Many people see project management as a complicated tangle of work breakdown structures, spreadsheets, critical path timelines, risk assessments… There’s a reason they give out certifications for this stuff! But as David Allen astutely points out everyone is a project manager — especially on Thanksgiving Day. 

What size turkey do you need? What if dinner’s ready, but the guests are late? Or they show up two hours early? Is there such a thing as gluten-free gravy?

With so many variables to juggle and plans to coordinate, let’s turn to the experts: how would a certified project manager pull off the perfect Turkey Day?

Step 1: Define your scope.

How big of a celebration do you want? How many guests? Do you want to break out the good china or would you rather have a casual, "grab a plate and have at it" meal? Is dinner served at precisely 4 pm, or would you rather have an all-day, "drop in and grab a piece of pie" affair? 

Project Manager’s Tip: Don’t do more than you need to. If your guests aren’t going to notice or care about hand-lettered, gold-foiled name cards, don’t waste the time, money, and effort creating them. 

Step 2: Make a plan.

Sort out your menu, whom you’re going to invite, who’s bringing what, figure out the seating chart, create your shopping list. 

Project Manager’s Tip: Be realistic. Don’t plan a 6-course gourmet feast if you’ve never peeled a potato before. 

Step 3: Map out your timeline. 

If you value your sanity, you can’t just fly by the seat of your pants — you need an organized itinerary. Schedule what you’re going to make ahead of time and when. Figure out what time everything needs to go in the oven and in what order for it all to come out at just the right time. 

Project Manager’s Tip: Do the risky stuff first, if possible. If you’ve never made homemade cranberry sauce, don’t try it for the first time an hour before the turkey’s done. It’ll be less stressful for you and you’ll probably get better results if you buffer in some extra time around any uncertainties.

Step 4: Assess the risks.

What’s the likelihood your fad-diet-obsessed cousin will be eating Paleo this year? What if someone drops the gravy boat? What do you need a backup plan for, and what can you shrug off? 

Project Manager’s Tip: Remember that not everything is worth worrying about. If a risk or issue won’t have a major impact on your day, don’t bother bending over backwards to address it.  

Step 5: Work with your stakeholders.

Ah, family. They’re a lovable bunch, but they can be a handful. Your sister-in-law claims she makes the world’s best pumpkin pie, but that's been your mom’s territory for ages. Share your planned menu and let people pick what they'd like to bring. If conflicts arise, be flexible when you can! After all, who's going to complain about two pumpkin pies

Project Manager’s Tip: Communicate early and often to keep surprises to a minimum.

Step 6: Collaborate with your team.

Most of all, a great Thanksgiving takes teamwork. You’ll need to delegate certain tasks to other people, or count on others to help you if you want to pull off a successful holiday. Besides, people usually want to help out! 

Project Manager’s Tip: Just because you’re the "manager," doesn’t mean everything has to be done your way. If your sister wants to buck convention and bring a turducken, why not? You never know — it could be the start of a fun new tradition! 

Step 7: Don’t forget the retrospective.

At the end of the day, when your family is drowsy from an overload of tryptophan and carbs, your sink is piled high with gravy-crusted dishes, and the candles are burning low, take a few minutes to reflect on the day and everything that went well. 

Project Manager’s Tip: Focus on the highlights! Everyone worked hard to make the day successful, so remember to say thank you. It's what the whole day is about! It'll help you fully appreciate a job well done.

Ultimately, the important thing to remember is that Thanksgiving is not a day to manage. It’s a day to savor. It doesn’t need to be perfect — and that’s good, because things will go wrong. The green beans may be soggy, and your aunt may still forget to bring the cranberry sauce even though you've reminded her three times. But if you spend the day surrounded by loved ones, laughing and making memories that bring a smile in the year to come, your Thanksgiving project will be a resounding success. So take off your project management uniform and just enjoy it!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Wrikers!