Project Management

Some folks have asked about planning and preparation. So far it feels more like hurtling forward than a planned progression. It’s a lot like skiing down a double black diamond run: more of a semi-controlled fall than smooth gliding. There is a lot going on: Finishing the last of the cabin remodels; installing new navigation equipment, new radios, and new solar panels; scheduling a survey; making some improvements to the mast and standing rig; buying and figuring out where/how to store a drogue for heavy weather; getting the life raft serviced;  selecting and buying charts for the new areas we’ll be cruising in; adding sun shades, a wind scoop, and a fan to improve comfort aboard in hot anchorages; and on and on…. Project management is what it’s all about right now. Fair warning dear reader, there is some wonkiness ahead.

In response to one very particular question: No, I am not using Microsoft Project. But, Yes, there is a task list on Excel. I have used Project. It works well; if you can devote about 70% of your time to managing MS Project itself. So I’m using the default screwdriver (lever/chisel/can opener/hammer/wedge) of software tools: the spreadsheet.

Some of you won’t be surprised to hear that there is one list to rule them all and that it’s set up for pivot tables. I can hear GPM laughing now. Of course, there are categories and columns with which to sort and filter. Why all of this? To bring some order to the chaos.

What’s your priority?

In my professional career there was a lot of talk about prioritization. “Just prioritize the options” was heard often. Over the years I had struggled with what that meant and how it could help with decision making. For example, is fire suppression or fire prevention a higher priority? The admonition always seemed overly simplistic and naive. I came to think that prioritization only makes sense within a defined time frame. That time frame and the current context must be clearly declared at the beginning of the prioritization exercise. Obviously, over a longer time frame fire prevention is the higher priority. If prevention fails and a fire starts, then fire suppression rockets to the top and becomes the immediate priority.


One of the ‘complex’ tasks: build new chart drawers. Each is sized to hold many nautical charts folded in half. The drawer fronts and their handles are waiting to be installed. By the way, they must fit into the boat as well.

For us the time frame is very clear: We must leave before the autumn storms begin to blow in from the southwest, which means no later than Labor Day. The context is also clear: We must empty and vacate the house by August 14.  Then move onto Velic, by which time the boat must be ready for long-term living aboard. And just three weeks after that, it must be ready for long-distance voyaging.

But, we have to keep in mind that although this is more of an expedition than a vacation, we’re not going to the moon. There is Costco in Mexico, after all.

And now to the wonkiness, for those who are interested …

Filters and Categories

Filtered on unfinished tasks

Filtered on unfinished tasks

Here is the prioritization report. Rather than an absolute ranking, I have grouped all tasks into Critical, Necessary, and Desirable. Along the left side are the functional areas: ADL’s are the Activities of Daily Living; cooking, cleaning, bathing, sleeping, etc. Emergency is separated from Safety. Emergency equipment includes the life raft in case we need to abandon ship, fire extinguishers, life jackets, etc. Safety includes stout hand grab rails throughout, effective non-skid on deck, and lee cloths so the off-watch crew can sleep securely. Safety is meant of prevent emergencies. Operations are just that: Sailing, motoring, maneuvering and anchoring. Pre-depart is short hand for all the tasks that need to be done before departure, such as banking and mail arrangements, etc. Structure is for tasks that improve or maintain the primary structural integrity of the hull, deck, and rig. Operations and Structure also contribute to Safety and prevention of foreseeable emergencies.

What’s the Status?

Priority_2The primary status report shows that of 209 tasks, 71 are done and 138 are not yet finished. However, 22 are underway and will move to Done rather quickly.

The key difference between using Excel versus Project is that progress toward completion for any particular task is tracked in detail with Project, but not at all in Excel. Project can provide a step-by-step percent completed status report. This is PM overkill for this this endeavor. Excel is more succinct, but you have to be aware that very complex tasks and very simple tasks are shown similarly. You can add sub-tasks and steps to Excel, but then you might as well use Project. Not to get entwined in the software; the key is to evaluate the level and complexity of project management called for by the endeavor.

So the upshot is that the 22 tasks Underway represent the larger, more complex items that take days or weeks to complete; such as building new drawers for the chart table. The 113 Not Started tasks are mostly comprised of what I expect to be short and simple things:  I hope….


Priority_3As we hurtle towards departure, moving out of the house and closing down the boat shop loom larger and larger. Last month I added a new column for sorting tasks: Where must the task be done? Do I need a shop? Can it be done at Rose City Yacht Club in the few weeks before casting off? Does it require ordering parts and supplies from a chandlery (ship and boat supply store)? And do I need to do this in Portland, or can I do it from Velic while anchored in the Sacramento River Delta or the Sea of Cortez? This adds new dimensions to prioritization and project management: Location and available resources.

The key is to spend more time doing stuff than planning and tracking stuff. In other words, productive work should exceed, by far, management time. And how might that inform a KPI for service delivery?


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