Project Management The Tamalada Way

Or: put some love into your work!

Here’s a fun way to look at running projects: like a tamalada, which is a tamale making party. :)

A couple weeks ago I went to a tamale making class, or, as our instructor “The Tamale Princess” called it, a tamalada. The tamalada is essentially a party where you hang out with people you love, drink wine, chit chat and make a bunch of tamales.

Sounds fun, right? It is!

But it’s fun with a very clear purpose. The goal of the tamalada, historically, was to prepare food for soldiers out in the field. Clearly, that’s an important job! Now-a-days the purpose of the tamalada is more about gathering friends and family together, to make a lot of delicious tamales for everyone. The product, in some ways, is the process.

But let’s be clear. The tamale making process is work. And as I sat there, stuffing masa into my husk, I couldn’t help think the tamalada was similar to a very well run product project.

You’ll need a good host. #

Every tamalada needs a host. This leader is in charge of assigning roles, making sure everything is going smoothly and, importantly, entertaining everyone and making sure they’re having fun while at work. They’re focused on coaching and helping and moving things along.

Oh and making everyone do a “princess wave” when they need help with something.

Everyone has clearly defined roles and purpose. #

Each person needs a clear role. There are quite a few “jobs” to choose from; making the filling, preparing the husks, mixing the masa, gathering ingredients, pouring wine, playing music, assembling the tamales, etc.
The tamale making process needs to be organized. It’s sort of like an assembly line where each person executes their role and then moves the tamale-in-progress along down the line.

You should be loving your work. #

There is one additional thing that’s clear when it comes to the tamalada: you’re supposed to make your tamales with love. If you’re at all familiar with tamales, for example, or if you’ve ever heard of The Tamale Lady here in San Francisco, you’ve probably heard the L word mentioned. Those who make tamales for a living often work it into their marketing materials and I think there is something to that. Making something with love can be fairly simple, but, unfortunately most of our projects aren’t set up like the tamalada.

We’ve all worked on projects that we don’t love. Sometimes (often) even work you love is hard. Making tamales isn’t exactly hard, but it’s not super exciting either. Without the love—the conversation, purpose and camaraderie—it’d be fairly boring and torturous. The reason why people love making tamales and can make those delicious tamales with love is that the process itself is specifically set up to enable that love.

Why not? #

I think more projects should be run like the tamalada. It has a leader, a clear vision and purpose, it’s organized, encourages care and focus, everyone has a clear role and direction, it’s done with (and for) people you enjoy and, maybe most importantly, it’s fun. All of that facilitates putting care, hard work, and love into your work.

Which, IMHO, makes for a much more delicious tamale. And a much more enjoyable working experience.

A few more quick hits about why I think this is a nice, fun approach that could work:

Seems smart to me. Next time I find myself running a project I’m going to think about the tamalada and how much fun I had stuffing corn husks full of masa.



Now read this

Learning Over “Solutioneering”

Back in the day, when I was one of the owners of Blue Flavor, a design and UX shop, we used to use the term “solutioneering” quite a bit. I don’t use it near as often today, but I still love the term. In essence: Solutioneering is the... Continue →