Family-The Most Important Project of Your Life by Kimberly Wiefling (Wiefling Consulting)


(This article was originally published on

We are Family. Sure, but if you’re like most families, you use what I call the “random chaos” approach to life. In a splendid demonstration of hope triumphing over experience, two people embark on what could be a decades long adventure. They get married, have kids, survive raising ‘em, maybe buy a house to contain the mayhem, and finally eek out a bit of retirement before languishing in a dilapidated physical and financial state for their last less-than-enjoyable years on Earth. Looking back I’m sure many families wonder “Where did our lives go?”

Well, if I had to answer based on my decades in the corporate world, and a half-century of life experience, it went the way of all unplanned journeys: this-a-way and that, and often not much to show for it but a T-shirt that says “I Survived Such-and-Such”. Sadly, mere survival is the bar that most families are unconsciously aiming for when they live in such a haphazard way. Lacking a shared vision of their life as a family, without clear goals, and no real plan, each year just rolls into the next. Like Tarzan swinging vine to vine, they may swing from crisis to crisis, giving little thought to each one until it is upon them. Scant thought is given to preventing fires while embroiled in them.

The Nuclear Scenario

Consider a doom and gloom scenario for one such family. In love and eager to have the fairy tale wedding they’re been programmed to expect, a young couple goes into debt to fund what their parents can’t afford – an extravagant wedding that impresses their friends, but leaves them gasping for financial breath for the next couple of years. Somehow one kid turns into two or three, and the choice between working with the cost of childcare or having one parent stay home to take care of the kids leans more toward abandoning work in favor of childcare. Or parents stagger their work schedules, seeing their kids, but not much of each other, in order to hang on to the two incomes they desperately need to get by. Each year a few impulsive expenditures delivers a blow to their economic wellbeing, keeping them locked in the cycle of spend à debt à struggle to pay.

If they’re fortunate enough to dodge the bad luck bullets of accidents or health problems that can quickly incapacitate even a financially comfortable family, eventually the kids are college age. Without college savings, a scholarship, or loans, they opt for a community college and living at home to get started inexpensively. As these young adults watch their peers earn money, granted at jobs without much of a future, while they struggle to pay for college and continue to live with their parents, they’re tempted to let their dreams of a college education fade as they get caught up in their own cycle of survival. Some years down the road when they fall on hard times, or realize that they want something more from their lives, they end up back living with parents, who delay their retirement and take out a second mortgage on their paid-off house to help their kids, putting the quality of any eventual retirement for the parents in jeopardy. When these very same parents are in need of nursing home care they haven’t got the money to afford that either, and they slip into obscurity while their children are re-enacting a similar dismal journey in their own lives. Ug!

Of course the story of your family doesn’t have to be like this. Many families live a much more charmed existence, and there are several paths to a more enjoyable family future.

  1. Luck
  2. Planning
  3. A combination of the two.

Naturally it’s ideal to have both, but relying on luck alone is the most treacherous. Dale Carnegie once said “Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity, and there is always opportunity.” If you’d like to reduce the chances that your family’s story will resemble in any way the morbid scenario described above, you need to do what does not come naturally to most human beings. You need to plan and prepare – plan for success and prepare for setbacks. This is something that every project manager does routinely, and every human being can benefit from.

Running Your Family Like a Project

Project management ends up being mostly a collection of what many call “common sense”, which you might have noticed is far from common knowledge, and certainly NOT common practice. People who make a career of leading and managing projects know that applying even a small dose of project management common sense can more than double the chances of achieving the project goals, and dramatically reduce the impact of predictable and avoidable pitfalls along the way. Project management has been around for decades, but many families don’t take advantage of this practical approach when figuring out how to get what they want. In fact that’s where the problems start – most families never take the time to consider what they want. They don’t think about the purpose of their family, never give a moment’s thought to defining their individual or shared family goals, and thus they’re headed down an all too familiar path of getting whatever random chance flings their way. But your family doesn’t need to live like this! You can start today to live a different way.

The secret to success isn’t secret. It’s well known, just like the secret to losing weight. While everyone knows how to lose weight, few people have the discipline to follow the straightforward advice “Eat less and exercise more.” Below I’ll share well-known “secrets” to getting what you want for yourself and your family. But you will need to add a large dose of discipline and commitment to follow this recipe in order to be successful. Rest assured that if you do you’ll greatly increase your chances of achieving your goals and dreams.

FAMILY PROJECT SERIES: Many people have asked me to adapt the advice in my top-selling project management book’s to use in daily life. This week we’ll explore how we can apply Scrappy Project Management practices to our families. Tune in tomorrow for more!

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