Today I was able to present Project Management as a career at the Alfred D Noyes Center’s annual Career day. I volunteered out of a spirit of service and a firm belief that project management skills can be applied to real life. The Alfred D. Noyes Center is a juvenile detention center. I didn’t realize this when I signed up – I sort of thought it was a center for at-risk youth. No indeed, it’s a center for already-done-the-risk youth, kids who have committed felony’s including rape and murder.
I had four groups of kids, two sets of boys and two sets of girls for about 1/2 hour each. I prepped my presentation using materials on Careers in Project Management and Project Management for Life from the PMI Education Foundation. So I didn’t have to create any slides, rather, I whittled the slides down to the basics and what I thought the kids could easily grasp;ie what is a project, what do project managers do, what are stakeholders. I also focused on the earnings potential in project management and my message to the kids was:
You already have basic project management skills
That proved to be a good message that kept the kids engaged and interested in Project Management
My first group of boys ranged from about 14-18. I started off describing earnings potential and then got into a project analogy I knew they could grasp: football. I borrowed from Any Given Sunday. “Football is a game of inches.” Then I got them thinking about when preparation for those final inches of super bowl began? Did the team just show up and poof they won? The boys surmised that planning started back at the draft with questions like ‘who do I need on my team?’, ‘how much money do I have to work with?’, ‘what equipment do I need?’
They got the idea. “Hey isn’t a building a skyscraper Project management?” they asked. “Indeed” I replied. “What about landscaping?” asked another. “That too.” I said.
I then asked them to tell me when they played the role of Project Manager.“Well, I can’t really give you any details” one boy began. “But I did plan to do something and got stakeholders (yes, he used the word stakeholders cause we had just gone over it) and team members to do what I wanted them to do.”
“Great.” I said. “That is exactly my point. The same skills you used there, thinking ahead, planning, organizing a team, figuring out who can do what, and figuring out a schedule, can be refocused and used for good and believe it or not, people need you because of your ability to think ahead, and to lead.”
But I really got into serious project planning with the girls. They wanted to know how to plan. So we did the Who-What-Where-Why questions using their real life need, which is the need to gain more Noyes center privileges through moving up a ‘level’ system. It’s clear that the levels system is Noyes way of encouraging good behavior. They get points for eating, for good hygiene, doing their homework etc.
“So how long does it take to get to the highest level?” I asked.
“20 days.” Said one Girl. “What?” exclaimed another. “You wack. It takes like 5 to 6 weeks.”
“Excellent,” I said, “Let’s do some realistic estimating and activity identification to build a schedule towards your getting towards the highest level” And that led into a discussion about activity identification, activity length and the total amount of points one could get in a day, 100. It takes 2000 points to get to the highest level.
“So,” said one girl, “See that’s 20 days.”
“Ok,” I said, “That’s a good optimistic estimate. But realistically, are you going to have 20 great days where nobody pisses you off and you do everything right.” “No, probably not.” She said.
“So let’s talk about a realistic estimate.” And from there we determined that the 5-6 weeks was a realistic estimate. The girls realized that getting to the highest level was a project and that they were all project managers on their self-improvement project. Further, they defined each other as stakeholders, because they could positively or negatively influence each other’s plan. Finally, they defined the Noyes center as their sponsor and staff as team members.
This wound up being one of the most enjoyable days of my year. I got to be the geeky PM that I am and at the same time open up a new world of possibilities. I was most impressed with the kids. They quickly grasped the basics of Project Management and were able to apply it to not only what they had done in the past, but think realistically about what they could do in the future.