For many families, the road trip remains a summertime staple. As it turns out, these car-based excursions follow many common project management principles. From preparation to execution to post-mortem analysis, the average road trip should look very familiar to project managers.

project manage a Road Trip

Determining achievables. Where does everyone want to go? What do they want to see along the way? The process of deciding the objectives of the road trip usually involves thoughtful give-and-take. Sometimes, depending on how many children (or adults who act like children) are involved, there are raised voices and slammed doors.

Getting stakeholders to agree on a project’s achievables often requires finesse. Ideas are presented, evaluated, rejected. Competing priorities—how can we visit an amusement park and read a book in the shade?—are juggled. Ultimately, the team reaches consensus and the project is ready to move forward. Some stakeholders, upset they didn’t get their way, continue to grumble.

Planning. This is where the family evaluates potential routes and reviews lodging options. It’s the consideration of whether a two-year-old can really tolerate four hours in the car without a break, or if it’s wise to tackle a twisty mountain pass late in the evening. During the planning phase, the team figures out what’s required to turn stakeholders’ requests into reality. They determine what needs to happen and how.

Budgeting. Most families go into the road trip season with a general budget in mind, and possible destinations are often selected or eliminated based on how well they fit into that financial picture. A price range is used to select hotel rooms and sometimes even the schedule.

As the process moves along, expected fuel costs are calculated. Meals, activities, and other costs are added in. Whoever is paying for the trip considers if they want to expand the budget to accommodate all stakeholder requests or if some items need to be scrapped. If the budget isn’t able to cover everything everyone wants, certain achievables may be earmarked for future road trips.

Preparation. Though part of the official project, this phase typically encompasses actionable items that must be accomplished once the planning is complete but before the meat of the project’s achievable-focused activities begin. It’s when hotel reservations are made and tickets for attractions are purchased. The car gets a tune up. Parents schedule time off and children invite friends to come along. Venues’ websites are bookmarked, maps reviewed.

Execution.  And they’re off! Everyone is loaded into the car and the family is on their way. The team is following their plan and moving toward the project’s objectives. Attractions are visited, roads are driven. But it isn’t always wine and roses, even if things are going according to plan. Personalities clash. Stakeholders change their minds. Staying focused (and positive) is key.

Contingencies. Once the road trip starts, unexpected problems can come from all sides—traffic, construction detours, inclement weather, sick kids, attractions or lodging facilities that aren’t as advertised. Families are good about having contingency plans in place but most also realize the truth behind such planning: flexibility and resourcefulness are keys to success.

Post-mortem analysis. How often is the phrase, “We’re never doing that again!” uttered? For the next excursion, families might choose to adjust the time of year or the vehicle used. Fewer friends will be allowed to come along. They won’t drive as far each day. Whether it’s agreeing that gooey foods are no longer allowed in the car or the concession that a hotel without air conditioning isn’t worth the cost savings, the family will surely incorporate some of the lessons learned into the next road trip.