The Tale of Three Project Managers
a project management cautionary tale by Mike Harding Roberts

The Project

A two week journey in an open boat down a raging jungle river.

Let us see how three different project managers approach this project.

1. Ivor Fairway-Handicap's tale

Ivor: "Cast off!"

An hour later the river is fast flowing but deep and smooth. "This isn't so bad! Look, we're past the first milestone! Well done crew!"

A little later they come upon the first rapids. A worried crew member asks: "Er, what about lifejackets?" Ivor replies: "O.K. Meeting this afternoon to consider. All proposals welcome." The meeting is duly held though the rough ride makes it difficult. The need for lifejackets is agreed. A subcommittee is established to consider what type of lifejacket might be best.

Later, another crew member asks whether oars would help in the increasingly turbulent waters. A meeting is scheduled.

After another few hours of being tossed around in the now violent waters a crew member says someone should be steering. After mildly rebuking the crew member for seeking to make such an arbitrary decision Ivor sets a time for a meeting to discuss whether the boat should be steered, if so by whom and how directional decisions would be arrived at consensually.

Unfortunately, before the meeting can be held the boat is hurled onto the rocks and smashed to matchwood. Half the crew drown in the rapids. Ivor and the survivors hike for 3 months through dense jungle. At the coast they are spotted and helicoptered to safety. The team praise Ivor's warmth and humanity. He becomes a hero and is knighted for his bravery in taking on what, with hindsight, was such a dangerous venture and for leading the survivors to safety.

2. Colonel Bee-Bee's tale

"Wow, just a minute - is this wooden boat a good idea?" The Colonel decides to take the white-water inflatable instead. Life jackets, paddles and supplies are loaded. They cast off for their two week trip.

At the violent rapids they capsize. The crew all make it to the bank. There is one broken arm. After a day's rest they set off again.

Later two crew members are swept overboard, but are rescued by the crew. After 8 days they discover a waterfall - the hard way. There are no fatalities but it takes 4 days to effect ingenious repairs to the inflatable using jungle gums, leaves and creepers.

The food runs out, but two days hunting and gathering replenishes stocks.

Finally, after a month's travails they arrive. Colonel Bee-Bee is sorry they are two weeks late. But all conclude this was entirely due to circumstances beyond his control. He is promoted to Brigadier.

3. Jim McB'stard's tale

"******* ****! This is ******* stupid." Jim disappears for half a day, leaving instructions for his crew to get themselves sorted out, work out how they'll handle any rapids etc. Jim reappears with an unwilling native in tow.

They all board the inflatable. As they cast off the river level suddenly drops dramatically and the river flow slows. "I told the **** up at the hydroelectric dam to close the sluices," Jim says.

The inflatable proceeds quickly but not suicidally. The rapids are rapid but not murderous. There are cuts and bruises from the violent buffeting, but no capsize and no men overboard.

On day 6 the native gets excited and gesticulates wildly. A waterfall, somewhere ahead, seems to be the message. They land and spend 3 days hiking around the waterfall.

There are some very close moments on the trip, but after 3 weeks they arrive.

Jim is thanked for bringing the crew back safely, if a little battered. Jim is criticised for being a week late. The experts point out that if he hadn't wasted 3 days walking, and if he hadn't had the river flow slowed they would have made it in 2 weeks easily. Jim is promised another trip to organise so he can do better next time.

Project Management Articles:

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Project Management Book

Project management course
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