LJM3’s Blog

Ramblings of a Workaholic.

A funny thing happened on the way to a Project.

Some funny things happen on the way to project management.  In fact, it almost never ceases to amaze me how easily and quickly some of the best planned projects can fall off-track if you engage the auto pilot for just a few moments.  Of course, even the thoroughly micromanaged projects can fall victim, as unexpected events can occur that will derail the most well implemented plans.  However, I have recently come to the conclusion that two things are certain on the way to completing any project – 1. Projects are like young children (take your eyes off of them for a minute and bad things can happen) and 2. The famed Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) is alive and well and, despite the current unemployment trend, remains on your payroll.

Let me provide, for example purposes, one of my recent projects.  A “simple” project regarding printer remediations in NE for a financial customer.  The customer had outlined the complete schedule, which saved me a lot of work.  The manufacturer provided instructions for the procedure, which saved me even more work.  I had nailed down every other detail of which I knew…resource planning and clearing their participation with internal department managers; forecasting the budget and overall cost; planning for each detail for the travel of each resource – very difficult due to new personnel, new procedure, and new travel system; reserving rental trucks; outlining the expectations and procedures of the project; weekly conference calls with the resources for questions and updates; etcetera and so forth. 

The project countdown began and everything was on course.  Even with a last minute truck size adjustment and then a customer initiated change, where some scrambling was necessary to accomodate, we were on track and ready to go.  Then, someone decided to awake Murphy… 

1.  T-20 hours to the official start, there was a problem with the rental trucks.  They were diesel fueled and NE was now expecting a cold wave.  Weather was not expected to be an issue at all, especially considering that I verified weather forecasts a few days prior.  Now, with temperatures falling well below freezing, we required the use of block heaters on the trucks to insure they started in the morning, which brings us to the problem – some of the hotels we booked could not accomodate block heaters.  To make matters worse, it began snowing on Project Eve, accumulating to almost six inches by morning. 

2.  T-4 hours to the official start, one truck would not start.  This was a location that could not accomodate a block heater and temperatures fell into single digits.  (The truck eventually did start, but by that time, this team was an hour behind schedule.)

3.  T-2 hours to the official start, while still in the hotel, one technician experienced an injury so severe that he could not continue on the project.  He tried his best to work through it, but it was just too much for him to continue.  With companies running so thin nowadays, this took most of the day to resolve, as we had to identify and clear a new available resource, then arrange for him the same travel accomodations as the injured technician while, in parallel, scramble to schedule the transport of the injured technician to his doctor back home and also inform HR of a potential claim.  (The injured technician made a quick and full recovery, which is really the most important aspect.)       

4.  T-1 hour to the official start, one of our teams was forced into a weigh station.  This is not normally an issue, however quickly became one because this specific rental truck we were provided did not meet one criteria of the safety code (fire extinguisher) and then there was also a federal interstate commerce regulation that kept me busy researching with USDOT much of the day.  This team, on schedule before the stop, fell more than an hour behind schedule as a result of this delay.  I have to admit, this team must have looked odd to law enforcement – an OH registered rental truck with NH plates, being driven by a technician with a RI driver’s license, in VT to perform work on behalf of a company from GA.  I’m actually surprised the stop wasn’t more time-consuming.   

It was around this time where I believe that I heard God laughing.  We hadn’t yet visited a single location for the project and we were already hit with a few blindside body shots before we could protect ourselves.  Thankfully, we recovered well and I am pleased to state that this project did complete successfully, as both our customer and the manufacturer were quite pleased with the end results.  Even though the project wasn’t as “easy” as it should have been, things could have been much worse, and the issues were resolved quickly, the project finished on time, and should close pretty well within budget. 

For those just venturing into or learning project management, communication and staying abreast of the details for this project proved to be pivotal to the successful completion.  Not knowing specific details would have made it much more difficult to react when the unexpected arose.  If you take nothing else away from this article, please at least take this:  Pay attention to all of the details.  The devil really is in the details…and though Murphy’s Law finds itself invoked and issues can appear around every corner on even the best planned projects (though, there is almost always room for improvement there), you can usually recover quickly and completely if you understand all of the details. 

Which brings me to an issue with completing and submitting expense reports on this project…but I’ll save that for another day.

John M.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment