Why projects are like babies

Since a new baby arrived in the Andrews household this month (Holly, pictured), my sleep-deprived brain started to notice the many similarities between babies and IT projects. Perhaps there’s something useful to learn from the comparison…

1. Easy to conceive and hard to deliver: Agreeing a new project isn’t usually quite as much fun as making a baby, but it can be even easier. A bright idea in a meeting, a murmur of general agreement, and the mega-data-wotsit project is conceived. However, making it a reality is a whole lot of hard work, with plenty of scope for worry and pain along the way. Some projects can also suffer from a very long gestation period: if you’ve ever experienced a project ‘in the pipeline’ for nearly two years, consider renaming it “the pregnant elephant”.

2. It takes a while before it becomes really fun: Any parent will tell you that the dreams of a smiling, gurgling baby don’t come true in the first few weeks. To begin with there’s tears, unpredictability … and a phenomenal amount of wiping. Of course some projects are more smoothly managed than others, but it’s fair to say that many projects can be characterised by several weeks of thankless ‘wiping’ directly after launch, before you start the reap the intended benefits and gain the satisfaction of seeing some smiles on faces.

3. Choose your partner wisely: In projects as in baby-making, choose your partner wisely, because you’ll be working together through thick and thin. Not that suppliers should be chosen purely for their good sense of humour and love of long coastal walks, but there are plenty of ‘soft’ factors which increase your chances of a good long-term relationship, among them: an understanding of your industry, a shared stake in the project’s success, and a commitment to grow together over time.

4. It takes a whole village to raise a child: This phrase, popularised by Hillary Clinton, notes that it takes a community effort to bring up a child, involving not just parents, but also friends, neighbours, teachers, etc. This certainly applies to projects too: any successful project represents a triumph of teamwork involving managers, users, customers, designers, developers, testers, and more. Just like children, major projects can’t be entirely controlled by any one individual, and instead will flourish best when nurtured by a wider community. However, unlike children, projects are thankfully unlikely to start slamming doors 13 years down the line…

3 thoughts on “Why projects are like babies

  1. Very funny! Although I do think a 13-year-old system can be a bit teenagerish in its suddenly wilful and unpredictable responses to things …
    Congratulations on your new arrival!

  2. Nick — First and foremost, congratulations! There is nothing better than the awe and wonder a new parent feels. I wish you and your family all the best.

    Truth be told, I have never laughed out loud reading a technology newsletter. This is a first.

    You are right, there are a lot of commonalities between a new project and a new baby… and they are hysterical.

    Thanks for the fun perspective.

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