Project Management Disaster

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istock_2257561_tent_HiRes tentThis is another speech I’ve given at Valley Toastmasters, and it’s part of Competent Communicator manual, project #8: “Get Comfortable with Visual Aids“.

(The speech is actually based on Michael Wolfe‘s answer to a question on Quora: “Engineering Management: Why are software development tasks estimations regularly off by a factor of 2-3?”. I have taken the liberty of adapting his answer and transforming it into a speech as well as borrowing the images he uploaded to support his answer. So kudos for all of this to Michael.)

As a reminder, the objectives of the project are:

  • Select visual aids that are appropriate for your message and the audience
  • Use visual aids correctly with ease and confidence

With that in mind, here is the speech I delivered:

Every time I start working on a project at work, I am skeptical about the timelines being set – because I have learned that no matter how many sophisticated tools we use, there are a lot of unknowns ahead of us which ends up introducing delays. I’m going to tell you a story of such a project my friends and I embarked on a while back so you can see why project management is so difficult.

I’ve got some friends in L.A. in Santa Monica, so a couple of years back my friends an I decided to take a hike on the coast from San Francisco to L.A. to visit them. I’ve taken the role of managing this trip – what can be difficult about it after all? I’ve whipped out Google Maps and draw our route down the coastline:

google maps hike San francisco to LA

According to Google Maps this is about 400 miles long – so if we walk 4 miles per hour, 10 hours a day we’ll get there in 10 days – this is going to be fun! I call my friends in Santa Monica and announce we will see them for dinner on Sunday around 6pm — they are just as excited as we are to see each other!

Next morning we get up early and set off, excited at the thought of the “adventure” ahead of us. I get out the map to plan our first day:

Google Maps: Hike, Coastal Bay Area

Oh dear! There seem to be a lot of twists and turns on this coast and a 40 mile first day hike will hardly get us past Half Moon Bay. Ok, so the trip must be about 500 miles not 400 – I call our friends in Santa Monica and tell them we’ll be there Tuesday evening not Sunday. They are understanding and still excited to see us.

We head off and 2 hours later we still find ourselves behind the schedule. And this is why:

Bay Area Coastline

This is going too slow! Sand, water, stairs, creeks and all sorts are in our way! We are barely walking at 2 miles an hour not 4! We need to either walk 20 hours a day or push our arrival time by another week – my friends and I compromise for a middle ground: let’s walk 12 hours per day and push the arrival time to the following weekend. I call our friends to let them know – they are a bit annoyed but nevertheless still waiting to see us.

We pitch camp that night after a 12 hour day when we barely walked 20 miles. None of us are experts at getting a tent up (especially in the wind) so we go to bed at midnight.

Which means of course we oversleep next morning! On top of that we are all sore and exhausted … and it’s only 11am! Darn! We won’t make our 12 hours today! Never mind, let’s aim for 10 and we’ll make up the time tomorrow.

After another couple of hours we end up here:

Bay Area Coastline

Bloody map doesn’t show any of this! We have to go around and walk inland about 5 miles so we can get past it. And most of the day goes with hardly a few miles of progress on the coast. We fall asleep after midnight again and oversleep. I look on the map next morning:

Google Maps

Darn! We are 5 days into our 10 day trip and we haven’t even left the Bay Area! We are all tired, sore, dehydrated, and blisters are beginning to show. This trip is probably at least 600 miles as it turns out. I call my friends in Santa Monica to push our arrival by a couple of weeks at least – they get annoyed and hang up on me!

I feel I need to rally my friends to walk faster and more – so I suggest 16 hours of hiking a day. This is where a huge argument erupts on the basis that I am pushing them to make up for my mistake in planning this. There are harsh words being exchanged and all of my friends decide that enough is enough and turn around.

I’m left with no team to hike with and no friends waiting for me in Santa Monica, so I call my girlfriend and ask for a ride back home. Trip is cancelled and I have a lot of relationship management to do to be friends again with everyone.

Moral of the story is this: I’m bad at hiking, Google Maps is rubbish and whenever you plan a project beware of the unknowns!


NOTE: As mentioned above, this speech was inspired by someone else — since I have borrowed their (hard) work, I thought it’s only fair if I give it back to the internet, as such I’m attaching here the PDF I created with the above slides, for those of you who might want to deliver this speech or something based on it in your Toastmasters: CC08-Visual Aids