It’s Christmastime and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it’s a festive time of year in many parts of the world. I’m always amazed at what people get accomplished at this time of year. There’s shopping to do, work to complete, travel to organize and, of course, the big family meal. When I see how much people get done in the swirl of huge to-do lists I find it humbling. Putting it into a project management context, I can find a little project manager in all of us.

ChristmasDinneScheduleIf you are responsible for making the family dinner this year, you’ve potentially got a big project schedule.  You won’t need your PMP certification or to pull out your Prince2 process guide but you’ve got a sequence of events, a budget, and a whole lot more.  Think about this for a moment.  As much as men such as myself like to ignore how much work goes into Christmas dinner, the planning starts weeks in advance:

You’ll need to decide who to invite.  “Do we invite uncle Harry?  If we do, can we not invite Uncle Bob?  You know how they don’t get along!”  There are big decisions here.  Also, some competitive negotiation will take place behind the scenes.  Who else might want to be hosting the big family dinner this year?  If you have a rotating schedule, then think of that as corporate process culture that people have been following for ages. 

Once you’ve decided on who’s coming, you’ve go to get the word out.  That might be a quick phone call or written invitations depending on how formal your dinner party is to be.  It’s inevitable that some people will have to think about it, especially if they have travel to organize.  So there’s RSVPs to keep track of and a running talley of the number of guests so the appropriate sized turkey can be procured.

Purchasing is next.  You’ll need a budget, shopping plans, the big car and maybe helpers. Then it’s off to get the bird (or ham), the vegetables, cranberry sauce, dessert and fixings.  If there are additional plates, pots, pans or gravy boats required, this will have to be on the list too.  You can’t leave all of this too late or you’ll be choosing from the last of the turkeys and who would want to do that!?

There are always preparations to make.  You’ll need to do some decorating and perhaps bring up that extra table from the basement and then there’s food to get ready, dessert to make and the house to clean.

The big day
Is it Christmas Day already?!  How did that happen so quickly? Now the schedule shifts from a weekly and daily perspective to minute-by-minute planning.  While the kids are squealing over their new bike, dollhouse or video game you’ve got to be thinking hours ahead.  What time does the turkey have to go in?  What time do you have to start peeling the potatoes so they can be cooked and then mashed?  What time do we put in the vegetables and what time are guest due to arrive? 

All this culminates in a delivery that is virtually down to the minute. “We’ll be sitting down at 6:15,” isn’t an unusual thing for a host or hostess to say to their guests but how many project managers get the minute right on their project delivery?  Not many, I can tell you.  Yet, all of this comes from the backward pass in the schedule; planning backwards from 6:15pm on December 25th to as early as is required to make sure that every predecessor was resolved prior to sitting down.  It’s done intuitively or with a simple post-it list perhaps but it’s nonetheless an impressive accomplishment.  And this year, as it has been for many years before and for many years to come, project managers (sorry, I mean hosts and hostesses) of the Christmas Dinner project will deliver their project on time.

Have a safe and happy holiday everyone wherever you are.

Note: You can download the Christmas Dinner schedule in MS Project format from the picture above at