I’m a lucky guy. I’ve had the fortune to be able to move half way around the world, start up in a completely alien country, and manage to keep the stress levels under control – for much of the time anyway.
I’m writing this post from Tokyo, a city I have visited many times previously – both for work and for leisure. It’s been rather cold since arriving, but nothing which a boy from the north of England cannot endure.
So, what’s this got to do with project management? Well, quite a bit actually, if we consider the move (which I made with my wife who is Japanese) as a project.
Like all projects it required a plan. We (I should say my wife) made a very detailed plan, which started months in advance, and got more detailed the nearer to got to the moving date. There were several milestones along the way – putting our house on the rental market for example.
Things changed unexpectedly which meant that we had to take some decisions and re-plan accordingly – for example when the nice tenants we had found for our house wanted to move in 3 weeks earlier than we wanted.
There were risks to be considered – for example, what if our 2 lovely Chihuahuas weren’t allowed on the plane, or worse, were refused entry when we faced quarantine at Tokyo’s airport? Governments tend to like paperwork at the best of times, but I was totally unprepared for the amount of paperwork demanded by these two rabies-free island nations.
So, the plan evolved – injections, visas, tickets, moving, packing, selling the car – each one ticked off as they got completed, each one getting us closer to the final day.
My wife did an astonishingly good job of planning everything – even down to having futons and duvets, cutlery and crockery delivered within 2 hours of our moving into the Tokyo house the day after we arrived. Two hours later, the fibre-optic cable was installed for our internet connection. My wife has never been on a project management training course, but for her, the planning of all the different steps involved follows a certain inherent logic, just like it would on any other project.
48 hours prior to departure we had to have various paperwork completed by our vets in the UK. The day before flying this had been faxed off to the Japanese quarantine people who had promised to check it before we arrived.
Murphy’s Law (if something can go wrong it will)
On the morning of our departure their reply landed in our inbox. “Don’t forget to bring the original rabies antibody test certificates with you – otherwise your pets may be refused entry and may be sent back to their country of origin”. We looked at each other in horror. Of all the things which we had thought about and had planned for, we realized this was the one thing which we had overlooked. In fact we didn’t have the originals – they were at the vets in London.
We immediately phoned the vets. Luckily they still had them and we could pick them up on our way to the airport. So, we made a 2 hour detour to get the certificates, but this was well within the slack which we had allowed in the plan to get to the airport.
So, we arrived at the airport, after driving through yet another of the UK’s winter storms and went to check-in. The attendant took one look at the dogs in their crates and said we couldn’t take them. We couldn’t believe it. We had double-checked when we booked the flight that the pets could be carried in the cabin. We argued and when he realized that they were bound for the cabin we were OK to check-in with both dogs.
One huge sigh of relief and a walk through security later, we were able to board. Eleven hours on a flight with no toilet or food or water is not much fun for a small dog. Yet despite a few passengers being startled by the occasional bark, their first flight was thankfully pretty good.
So, what lessons can we take away from this? Well, for one, plan your project. Had we not planned in detail, there would have been a lot more surprises along the way.
Make sure you analyse all risks beforehand and ensure you have a plan to deal with them. We had tried to reduce most risks, for example by researching in detail the requirements of the Japanese quarantine and the UK pet export regulations. But there was always the chance that we might be refused entry.
Lastly, be prepared to change your plan, when things come up unexpectedly.
I’m sure that you have had similar experiences when managing projects not just at work, but in your personal life too. Did an awareness of project management methods help you as much as it helped me?