Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Project management lessons in snowmaggedon

This past weekend, we had such a large amount of snow dumped on us - it was quite beautiful. Nowhere near as much as we used to get in Northern Illinois near the Wisconsin border, but a lot.

The husband and I went out to shovel, and I recruited the kids to help. The repetitive, heavy labor of shoveling gave me time to think about some project management lessons.
Snow shovelImage by dianecordell via Flickr

First, what were our goals? "Clearing the driveway" was my first answer. But when I thought about it, actually the goal was to be able to get the cars out of the garage and the people out of the house safely. So I changed my work plan to focus on removing enough snow to make driving safe (recognizing that we wouldn't be going at high speeds down the drive) and to sweep and salt the walk. Since we're all able bodied and everyone has boots, having dry and completely clear pavement wasn't required to meet our objective. Don't over-engineer your deliverable. (Six sigma practitioners refer to this as Muda a.k.a. over-processing - activity that is wasteful because it doesn't add value.

Were there any secondary goals? Yes, I'd like the kids to develop their work ethic. This meant accepting a certain amount of snowball-throwing, fort-building, and jumping-into-snow-piles as the work was progressing. The actual contribution to the work effort from the kids was non-trivial, but not as substantial as it could have been. (But yes, boys - I thank you!) So two lessons here: first, adding resources to a project does not necessarily reduce the time line (especially if the resources are unskilled). Also: helping or managing new resources on a project reduces the efficiency of the other resources. So consider all the factors carefully when looking for new resources for a project.

Finally, what happens to a project with two objectives? In my case, the objectives were safe travel from home and developing a work ethic in the kids. Most project managers know this intuitively - adding objectives reduces the speed with which those objectives are achieved. Probably I could have done two projects separately and gotten them done sooner. But, cumulatively they may have taken more time. So consider the need for speed carefully before adding objectives to your project.

For those still digging out, I wish you luck!
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