sighed her father. “Either that, or they waste a lot of time and money trying to do something that does not work like it is supposed to, and they have to redo things to make it work right.”

“Ok Dad, you said we were almost to the ‘secret weapon’ part…” urged Amanda, fidgeting in her seat.

“Well if you look at the drawing of what your brother and his friends seem to be doing, there is a part we said was missing, right?” he asked.

“The Planning part, right Dad?” said Amanda.

“Right. The Planning part is the secret weapon. All of the parts are important, but by far that is the most important of all.” Her father coughed, took a sip of water and then continued. “I am going to draw you one more picture, and that will be it for tonight. You have been studying hard.”

Studying? thought Amanda, She wasn’t studying – was she?

Her father pulled out his ruler and flipped over the paper. He set the ruler and drew another drawing:

“See the curve? That shows how much time and effort you should spend in each phase of your project. The curve can be a bit different depending on your project, but notice how there is a big part of it in the Planning section?” asked her father.

“Ummm...yeah?” yawned Amanda.

“Well, that is where you need to spend a lot of your effort, before you start really doing things on your project.” Her father watched her eyes closely. They were beginning to wander. He heard the front door open and then close. His wife was home; dinner would be ready soon.

“That’s enough for today, honey. You take these drawings with you, and go work on your homework for a few minutes. Then please wash up and help your Mom, okay?” Her father smiled at her.

“Yes Dad.” said Amanda. She stood up and then stretched as she walked down the hallway to her bedroom.

She has a lot to learn, he thought. This is going to be an interesting challenge. Boys against the Girls (…and Dad!)

You can read more of the story in The Ultimate Tree House Project, including additional lessons taught to the young PM by her father - and of course, what happens to the children and the Tree House!

*International Project Management Day 2013 Special*

For a limited time (through November 8, 2013) you can download the eBook version for FREE. Click here to get The Ultimate Tree House Project eBook now! Enter code: AG89C

See the International Project Management Day website discounts page for other offers:

The Ultimate Tree House Project - Project Kids Adventures #1
ISBN 978-1482558135 (220 pages)

10 year old best friends Ben, James, Tim & Tom find the perfect tree in a forest near their school and begin to build the Ultimate Tree House. Things start with a bang, and get even worse when Ben's sister Amanda discovers them working on their secret tree house. Next thing they know, the girls are building their own - in the same tree - and it looks even better than the boy's! How are they doing it? What is their secret weapon? After the accident, everything changes and the boys are forced to team up with the girls - as if that would ever work! 
This book introduces basic Project Management concepts to children through an entertaining, funny story and simple lessons taught to one of the children by her father who is (of course) a Project Manager. She applies what she has learned and suddenly the girls are leaping ahead of the boys who had just "started building" - without a plan. 
Come join this unlikely band of tree house builders - four girls, four boys - as they end up working together to try and complete the Ultimate Tree House Project! This book is targeted at children ages 8-12.

You can also visit the Project Kids Adventures series companion website for free resources and fun activities for children, parents and teachers.

This series has been designed to support classroom programs, but is also suitable for independent reading and as fun bedtime stories.

Click here for Parent/Teacher Notes and School Curriculum Applicability

Note: Discounts are available for bulk orders and classroom programs. If you would like to run a pilot program in your school, please contact us at

Coming soon: The Scariest Haunted House Project - Ever! Project Kids Adventures #2 (Read the free preview here

I hope you enjoy the book.

Good luck with your projects (no matter how old or young you are), and remember to have fun doing it!

Gary Nelson, PMP

1 comment:

  1. Managing projects is not as tough as it was earlier. Those days, we used tools like excel sheets, paper and pen to keep track of all project activities. But everything has changed now a days. Several semi-automated and fully automated tools are available both on cloud as well as a package.

    Moreover, project managers are equipped with all required skills and knowledge of tools and better team management. I personally use Replicon - for project management.