by Karen Smith, MBA, PMP

Editor’s Note: This post contains a link to a holiday budget tool and another to an infographic. Take advantage of these free resources

The holidays are nearly here. I suspect this isn’t shocking news as the dates haven’t changed in a while … if ever! Regardless, many people wait until the last minute to plan or, worse, they just “wing” it and take the Just in Time approach. Wouldn’t it be great to have your holidays become the “perfect” project, including the following?

  1. Meeting requirements by flawlessly delivering the experience, meal and, if appropriate, gifts on time
  2. Finishing under the holiday budget
  3. Satisfying your family of stakeholders
  4. Delighting your guests

In a project management sense, how should we approach this project? The answer is of course to expertly manage and deliver the on-time, on-budget, within scope results … just like your work projects! However, I’d like to add one critical component to the PMI® definition of a project. I recommend building in sufficient time to have fun, as this will most definitely help ensure your project’s success.

Here’s the game plan for making your favorite holiday a project management success.

Goal 1: Meeting requirements by flawlessly delivering the experience, meal and, if appropriate, gifts on time
First, requirements must be gathered. For example:

  • When should guests be invited? When are the RSVPs due?
  • Are there any known food allergies?
  • Are there any known foods that are disliked? Any favorites? Are there traditional must-have foods?
  • What type of, if any, adult beverages will there be?
  • Will the seating around the holiday table be organized? Will the meal be served buffet style, family style or served individually?
  • Regarding gifts, what size clothing does Suzy wear? What hobbies are of interest to Hans? What type of wine does Adrian prefer?
  • Do the guests play games, prefer to watch sports, or just catch up conversationally?
  • What time would guests prefer to eat, whether that’s for dietary reasons, personal preference, or holiday tradition?

Once the requirements have been established, be sure to communicate them to the appropriate family team members so tasks and deadlines can be assigned.

Goal 2: Finishing under your holiday budget
To ensure your “project” costs stay in line, be sure to set a budget as you start your planning. You will use this number to help make critical decisions including tradeoffs, e.g., overspending on some items versus underspending on others. Include all of the project costs that will accrue, whether they have to do with people, travel, gifts, food, beverage, or serving pieces. Then work out how much each task in your plan is going to cost to complete, and track any deviations from this plan.

To help you easily manage your expenses, I’ve created “The Project Manager’s Holiday Budget” for you. This spreadsheet accommodates different views of the budget process, regardless if you use a top-down or bottom-up approach to budgeting. Feel free to use or pass along!

Goal 3: Satisfying your family, the stakeholders
Having a solid relationship – including keeping family members communicating on a positive note – will help tasks stay on track and make the process of project managing for the holidays that much more fun. Family satisfaction is critical to your holiday project’s success. Keep your “team” happy by rewarding and recognizing them for their contributions and successes. Assign work based on their strengths or areas where they want to experiment, say with a yummy apple pie. With a happy, motivated “team,” you can achieve anything, and everyone feels rewarded.

Goal 4: Delighting your guests
You could finish your holiday project on time, within budget and have met all of the requirements, but still have unhappy guests…or an unhappy you. This may be in part due to changing expectations since your holiday project started, and those expectations may not have not been properly managed.

To ensure your guests are happy at the conclusion of your project, you need to manage their and your expectations carefully. Make sure you always keep them properly informed of progress and details. Let them voice their concerns or ideas regularly. Acceptance of new and fresh ideas will help build rapport without much effort on your part. Tell them upfront when you can’t deliver on time, or when a change needs to be made. Openness and honesty are always the best tools for setting expectations.

Your Holiday Project Launch Day
It’s your big day! Celebrate with others! You deserve to enjoy the event as much as your guests. Holidays are meant to bring people and conversations together to celebrate whatever the occasion is that you deem important.

In Conclusion
Congratulations on making it through a great holiday. While you may not be sponsoring or “hosting” your “project” next year (else, by definition, it would not be a project!), by using these tips and the budget tool, hopefully your holidays will be less stressful and more joyful with the planned outcome of having satisfied and happy guests. We’ve created the “8 Steps to Managing Your Holiday Like a (Project Management) Pro” infographic as a summary reference for you.

How would you adopt this model for other “projects” such as a wedding, the birth of a child, vacations, or even retirement?

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