Its all about the team, & having the right person in the right role – Paddling and Projects: Lessons Learned (2)

Its always important to understand the level of expertise on any project and the same is true in canoeing. In my work life I’ve been in leadership roles for more than 20 years, but I am in a quite different role out on a canoe trip.


I’ve been going canoeing with the same core of people for 25 years.  We all met through IT consulting.  On the left is my friend Graham. He is a great big data and analytics thought leader, by the way. But the most important thing is:  he’s been canoeing for 50 years. He actually built his own canoe in high school.  His summer job as a teenager was to work as a summer camp counselor where he was the ‘tripper’ – taking younger kids out on overnight canoe trips. I think he also worked 1 summer as a junior ranger –  then he took 2 years of forestry at university.

On the right is Ken.  Ken was a senior technical sales manager at Oracle for many years. Knows a ton about database and high-performance transaction management. More importantly, he has a bachelor’s degree in freshwater biology – or as he likes to say, a degree in fishing.  He did field studies on the impact of acid rain on the lakes in Killarney Provincial Park and then spent a winter the Hudson Bay Barrens doing other research before switching to IT.  He’s been canoeing longer than Graham.  On top of that, both of them do the majority of the cooking in their families and I consider them to be gourmet cooks.

With that level of skill available, we’re capable of taking on pretty much any trip.  Whether it was high winds and waves out on the lake, a tough portage, or some unexpected bad weather, there is nothing they can’t handle.

On a project, its not necessarily about having that level of expertise.  What is important though, its understanding the capabilities of your team, and planning your trip –  or your project – accordingly.

Similarly, about 6-7 years ago, I realized my son Alex, who is now our most common ‘4th canoeist’, was better at sterning the canoe than I am.  The person in the back (the stern) is the captain, deciding the route across the lake, and steering.


Of course, you want the best person on the best job… so he is in charge our our boat.  But what does that leave me to do?  My friends are experts, my son has surpassed me… But someone needs to paddle in the bow (front).  Around the campsite, the gourmet chefs want to cook. But I can still do the dishes, be the sous-chef peeling carrots, filter the water, gather and cut-up the wood.  And carry my share in my pack and the canoe.

Its about getting the work done the best way, not about taking the most glamorous or fun job for yourself.  When we are packing the bags the start of each day before getting in the canoe, you can tell the people that you want to go canoeing with. They come up to the kitchen area and start taking food, the stove, pots and pans… whatever they can get into their knapsack.

The ones you don’t want to camp with are the ones who wait until you say ‘can anyone carry these final few vegetables that I can’t quite get into my pack’ ? and then it turns out that their pack is ½ empty.

It’s the same on a project.  Always try to do more than asked for. Look for jobs that aren’t being done and do them.   We all want the people on our team who are going to finish their own work, and then keep trying to take on more.

By the way, there are lots of times on a trip when I do cook , or stern the canoe.  You have to keep those skills sharp too just in case.

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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