Titanic (as in the ship) Lessons in Project Management

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  This horrible tragedy resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 people and has been the subject of several books and movies, but it also provides some key examples of project management mistakes and oversights.  For example, the lack of lifeboats on the Titanic certainly played a role in the number of deaths, but at the time it was believed there were enough lifeboats.  The standards back then determined the number of required lifeboats by the overall weight of the ship and not the total number of passengers.  This measurement standard was clearly inaccurate, and the standards have since changed as a result of this disaster.  This oversight provides us with an example that valid measurements are a necessity for every project.

The Titanic was also one of three new ships built by the White Star Line.  Their strategy was to emphasize the luxury of the ship, and not the speed, as its primary selling point.  However, it’s reported that the White Star chairman pressured the captain to increase the speed of the ship.  The higher speed most likely contributed to the collision and sinking of the ship.  This is a classic example of “scope creep” that is prevalent in many projects.  Scope creep usually involves a request from a client to make a small change to a project.  The reality is that these changes are rarely small, and in a project world governed by quality, time, and budget, at least one will have to yield.  In the instance of the Titanic, we know the unfortunate result of the scope creep.

Another situation occurred shortly after the iceberg collision.  There was a nurse onboard caring for a child of a first class family, and she took the child to a lifeboat where they both were rescued.  However, she failed to tell the parents where she was going, and they spent time looking for the child, eliminating their opportunity to escape in a lifeboat.  As a result, they died trying to find their child.   This should remind us that project managers need to keep their stakeholders informed.  Stakeholders are much happier when they know the status of a project.

This tragic event does include some valuable reminders about successful project management as well.  The methods used to gather victim information were recorded in ledger notebooks and were proven to be highly effective.  There weren’t any computers or iPads back then to record information.  This sheds some light that methodology is more important than technology.  In addition, the documentation from the recovery recently allowed researchers to identify an unknown child through DNA testing.  As you can see, documentation is often times one of the most important parts of a project because it exists long after a project team has disbanded.

For more information, please reference the article “10 project management lessons from the Titanic disaster” that was written by Calvin Sun of TechRepublic.


Don’t Lose Your Project Inside Your Backpack

What comes to mind when you think about project management?  Planning, organizing, budgets, constraints, deadlines, etc. are all typically taken into consideration to complete a project.  Technology vendors such as Microsoft all seem to have the latest and greatest software to coordinate project management activities, but is there a simpler way?

Kevin Purdy wrote an article on Lifehacker, a website providing software and personal productivity recommendations, and discussed how the “good old” whiteboard helped him successfully plan a major conference.  Purdy references that he unintentionally set himself up as the only person that really knew every task that had to be completed to put on the conference.  The conference was rapidly approaching, and he had “110 nervous thoughts” that needed to be acted upon to make the conference a successful reality.

Purdy decided to gather the appropriate members that were helping to plan the conference, and they marched off to a room with nothing more than some desks and a whiteboard.  He states that they accomplished more in that room than they had in their last 6 to 8 meetings combined, and he credits it all to the whiteboard.  He indicated that the whiteboard reduced time in the overall decision making process.  Purdy says in his article, “You write something, add a question mark, and people in the room can decide on it right then, instead of across days in an email thread.”

So how else can a whiteboard solve a project management dilemma?  First and foremost, writing things down is always helpful, and whiteboards are big enough for everyone on the project management team to see.  Whiteboards tend to make it feel less like you’re committing to something and more like you’re throwing out an idea for consideration.  Whiteboards also inspire you to fill all of the space, and therefore expand and branch out your thoughts.

As Purdy also references, “Whiteboards are nearly impossible to lose inside your backpack.”  This seems like somewhat of a sarcastic comment at first, but think about it some more.  It actually makes perfect sense.  It becomes very difficult to lose sight of your goals and objectives when they are as big as life on a board right in front of you. By putting everything on a whiteboard you can motivate others to complete tasks and you can really start to control your resources. The whiteboard becomes the project management plan.

Not every project is overseen by someone with a project management background either.  For those people that aren’t very good at explaining what tasks need to be completed, the whiteboard may just be your savior.   Software, risk analysis, implementation plans and other project management tools might be needed for more complex and sophisticated projects; however, the next time you’re stuck on a project, consider the simple, cheap whiteboard as an alternative.


Click the link below to view the article.


Corporate “Lessons Learned” from 2012

Corporate Strategy News is a news and information resource designed to help business executives in decision-making.  Recently they published an article entitled “Top Concerns for CEO’s in 2013.”  The basis of the article came from several top executives who were surveyed about planning for the business year ahead.  There were 3 main points that were emphasized in the article: building a contingency plan, minimizing risk and managing talent.  I view these points as the “lessons learned” from 2012.

Contingency plans are a hot topic for businesses as a direct result of Hurricane Sandy and other major natural disasters that have recently occurred.  For example, many businesses have been content to keep all records and files on site.  This tactic has been proven to be deficient in emergency planning.  Contingency plans address these issues and are more than just “disaster planning.”  Managers should have several plans that address numerous scenarios.  This provides organizations with greater flexibility so they can “weather any storm.”

Minimizing risk is also vital to a firm’s success.  Risk is inherent in any industry, but there are a number of ways it can be reduced.  One of the greatest ways to reduce risk is through improved internal auditing.  If a firm is more transparent it’s easier to find errors and improve business processes.  Given some of the uncertainties for next year, risk management also becomes increasingly more important.

The last major point of the article emphasized the importance of talent management and it’s impact to a corporation.  Talent management should be a role that extends beyond the human resources department.  Unfortunately many corporations often overlook this attribute.  CEO’s and other executives should take an active role in talent management so that leaders can be identified and rewarded.  Human capital will become more important next year as the economy strengthens.

I found this article to really hit on some key issues and problems that exist within various corporations today.  None of the above mentioned points should come as a surprise, but it should be an “eye opener” for executives that haven’t taken these critical points into consideration.  Of course these aren’t the only factors that impact success, but given the circumstances and some of the recent events that have occurred, these points should not be ignored.

This past year has been an exciting one, to say the least, for many corporations.  The challenges that lie ahead with the looming fiscal cliff, problems with major money-lenders and other uncertainties will make strategic planning a priority for all businesses in 2013.   Every corporation will need to have a unique competitive advantage going forward, and addressing some of these key issues can help them prosper next year.

If you would like to read this article you can find it at the link below.



Globalization – It’s More Than a Simple Definition

Globalization is a term that we seem to cover in nearly every business course.  Booz & Company put out an interesting article last month about globalization and its importance to business strategies as we move into the future.  The concept of globalization is simple to understand, but its successful implementation is far from being a simplistic task.

Let’s consider Walmart as an example.  Walmart is arguably one of the most successful companies in the United States.  They are the 3rd largest public corporation in the world and employ more than 2 million people worldwide.  Walmart recently entered the South Korean and German markets.  Shortly thereafter they closed operations in these markets as a result slow growth rates and lack of market share, among other things.  There obviously seems to have been some poor decision making and analysis that occurred before entering these markets.

So how does a corporation successfully compete globally?  The article suggests a focus on “localization” first.  This involves an investment of time and money into better understanding how globalization exists in a corporation’s home country first.  Few companies have been able to quantify the untapped potential for growth in their own country.  If this information could be better understood, these companies would recognize an increasing importance for establishing global connections.

The article further implies that globalization needs to be done with a smarter and more integrated approach.  Global depth and global breadth will become more important in creating successful, global business strategies.  In simple terms global depth represents how much of an economy is devoted to exports and imports.  On the other hand global breadth is the extent to which international trade flows are spread globally versus confined to a particular set of partner nations.  Without understanding the depth and breadth that exists within a country, it is nearly impossible for a corporation to enter a new market successfully.

All of this talk about globalization makes me think of my own corporation.  I was surprised to find out that my definition of globalization was mostly inaccurate.  My corporation conducts most of its business within the United States, but we have recently started to sell products in England.  I thought this now put our company into the “globalized” category.  In reality, we are still a domestic company that now conducts some international transactions.  I’m still not sure if this makes our corporation any better positioned for the future, other than now having some new clients to serve.  I struggle to understand whether the costs associated with entering these new markets will actually lead to long-term success.  Obviously a lot of time, effort and money is necessary to implement a successful market entry strategy.  As the article suggests, the world is only 10 to 25 percent globalized, so businesses such as my own will have to keep pace with changes to avoid similar failures that happened to Walmart.

If you would like to read the Booz & Company article please follow the link below: