A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

The Introduction and first seven segments to this multi-segment blog/e-book can be found at the links at the bottom of this article. 

Segment Eight – Transition

When my wife and I were in our early 30’s, we prepared our wills.  They were pretty simple.  Everything goes to the boys, 50-50.  Done.  We prepared for the ultimate transition—becoming the dearly departed.  30 years later? We’re both still here.  And the terms of our wills remain basically unchanged. We did our original wills because we were heading out together on a trip to Sweden (business and pleasure).  We figured if something happened to the plane, we wanted everyone to know what to do.  The stage was set.  And here we are, 30 years later, and the stage is still set.  THAT is effective transition management. 

One Department of Defense client actually had transition management plans for every project.  Those plans answered some very basic questions:

  • How do we put this project on “autopilot” after the managers are back to their regular lives?
  • If something goes wrong, who do we contact?
  • Where’s the paperwork?
  • Who’s the best human contact for this?
  • When is everyone off the hook?

Those questions remain germane whether your project is dealing with uncurable cancer or building a shed.  Each question has both personal and legal implications.  Each question forces uncomfortable conversations (that may not play out for another 30-40 years).


It’s daunting to set things up to run without you.  That’s because you’re so very good at what you do!  Trying to create a universe where others can take on your role without your presence is no mean feat.  But it’s a feat that—if we can accomplish it—protects our legacy for a long time to come.  The real challenge is that you want others to be able to do it your way.  Wrong Answer. Reality says that you need to enable them to do it their way, with your guidance. 

I bake bread.  Really good bread.  And I’ve had people ask…How can I make bread like yours?  I actually have a protocol sheet…a standard operating procedure…that I e-mail them when they ask.  It outlines the tools, the timing, the approaches, the nuances, the recipe…  And then people say that they’ll try it, but they’re going to do it their way.  I cringe.  I use dark brown sugar for a reason! But they use light brown, since it’s what they have in their cupboards.  And yet…they report back with positive results!  I didn’t have to hover over their shoulders.  I didn’t have to chide them for failure to use King Arthur bread flour.  They had the rules of the road, and converted them to ways they felt they could succeed.

As I make the general preparations for the…er…completion of the cancer project, I am trying to provide the same types of frameworks.  And I’m trying very hard to remember that the implementation of the transition is up to the end user—be it my students, my family, or my friends. 

Lesson Learned:  When crafting any standard protocol or procedure you hope to outlive you (professionally or literally), remember that it’s about learning.  Giving them the right “jumping-off” point is often all people need to succeed.  And when you’ve transitioned your project, they’ll remember who gave them the fundamental first step to take.

The Ongoing Relationship

You are living…rent-free…in someone’s head.  It’s true!  When they hear a particular song, a particular phrase, a particular quote…YOU pop into their heads.  It just happened.  My favorite person at the Project Management Institute just popped into my head.  So I called and got her voicemail.  And I told her how much I appreciated her. 

Understand that she no longer has influence over my paychecks or my business relationships.  She established our relationship a long time ago, and resonates favorably every time I think of her.

Keeping relationships alive is important.  Most of my professional relationships are the result of mergers and acquisitions.  I worked with a research firm that was purchased by a small pharma company that was ultimately purchased by “BIG” pharma.  I built a relationship with one guy at a small-town church that led to ultimately meeting my wife…which led to two amazing sons. All of these situations, professional and personal result from relationships maintained and reinforced.

To reinforce the ongoing relationship, you need to be you.  One of the highest bits of praise you will ever receive is that you are still who you always were.  That sometimes boils down to You haven’t changed a bit!  You have changed.  But your attitude, your disposition, remain the same.

Hopefully, your contact information remains the same as well.  I got my first personal e-mail address in 1990.  As of this writing, that’s 33 years ago.  I still get e-mail (and check e-mail) at that address.  It was early enough that AT&T was my Internet provider (on a 56K modem) and my e-mail address was simply cpritchard@att.net.  Not cpritchard345… or cpritchardlavale… Just cpritchard.  Most of my e-mail is now transacted through carl@carlpritchard.com, but still, occasionally, an old friend or client crops up in that most ancient of e-mail boxes. 

I keep it alive for the same reason we should strive to keep those old, dusty communications channels alive.  It may be the only way that some people know how to find us.  

There’s comfort in the familiarity of the relationship that hasn’t changed.  I was witness to that in full force when I was a keynote speaker at a conference featuring Gene Kranz, Apollo 13 Flight Director (Ed Harris played him in the movie). The only relationship that I (or almost anyone in the audience) had with Kranz was to see him in the movie or in NASA photos. 

Buzz haircut.  Vest. White short-sleeved shirt. Thin tie.

Ed Harris did him justice in the movie Apollo 13, because he reinforced the image that was already ensconced in any space buff’s mind.  And that image carried the day when he arrived to do a keynote address at a project management conference.

Gene Kranz walked on stage. It was in the late 1990’s.  Apollo 13 was more than a quarter-century past.  It didn’t matter.  The conference hall erupted in applause. He hadn’t spoken a single word.  But he stood there in his buzz haircut, vest, white short-sleeved shirt and thin tie, basking in the accolades. 

Lesson learned: Sometimes, just being you is enough.  If clients, friends and family feel a connection to you, you don’t have to keep working like a dog to build out the relationship. As you transition away from the original effort, the genuine “you” will be all that it takes to make people feel value in the association. And if they feel like they have a channel by which to reach out to you, the bond is all the tighter.

In the next segment, we’ll continue looking at preparing for transition for the Cancer Project.

If you wanted to read the lead-ins to this segment, they can be found at: