Everything we do in life is a project, even taking the family to Disney World.

Upon returning from a recent family trip to Disney World, I reflected on how much Project Management and the adherence of its best practice methodologies went into the successful completion of our family project. Before I delve into some specific tips and tricks to make your similar family project a success, let’s get those uninitiated into the ways of Project Management caught up with some common PM terms and their real-world counterparts. 

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(Image credit: Disney Parks)

What is Project Management?

By definition, any and all projects have a definitive beginning and end, produce a unique product, service, or result, and incorporate stakeholders, or those that either impact or are impacted by the project.

Our Disney trip very much complied with these principles. Our project technically started with months of PLANNING leading up to the project’s EXECUTION, or “working the plan” stage, and ended with the lessons learned, or reflective CLOSING stage. Our key stakeholders (my wife, 15-year-old son, 8-year-old daughter, and myself) had varying amounts of input into the project, provided important feedback understood the expectations of their roles, during the project. This stakeholder management is critical for success on projects, regardless of whether they are for business or personal reasons.

Jigsaw teamwork concept macro shot

Even though there were thousands of people that visited the various Disney parks across the same time we were there, all their “projects” produced unique outcomes or experiences and were constrained by the same three items – Time, Cost, and Scope. There were numerous examples of these “triple constraints” that shaped our project’s lifecycle.

  • Time: the airline’s departure and arrival times, the park’s hours of operation, the consistent amount of time it took to drive to/from the park from our offsite VRBO all presented time constraints that impacted our project.
  • Cost: the airline tickets, cost of the rental home, park tickets, parking passes, food/beverage costs, plus souvenirs all went into the overall budget, or cost constraint for the vacation.
  • Scope: this is the “what” you are trying to accomplish with your project. In our case, the scope was narrowed down to attending four of the theme parks, making sure to ride the most popular rides in each, having some downtime to swim, read, or stream some shows during our off days, and generally just enjoying each other’s company in a low-stress environment.   

3 Tips to Help You Project Manage Disney World

Now that we understand how taking the family to Disney is one of life’s great projects, I’d like to share a few tips from our successful endeavor to help you project manage a similar family project that you might be considering.

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(Image credit: Disney World)

1. (Time) You’re very likely going to have to wait in long lines to get on popular rides. Don’t spend your valuable time waiting in line for food. Order items from a desired vendor on the Disney app. This gives you a window of time to walk directly up to the express counter and pick up your food. This easily saved us 30 minutes from trying to get into a restaurant to sit down or wait in the regular line to order and pick up food. This also helps you avoid the risk of anyone getting hANGRY!

2. (Cost) The allure of all the various activities and memorabilia to be had across the Disney parks can create significant cost overruns to your project as your credit card could be put through the paces early and often. To keep costs down, we gave our kids a budget (part of setting stakeholder expectations) before we hit our first park. They knew they had a set amount to spend on whatever they wanted. If they blew it all at the first park or spent all their money on snacks instead of souvenirs, they could but they wouldn’t get any more money from the bank of Dad.

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(Image credit: Disney World)

3. (Scope) Like in any project, there sometimes has to be a tradeoff of one of the constraint elements. Said differently, to ensure that your driving constraint is met, you might have to alter one of the other constraints. In our project example, after waiting in line for the Frozen ride at Epcot for three hours, we realized that scope (low-stress environment where we were able to ride the most popular rides) was the most important constraint for the rest of the project. While we enjoyed the freedom of staying at an offsite VRBO, we had missed out on early access to the first park, the ability to book “Lightning Lane” times for the best rides, and had to walk pretty far to/from our car based on our economy parking budget.

We knew we had back-to-back days coming up at the most popular parks (Disney World and Hollywood Studios in case you were wondering) and decided to book a stay at the on-premise All-Star Music Resort for one night which cost us about $200. This gave us the ability to get that early access to the parks, order our lightning lane passes for the VERY hard-to-get popular rides like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Space Mountain two hours before non-on premise guests. It also gave us early access and VIP parking for the price of standard parking for both parks. Another added benefit is that it allowed us to leave Disney World in the afternoon for a short drive to the hotel to take a nap and clean up before returning for all the night activities at the park.

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(Image credit: Disney Parks)

4. (Bonus) This tip utilizes both Communication and Stakeholder Management to get your whole party into Oga’s Cantina. This is a very popular location set in the immersive Star Wars World at Hollywood Studios that requires advance reservations. In trying to book times for our party of four, we ended up having to be split up across a 2-hour time period. On the day of our reservation, when it was time for our first pair to enter the establishment, I asked the hostess if there was any way to get my whole family in with me vs. splitting us up as we wanted to experience the cantina together. I told her she’d be the hero of my 8-year-old Jedi in training and that we promised not to “shoot first” once inside. Long story short, she was able to make it happen.

As my friend Kari Mirabal says, “You already have the No” so you might as well ask.

Conclusion

That completes my blog on tying project management to a Disney vacation and providing tips to make your family project to the parks a success. I’d love to hear some tips or tricks you’ve employed to make a similar family project’s successful or how you’ve been able to apply project management principles to everyday life.

Next, check out our blog on  - Professional Management Skills for Business Sustainability