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Running a Project is Like Baking a Cake: Glen Fribance, Process Consultant

October 29, 2021

Before you even start getting the ingredients ready, preheating the oven, or greasing the pans, you need to know what it is that you are going to bake, who it is for, when it is due. This is the same as a project. You need to understand what it is that you will be implementing, who the stakeholders are, and when it will go live. Once you have that picture in your mind, then you can start with the preparation.

Unless you are a professional baker, you might need a recipe. A recipe includes the ingredients for the cake, the instructions as well as the technical details such as the baking temperature and baking time. This is true for managing a project. There are many methodologies on Project Management and how projects can be run, just like a recipe. Not all recipes are the same, as not all project management methodologies are the same.

You can google a chocolate cake recipe and you will get many results. This is the same for running a project. Find one that works for you!

Once you have a recipe, check the ingredients.

Do you have everything you need? Can any ingredients be substituted, if they can, what is the impact? For example, can you substitute applesauce for eggs? A chocolate cake isn’t as simple as a chocolate cake that we know anymore. There are gluten free cakes, Keto-friendly, low-calorie as well as milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate cakes. Knowing which ingredients is imperative to a successful bake.

This is true for your project team. Knowing who you need on a project is as important as knowing your ingredients. Identify if an architect, technical consultants, business process consultants are required and how many? Also identify the stakeholders and the business resources required. They are the key to a successful project. They will identify what is required or needed. Last thing you want to do is implement a project that does not satisfy the business. It’s like asking for a chocolate cake and you get vanilla.

At this point, you have a sense of what you are baking (a chocolate cake) and have all the ingredients together. You are ready to combine. But wait! Ensure all the ingredients are the freshest you have. This is where the testing comes in. Make sure the flour is not stale, the milk is not sour, the eggs are fresh. Each ingredient is an important part of the cake. One bad ingredient could make your cake come out poorly.

Just like tasting your ingredients for a cake, you want to test as you go. Make sure that what you will be building is a secure, correct, manageable system and they all work together.

Testing as you go, ensures a quality product in the end. This is where the instructions come in. For all baking, it is important to ensure certain ingredients are combined at the right time and in the right process, otherwise you will come out with a not so flattering cake. Instructions are the processes and the procedures. For best results they should be followed and adhered to.

For a project, the procedures and processes are dependent on the methodology. For example, there is a difference between waterfall and an Agile project. For the most part, the iterations are the same. Requirements, code, test, demo and then finally implement. Just like everything else, people have their own unique style and way of doing things. You can search the internet and find many ways of running a project. Find what is best for you, learn to adapt to the situation, learn from others, and it can produce the same results.

Now it is time to put the cake in the oven.

All the ingredients have been combined as per the recipe, the pans have been prepared, and it’s time for baking. Know the temperature of the oven and the time it needs to cook and then cool. Baking it too long will turn the cake dry and crumbly. Baking it not long enough will make the cake underdone.

A project also has a timeline. Understand the timeline of when the system needs to be implemented. Schedule out each task and ensure you have time built in for Team meetings, Kick off meetings, Workshops, Development, Testing and Implementation. Always plan to have some contingency built into your schedule. You do not want to over or under bake your cake!

Finally, in baking, you could have done everything right, but the cake does not turn out as expected; it’s underdone, over cooked, ingredients weren’t correct, temperature was wrong, etc. Many factors are considered when baking fails. This is true for projects. Many factors such as schedule, scope, processes, and the team need to be considered.

The very last step is to plan a Lessons Learned session after the project or cake has been completed; particularly if you did not achieve the results you were aiming for. Did you have the right ingredients? Were you short on time? Did the team or ingredients perform well together? Take note of these things, for next time, as maybe one slight tweak is all that is needed to bake a fabulous cake!

Bon Appetit!


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