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Yes, it’s true!! You can get free Project Management experience from your local YMCA. All you have to do is volunteer to be a Coach for a team of Tiny Tykes.

My son is four and full of energy, so my wife and I elected to enroll him in the 4 to 6 year old basketball program. On the day of enrollment, the director (Sponsor) stated that he needed coaches (project requested). I have never been an official coach, but many times in my management career I have referred to myself as a coach. I thought surely this can’t be that tough, so I signed up (Project Manager assigned).

There were ten other fathers standing there in the middle of the gym floor as the director explained that this was the first year for the program and he had very little information for us. He did not have the teams assigned yet, the schedule of games had not been established, and he was even uncertain of when we could hold practices. I went home and developed a list of questions that I needed answered. I called the director the following day (requirements gathering). He was able to answer many of my questions, but there were still some that were outstanding. (I used the new information to enhance my Scope Statement, and the outstanding questions were moved to an Issue Log).

By the end of the week I received the list of players that were on my team. (Team Members assigned). I determined that even though there were some outstanding issues, I should pull all the parents together to give them the information that I did have, and work to fill in the rest (JAD Session). But before I could do that, what I needed to do was document some of this information.  First I created a list of the players names, the parents names, and their phone numbers (Contact List). I also created an agenda along with a proposed timeline (project schedule). All parents showed up for the initial meeting except for one (typical of any other project I have ever managed!).   We worked through the agenda and established official practice days, assigned who would was responsible for snacks, and luckily was finally given the official game schedule.

One agenda item was the date for team photos. We had been assigned a date to have the photos taken that fell on a Sunday. This caused a schedule conflict with many parents, so I told them I would work on getting an alternate date. After I returned to my computer, I added this to the Issue Log. I also updated the Schedule with the official game dates, and then created some rough meeting minutes for the one parent that did not make it to the meeting.

I felt we had a pretty good plan created and was excited as we entered the YMCA for our first practice. I had established a series of drills (another agenda) to test each players skills. The kids ran, they passed, they dribbled and they shot. I had made a little form to help evaluate their skills. I feverishly documented their efforts and praised their accomplishments. We all had a blast. After the initial practice, I took the information home and plugged it into my computer. The form I was using allowed me to create one number that summed their skill level (this form was similar to the Scorecard I had used in the past to assist in determining the best vendor for a product!)

Teaching eight 4-6 year old kids the fundamentals of basketball was going to be tough in the short two week time frame before our first game. My objective was to create two evenly matched teams of four (official games would be 4 on 4), and work to the point of scrimmaging during another practice. I also knew it would be easier to teach two teams of four, than one team of eight! (The scorecard worked beautifully for creating these two skill-balanced teams.)

As we entered the YMCA for our second practice, the person behind the counter informed us of a new constraint. It had been determined that after today the latest we could get on the floor to practice was 5pm. This was an unreasonable constraint.  There were many of us parents that could not get to practice before 5:30 due to work. The YMCA would not budge on this constraint. I briefly met with the parents and explained that unless we found an alternate place to practice our son or myself could not participate.  I knew many of the other parents were in the same boat. We completed our practice on defense and I went home to work on this major issue.

Even if this had been an official project, I don’t think myself or the team would have recognized this as a potential problem while creating a Risk Assessment, but it would have been great to have a contingency plan already in place. Instead we were now scrambling to find an alternate place to practice. This issue also brought up budget concerns. Keep in mind the kids are 4-6 years old. None of them can get the ball up to an official rim height, so the YMCA had purchased rims that went down to 7.5 feet. How do we deal with this issue?

I struggled with this problem for a few days. None of the other parents could come up with anything either. Then it hit me. One of the characteristics of a good project manager is to be able to influence the organization. I wasn’t working within an organization, but I was within a community, and I did know the head of the local fire department. Upon explaining our situation to the Fire Chief, he had no problem moving two of the trucks outside to make room for us to practice. Now think about that! How many other teams got to practice beside bright red shiny fire trucks? I called each parent and explained that we could continue to practice.

Now all I had to do was overcome the budget constraint for rims. This was a full evenings work. I pulled the rim and backboard off our storage building, and along with a 4x4, hinges and a little ingenuity, created a portable hoop that was just the right height. For the second backboard, I elevated a Playschool rim that we kept in the house on 5 gallon buckets, and got close to the proper height.

Just prior to the third practice, I had to arrive early to set up the rims and mark of the floor with tape so the kids would have the foul line. The kids were in awl as they arrived to find they got to practice in such a cool place. I used the list of names with position assignments (Responsibility Matrix) to break the group into two teams; blue versus white. We practiced our simple offense and again the kids not only learned, but they had a blast. My two main goals achieved.

The final issue surrounding pictures was easily resolved. I was able to get in direct contact with the photographer. Immediately following practice three, we all caravanned to his location and posed for our group photo.

The rest of the season went without issues. We met, practiced, and played out our schedule of ten games. Thank goodness the officials did not keep score during these games. Let’s just say we were having a building year. The kids had fun, the coach had fun, and I know we all learned a little!

We held a pizza party after our last game of the season (project closure meeting). During the party each child was ecstatic to receive a small trophy for their participation (reward and recognition). I too was rewarded with many requests to be the Coach again next year! Maybe it is true…Regardless of your area of experience, a project manager can move into other fields to manage. Look out NBA, here I come!!

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