What Having a Newborn Reminded Me about Project Management

Allen Faulton
12 min readJan 3, 2024
Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/affection-baby-barefoot-blur-415824/

Quite recently my wife gave birth to our son, and our lives changed forever. He’s a cool little dude, and we’re still learning his ways. So far, I have to say that the majority of advice that we received from the professionals has been moderately useful, the “What to Expect”-series books are amazing, and we are blessed with caring friends and family.

This week I went back to work, and it got me thinking — everything that we’re going through is, from a certain point of view, just another facet of project management, and the little guy is reinforcing a lot of lessons that any good project manager ought to know and remember. This is my job in the real world, and I know firsthand that it’s easy to get complacent on a lot of the “ideal” disciplines of a PM. So here are a few things my son has reminded me to do, as one of the first lessons he’s taught me:


Babies are labor-intensive. Very labor-intensive. It’s a unique (and terrifying) experience to be in charge of a little person who depends on you for literally everything, and it’s exhausting. I don’t think I could take care of my son on my own; not while working a job, anyway. Fortunately we have a care team — me, my wife, my mother, and some trusted friends and family. We have a community, and it makes everything much easier.

What this has reminded me is that managing a project team is absolutely critical for any project manager. Teamwork is not necessarily something that just emerges out of the woodwork; it usually requires leadership, coordination, planning, communications, scheduling, personnel management — everything else in this article, in fact. Without the team the project fails, so nurturing and maintaining your team should be the first and most important task any project manager has.


Every project needs leadership. This is a subtly different statement from saying that every project needs a leader, which is also true. But leadership in this sense means that someone must be responsible for deciding who is going to take a requirement and turn it into action.

My wife and I have, I hope, done a good job at swapping leadership depending on who is awake, who is aware, and who has the brain cells available to make decisions.

Translating that into project management in the workspace, it is important and required for a project manager to lead and be able to demonstrate leadership — taking in the needs of the project and turning that information into actionable tasks. It is worth noting that sometimes it’s not necessarily as important that a decision is made perfectly as it is that it’s made at all.

We have also experienced the same failure of leadership that plagues many projects — the infamous statement “we need to do this.” This statement does not assign an actor, does not place any priority on the task; it just puts it out there in the hope that someone will do something about it. That’s not leadership, it’s a cry for help, and not every project has a hero willing to voluntarily step into the void and get things done.

Accordingly, my son reminds me on a daily basis that an awful lot of leadership consists of saying “This is a task that needs doing. I would like you to take the responsibility for doing it. I will check in later to see if you need help. Please call me if you run into problems. Can you do this?”

Stakeholder Management

Babies have a huge stakeholder list. There are primary caregivers, secondary caregivers, doctors, government services, support groups, caregiving providers (nannies, daycare, etc.), insurance providers, emergency contacts, etc. This big, shifting mass of people and institutions who take an interest in the child’s life. Keeping track of them all is… challenging.

This has reminded me that stakeholder management is critical to any project. Every project manager should make a point of maintaining and constantly updating a stakeholder matrix. This is an activity that I see a lot of people neglect in the business world, because it isn’t important right up to the point that it’s critical. Then there’s a mad scramble to figure out who to contact, and then things settle back down and the cycle repeats.

This is amazingly apparent with a baby. There are serious consequences to mismanaging a baby’s stakeholders, and mostly the fall into the same category as the consequences of failing to maintain a stakeholder matrix for a project: you waste time. Potentially a LOT of time. Time that you really don’t have to waste.

Agile Planning

As the old man said, plans are useless but planning is essential. Babies defy plans. The concept of a “due date,” for example, is kind of laughable: babies arrive when they damn well please, and doctors can throw all kinds of curveballs when they find something that needs to accelerate or, in rare cases, delay the delivery timeline. Our little guy arrived two weeks early, and blew a lot of our plans out of the water.

But the thing was — we were still mostly prepared, because we had been planning, and we had followed through on our plans. We planned to acquire all the various bits of baby gear at least a month in advance of the due date, and we did. We planned the baby shower and various visits with friends and relatives to give ourselves some space around the due date, which turned out to be a really good move. We had doctors and care plans in place months in advance.

Yes, our little guy arrived early, but the fact that we had done planning (and followed through on it) meant that while his arrival was surprising, it wasn’t crippling. We enacted the plans that were still viable and changed the ones that weren’t.

Similarly, in project management I am reminded that one should never consider a plan to be set in stone. Externalities happen all the time, and often the worst thing a project manager can do is try to fit reality onto their plan rather than the other way around.

It’s a ludicrous statement to say something like, “No, even though my wife is in labor, we’re not going to have the baby this weekend; the plan says next week.” But this is the kind of thinking you see all the time in the project management world.


My wife and I were sufficiently sleep deprived for the first week after the baby was born that I personally have very little memory of what actually happened. But I do remember that we made a point, every day, to ask each other a series of questions: Are you ok? Do you need anything? Are you hungry? Is the baby ok? Is the baby hungry? What is the next thing we need to do? What questions can we add to the list for the experts?

Add to that the additional communications we had to manage for family members — everyone wanted a baby picture — and requests for help, advice, and support that went out to various friends and family. Additionally, my Mom was helping us out, so making sure she was in the loop took a little more effort and coordination.

This was not a smooth process. We ran into many issues where just slight changes of phrasing resulted in miscommunications. We suffered from “telephone” problems where someone said something to one person, who repeated it to someone else, who then told it to a third person, with slight modifications at each step, until the original message got garbled. It was frustrating and forced us to focus down on what we were saying to whom, and why.

It reminded me that we should never take communications for granted in project management. Most of what you will do as a project manager is communicate, and attempt to ensure that people get the right message. This is hard. It takes practice. It takes discipline. And it is absolutely essential if you want things to work.

The number one thing that helped us was to use the following sentences: “This is what I heard. Is that correct?” Just that little confirmation saved us several missteps and helped to make sense of what doctors were saying. That and double-checking every email we sent to make sure we hadn’t included our grocery list due to sleep deprivation!

Schedule Management

Babies live on a schedule. Kind of. It’s a component of planning; I can assume that every two or three hours the baby will wake up and need some things done, and work that into my schedule for the day… but when the baby actually wakes up is totally up to him (unless we deliberately wake him up). On many occasions we have fallen into the trap of assuming that we had two hours of free time when we actually had about twenty minutes.

At the same time, it becomes critically important to schedule events in the baby’s day. Doctor appointments, visits from relatives, even cooking dinner — these are all things that require scheduling to accomplish. If I have them on a schedule, I can adjust my plans; if I don’t, then anything I do runs the risk of interrupting something else. If I haven’t fed the baby, it’s a really bad idea to go on a 30-minute drive to the doctor’s office; he is not going to be a happy camper.

Similar to overall planning, the reminder for scheduling is that no schedule should ever be considered as set in stone. Schedules should be viewed as when something should happen, but attempting to shove reality into your schedule is usually a good way to invoke the wrath of fate. At the same time schedules are immensely important. If you don’t know what’s supposed to happen and when, it’s really hard to ensure that anything gets done.

Also note: the difference between scheduling and planning is that scheduling is when something is supposed to happen, and planning is how it gets done. Subtly different things.

Critical Path Tracking

Speaking of getting things done, as any parent will happily attest, a baby will absolutely demolish your free time. And your work time. And your time to do chores. Basically, caring for a baby is a full-time job where a disruption to your plans can happen at any time.

This makes it really important to remember what is on your critical path and what is not. For those unfamiliar with term, the “critical path” is the sequence of events that must occur in order to accomplish a goal. When feeding a baby, for example, the critical path might look something like:

  • Ensure baby is awake
  • Fill bottle with milk/formula and assemble bottle
  • Pick up baby, ensuring baby’s head is above baby’s stomach
  • Hold bottle for baby to suck, ensuring appropriate pauses for swallowing and burping
  • Repeat as needed until baby is full

There are other things that might occur around that activity, like changing the baby’s diaper, or heating up the bottle, or singing calming songs, or cleaning up after the baby spits up everything you’ve just fed him. But none of those things are on the critical path. They are nice to have, but the critical path is to ensure the baby is full.

Many times over the past several weeks I’ve found myself trying to do everything at once, and consequently getting very little done, because I lost track of the critical path in the madness of trying to work while sleep deprived next to a screaming baby who is hungry right now, Dad! There’s a lot of pressure in that scenario. And each of those times I’ve had to take a breath, remember the critical path, and do that first.

The reminder I took from this for project management is that, metaphorically, we’re always confronted with a screaming baby. On an unrelated note, most people have a boss, and most bosses are in the habit of assigning little side-projects. Very, very often it is a project manager’s job to determine the critical path and stick to it, without getting too distracted by the (again, definitely metaphorical) screaming baby in the room.

Risk Management

Everything to do with being human involves risk management. Babies just throw that into stark highlight. From the moment you have the first OBGYN meeting, parents are presented with an enormous string of risk decisions.

A baby’s birth is an incredibly condensed set of these choices that parents are expected to make on behalf of their infant. Simple-seeming things like whether you want to do a hospital birth or not are absolutely steeped in risk management choices. And while doctors are often (but not always) obligated to tell you the risks, they are generally not going to make the choice for you; you have to tell them what levels of intervention you want, whether you plan to vaccinate, whether you plan to have an epidural, etc.

Each and every decision comes with risk. In our case, the doctors told us that there might be a problem with the baby’s kidneys and blood flow through the umbilical cord. They recommended that we induce the birth, not because they were absolutely confident that there was a problem, but because the risk existed. We looked at the odds and chose to induce. He’s fine, by the way — but the risk was sufficient to justify that choice.

What this reminded me about project management is that every risk choice depends on available information. Most parents, I would imagine, have moments of fear associated with these risk decisions. If they get the wrong information, that fear might be magnified out of proportion, and they might start to make poor risk decisions.

Vaccination is a great example. Too many Americans have got the wrong idea about vaccines and consequently put their children at acute risk of a whole host of communicable diseases in order to mitigate the very minor perceived risk of autism or blood clots or whatever.

In project management, this translates to a constant need to assess and re-assess risks. Very few risks are constants, and any decent project manager should do their best to mitigate as many risks as possible through regular monitoring and corrective action. It also means that you have to be very, very careful when you communicate risks to your stakeholders — it is very easy to accidentally convince a stakeholder that vaccines cause autism, so to speak.


You cannot work people around the clock and expect good results. Not over any significant period of time, at any rate. If you value your team, if you value their work, and if you want it done correctly, you need to account for burnout.

A person suffering burnout is just done with work. They are beyond caring. They are beyond incentives and punishments. They just want to find a quiet corner and do nothing. This isn’t an indication of laziness or weakness, it’s simply a reminder that humans can only deal with so much stress for just so long before we shut down.

So far both my wife and I have not quite hit the burnout phase, but we’ve both gotten close enough to know exactly what it feels like. It reminded me of earlier days in my working life, when huge hourly commitments were both expected and encouraged. It reminded me that those huge hourly commitments are examples of both poor project management and exploitative working conditions. It reminded me in no uncertain terms that burning out your employees has real, serious consequences.

My wife and I are lucky. We are supporting each other, and we have good friends and family who are supporting us. We have not yet burned out (ask me again in a few months). I have no idea how single parents deal with this; the only thing I can honestly say at this point is that those folks deserve free money.

In the project management world, you need to constantly monitor your team for burnout. The insidious thing about it is that burnout sneaks up on people, and it usually sneaks up on your “best” people, because those are the folks who are volunteering for tasks and putting in extra hours. Depending on your corporate culture, this may be encouraged, and it may be professionally dangerous for you to stop encouraging it.

Whether you do so publicly or on the sly, if you value your team it is important to disincentivize excessive work. Under ideal circumstances, your team is a finely-tuned engine: everyone has their role, everyone does their job, and it all meshes together to create work. Finely-tuned engines do not react well to parts going missing or breaking under stress. It is your job as a project manager to do everything in your power to monitor that situation and prevent it from happening.

Babies are Pretty Cool

My son is a pretty cool dude. As of today I’ve successfully helped to keep a tiny human alive for a month! Huzzah! Now for the next eighteen years…

Anyway, these are some of things that the little guy reminded me about what I’m supposed to be doing at work. I hope they reminded you of some things as well. And now, if you’ll excuse me, someone upstairs is playing my song. It sounds like uh-waaaaaaaaah! Cheers, everyone.