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Lessons from Vacation: An Open Letter to Volvo

Dear Volvo

I firmly believe you should stop claiming to be the world’s safest car company.

This spring, my wife’s 2006 XC90 needed to have the engine replaced due to bad cylinders. While a little “young” to experience this problem (around 70,000 miles), it’s understandable: these things happen (and it was still under the warranty we purchased at acquisition, so the $10,000 engine replacement was “on the house”).

After having the Volvo back for a couple of weeks, we took it on vacation out to Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. It performed fine across Nebraska and through Colorado and Wyoming, but by the time we hit the Black Hills of South Dakota, there was an obvious performance issue with the engine. We ended up renting a car to make it through the last day of our vacation plans.

That night, I took it to an AutoZone in Rapid City, SD where they diagnosed two of our ignition coils were bad. They only had one in stock and replaced it, and we were able to get home (but not without a lot of noise and vibration from under the hood). I promptly took it back to the dealer. Yesterday, I received a call from the dealership. They invited me back to the shop to look at the engine block. It turns out the root cause of the problem was your technicians had put the wrong spark plugs into our newly replaced motor. Instead of the plugs for a 2006 XC90, you installed plugs for a 2009 S60. (Just to be clear, the engine came this way from Volvo, and this error was not made at the dealership who installed it.) Regardless, an engine head replacement is in the works.

To say it’s a miracle we made it home in one piece from that vacation is an understatement. I shudder to think of the things that could have happened to the motor as well as the places where those things could have happened. The dealership is equally concerned about your lack of oversight.

This was a clumsy error at best. We purchased the Volvo XC90 because of Volvo’s stellar reputation as a safe vehicle. After experiencing the quality (or lack thereof) of our first Volvo, I firmly believe it will be our LAST Volvo as well. You have undermined your brand promise of safety. Putting a damper on the last couple of days of our family vacation is the least of my concerns; you compromised the safety and well-being of my family.

I’m guessing some corporate drone in your public relations or social media department will see this and laugh... or ignore it. It probably won’t go viral among the “mommy bloggers” or the “social media darlings”… but it will continue to make an impression in our lives. The XC90 is being fixed. Within the next few months, it will be traded (definitely for a different brand). But the memory of this experience will live on.

Respectfully Submitted

Timothy L Johnson

Lessons from Vacation: Focus

Driving_Trail_RidgeWhen vacationing out West, there's one thing virtually everyone can anticipate: driving in the mountains. My experience was no different, and we ventured over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Outside of snow and rain, the biggest challenge to driving was the wind. Driving in a fairly solid SUV, we were able to withstand most of the cool mountain breezes 50+ MPH wind gusts, but there were points in the road where we were unprotected on both sides, leaving us vulnerable to crosswinds. Despite being in a heavy vehicle, we felt like we were being tossed around a bit.

To remedy the situation, I had both hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 with a Vulcan Death Grip that would have made Spock jealous. I kept both eyes on the road at all times and kept child-induced distractions to a minimum as we lurched our way around the rugged terrain up and down the mountain.

Driving_DownhillSometimes we have the same issue on our projects and our accomplishments. We have a goal at the end of the road, but there are crosswinds trying to knock us off course. We label these crosswinds "issues" or "scope creep" but we don't give it the recognition it deserves: something is trying to keep us from reaching our accomplishments. In reality, this trip reminded me there are always techniques for dealing with them:

  1. Stay focused - when your eyes are on the road and you watch where you're going, it makes it easier to see where you're going and not worry as much about the things trying to knock you off track here and now.
  2. Keep a grip (but not too tight) - granted, it took a firm grip to keep the car on the road, and as project managers, we need to keep a firm grip on our accomplishments. That being said, we also need to know when to loosen the grip and let gravity and the car have a little room to run.
  3. Speed up a little - we were generally fine when faced with wind from one direction (i.e., having a mountain cliff on the other side of the road to protect us). There were a few places on the road where we were unprotected on both sides. It was in those places where I sped up a bit rather than slowing down. In the same way, hurrying to get to the next milestone and post an easy victory might be the best strategy when your detractors are coming at you from all directions.
  4. Downhill is not the time to relax - in mountain driving, I've almost found going downhill is more stressful than going uphill as I have to manage the speed using the brakes more than the accelerator. When nearing the finish line of our accomplishments, we have to know when to feather the brakes, when to pull off and give the car a rest, and when to coast. At all times, reading the road will help your decision-making discernment.

We made it up - and down - and enjoyed some beautiful scenery in the process. What are YOU doing to manage the mountain driving of your accomplishments?

Lessons From Vacation: Passion

It's amazing what a few days away can do to clear one's mind. A little time in Rocky Mountain National Park, followed by some time in Wyoming and South Dakota were just what the doctor ordered.

Mount_RushmoreOf course, I like to start at the end of the trip, and the last full day was spent in the Black Hills, enjoying Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Both of these monuments astound me, not by their magnitude and beauty, but by the effort undertaken to appreciate their creation. Gutzon Borglum led the effort to create Mount Rushmore, an effort which took over a decade. Recruited from the Rushmore crew by the Lakota, Korczak Kiolkowski worked on the Crazy Horse monument for decades until his death in the 1982, and it is now carried on by his children and grandchildren (all without Federal funding, I should add).

What fascinates me about both projects is the passion of the workers. The topic of professional love has been at the front of my thinking of late. Most of the time, our projects are measured by weeks or months, for others, projects may last a few years, but many of us in the profession are time boxed because our executives are anxious to get things done and move on to something else.

Crazy_HorseAt the Rushmore Monument, there was a sign in the museum talking about the workers, who were mostly miners or lumberjacks from the area. The bottom of the description read:

For some the work was just a job, but for others it became a special calling.

"More and more we sensed that we were creating a truly great thing, and after a while all of us old hands became truly dedicated to it," Red Anderson, Mount Rushmore Carver.

There was plenty of time to become an "old hand" as the project stretched from 1927 to 1941. As for Crazy Horse, the first rock was dynamited in 1948, and the project is still underway. During the introductory video, we learned that project is measured in "tons (of rock) and decades" rather than the weeks and months and deliverables by which we measure current projects.

So what are YOU doing to instill passion in your project teams, especially when the project seems to drag on "forever"? On my last project, we tried to build in appreciation for the installation team spending several weeks on the road. They were the real heroes of the project, traveling to numerous locations across almost a dozen states. But they also knew WHY the project was important. They saw the importance of the end result. And it was that belief which drove them to success. Very similar to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, the best way to build passion for a project is to provide the workers at all levels a view of the future and what it means.

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