Right Tool for the Job


PM Road Trip Journal


July 1 -  While the goal of our upcoming road trip is just to travel and see part of the country the family has never experienced, I still try to PM the trip.  Applying tools like spreadsheets for cost, Google calendar for the itinerary, and checklists for the before, during, and after activities help me become comfortable with a “spontaneous” trip.  But during this planning phase, I am reflecting on the right tool for the job.   In my most recent Project Management consulting engagement, I was often struck that we tried to use hammers for fly-swatting.   What we actually ended up doing was using a fly-swatter for the kill and then tapping the smushed carcass with the hammer afterward to make it look like we did it according to plan.


I find that a lot  across many of the companies I work with.  We as PM’s and companies try to make our tools consistent and repeatable.  Great goals to be sure, but often not that effective.  One of the most effective tools I’ve used recently was a project-management-on-a-page concept.  It has the scope summary at top, recent accomplishments next, columns for milestones and deliverables after that, and then a bottom section for issues, risks, and dependencies.  It looked something like this (certain data invisible, sorry for the gaps):




This proved to be quite effective at keeping up with small or loosely defined projects without a great need for heavy-handed resource management.  It allowed me to keep up and easily communicate status, especially when I had 15 or so small efforts to manage.


I watched an episode of “The Woodwright’s Shop” on PBS a few nights ago that further reinforced the lesson of the elegance of simple, effective tools.  The woodwright was showing how old wood block and iron cutter planes could be quickly used to produce joints and moldings.  (For those who don’t tinker with wood in their garage, that’s just a block of wood with a piece of shaped metal sticking out that cuts fancy grooves in boards.)    As I watched him crank out one beautiful profile after another in literally seconds, I thought about how long it would take me to set up my router table to do the same thing.   


So, applying my learning to the trip, I’m dropping the spreadsheet and checklists and just putting the detail in the Google Calendar.  That ought to give me enough comfort, while letting us free-wheel down the road and have a great, not overplanned, vacation.    How many of our companies would let us choose our tools?  If they did, how many of us would be willing to admit that the robust project plan and schedule, various logs, and status formats really weren’t needed.  I truly appreciated the reminder that simple elegance and skill still has a place alongside power and automation.