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Some Assembly Required... Or Else!

Instructions_1I now know why Santa's elves are so short.  Years of caffeine and alcohol consumption have stunted their growth.  It's the day after Christmas, and I'm just now recovering from playing "Santa's Little Helper" until 2:30 in the morning assembling a kitchen set for my 2-year-old.  (And yes, it was worth it.  This toy has brought her limitless joy the past two days, allowing me to get caught up on sleep.)

The problem was not so much in the assembly as it was in the expectation-setting.  My wife, wonderful saint that she is, did all of the Christmas shopping this year since I was playing road warrior for my last project.  The problem occurred on Christmas Eve, as I was just settling down for a "long winter's nap."

"You do realize you have to assemble Abby's gift, don't you?" (It was not really a rhetorical question as much as it was a direct order.)  "It should be easy.  The picture on the box didn't look that complicated."  So... at 10:30 PM, I settled on the floor with my hammer and my screw driver and my allen wrench and 1,265,497 pieces of the kitchen set in order to "insert Tab A into Slot B, as shown in Figure C" - AAAAAAAAAARRRG.

Kitchen_2_1Unlike the typical male, I do pull out the instructions first... and I read them.  I inventory parts.  I make a list.  I check it twice.  Hmmmm, only 17 steps.  "This shouldn't be too bad," I mused to myself.  By midnight - 90 minutes into it - I was only on step 6.  An hour later I was muttering incoherent ramblings that would certainly have placed me on Santa's naughty list.  And by 2:30, the final screw went in, completing the project.

As a project manager, I tend to be pretty adamant about the importance of a good work breakdown structure (WBS).  For those who aren't into project management lingo, the WBS is simply the inventory of tasks needed to get the project done... your Carpe Factum roadmap, as it were.  For a good read about the "technical academics" behind the WBS, check out this post by Elyse at the Anti-Clue blog.  However, for the reality of a good WBS boils down to two things:  clarity and communication.  If those who have to act on your WBS don't know what you want or can't read it clearly, then you've failed at defining the scope of your project, and your "all is calm, all is bright" suddenly becomes "ho! ho! hopeless"!

As you begin to ramp up your new initiatives for 2007, think long and hard about what you want to accomplish, and plan how you will communicate that scope.  We'll all get a lot more sleep if you do.

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