Expect Wind in your Face and Rain Every day – Paddling and Projects: Lessons Learned (1)

For about 25 years I’ve been a frequent camper and canoer (canoeist?) in the big provincial parks in Ontario. I’ve gone pretty much every year, and many years when my children were little I went twice – once on a family trip and once on a more difficult ‘just guys’ trip. As the kids got older the family and guys trips merged into one. So I’ve done maybe 40-ish trips in all. And most weekends in the summer I am out for at least a short paddle in my canoe at our family cottage in Georgian Bay.

What has struck me over those years is that the lessons from paddling and the lessons of projects are often the same. I recently did a presentation on this topic and over the next few weeks I will share it as a series of blog posts, with each covering one or two ‘Paddling and Projects: Lessons Learned.

When I first started canoeing, I asked the friends that I was joining for some advice. They gave me some suggestions about the specific clothing I should have and the gear that I needed, and then they said

Expect wind in your face and rain every day.”

Not the best way to sell someone on a spending a week on a canoe trip where you need to be outside all the time, is it?

There were really 2 points being made here:

  • First, you need to have the right gear necessary to deal with any situation. You need to be able to layer up and down, to have a great raincoat etc. A similar comment was the need to have ‘wet clothes and dry clothes. No matter what, keep your dry clothes dry.’ The stuff you wear in the canoe might get damp – or soaked – but put it back on the next day rather than risk having nothing dry to wear in the evenings.
  • The second point is about your plan and expectations. If you expect perfection, you are certain to be disappointed. When you plan for problems, you are prepared ahead of time and not scrambling to figure out what to do.

In my experience overseeing big projects, when I review a project either during the initial planning, or if I am taking responsibility for something in mid-stream, one of the first questions I ask is ‘how much effort contingency have you accounted for?’ Almost invariably, the answer is ‘none’. So what we are saying is, we expect to do something we’ve probably never done before and we are going to do it perfectly the first time out. How realistic is that?  How perfectly do we understand this situation?

You might think that this isn’t relevant in Agile projects, But in each iteration, you need to be able to gauge your confidence in how well you understand the backlog items you’re committing to complete. And there are usually business expectations beyond the initial minimum viable product.

So you do need to consider if you have planned enough resource and time to deal with some delays and unexpected challenges in every project.



Published by

Mark Dymond, P.Eng

With over 20 years of consulting experience I've worked with clients in the banking, retail, travel and government sectors. Based in Toronto, Canada, currently I lead the Cloud consulting team for IBM Canada. I've led successful project and program teams in Canada, the US, and Europe of more than 200 people. Thoughts, comments and mistakes are most definitely my own!

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