I’ve been a successful Project Manager (PM) for going on two decades now and during some of that time I worked remotely from my sailboat while continuing to lead large virtual global teams to successful launches. I get asked by team members to participate on my teams again in the future, which is probably the ultimate compliment. I’ve been asked to mentor other PM’s and run discussion forums. Recently I was asked to run a boot camp on how I run projects that succeed in spite of the many challenges we tend to encounter, and this got me to thinking about why I’m successful. I feel like my sailing and boating experience directly correlates to my success.
When living aboard and traveling, whether it is a long passage or a short one, it requires forethought. We plan the route we are taking, we plan the weather window, we provision the boat with the correct food items needed based on weather and destination. Once we set the plan, we then monitor it closely to ensure we can stick to it. Is the weather window closing or are the tides/currents going to conflict? All of this is very similar to what we do the in the PM world where we spend time discovering what we are going to do and put an initial plan in place knowing that no plan every stays stagnate, constantly needing to review and adjust based on factors that come up.
Issues always come up, no matter how well we plan, something generally goes wrong and you just hope it’s a minor issue versus a major item. The key is to plan for the unexpected and not to let the challenges consume you. Looking at the risks for a project helps you plan for how to address them if they arise. On a boat, the same is true. For engine related items, we carry spare parts like oil filters, fuel filters, and belts and now we even carry a spare prop! (Read my blog post on our recent adventure where our prop came off our boat!) Nearly everything has a solution and it’s just a matter of wrapping your head around what needs to get done and how. Negative talk really doesn’t help us get to the finish line faster, it tends to suck the energy out of the room and leads to negative consequences. Instead I like to focus on what’s attainable in my boat projects and in my work projects. Planning and perseverance is crucial.
To the inexperienced it may seem that once the sails are up, we are good to go. That’s not true and in order to maximize speed our sails require constant trimming, tuning and tweaking. Whether it’s pulling the main and jib in to take advantage of a wind puff or letting them out to adjust for wind direction changes, constant monitoring is pretty critical to efficient sailing. This is not unlike any project where a PM needs to regularly monitor the plan and tune it based on the activities and tasks that are occurring. I can’t tell you how many times we are in the thick of the work and a technical lead will mention a task that wasn’t included in the plan. Rather than freak out or worse, belittle he team member, we add it and adjust for the item...tuning the plan to support the additional new task item.
Lastly, one of the areas that tends to get forgotten is to breath, relax, enjoy the ride and have FUN. Most projects I support these days are a year or two in duration. There is always a fun way to get work done versus a grumpy way. Humor helps alleviate the stress that is ever present and helping your team find the humor, even in the crappiest of situations, can help them move forward and through the challenges. A humorous analogy, a story of overcoming obstacles during other projects or even a funny cartoon can help break the chain of stress. Additionally, taking time to step away for a bit can go a long ways towards a fresh look at the overall project and the team members. Everyone needs a little time away and it’s important to find it, even if it’s a few hours. Personally, a few hours sailing is the best rejuvenation. As we head away from shore and cell phone connectivity I can physically feel my shoulders start to settle and my body start to relax. The sun, the wind, the rhythm of the boat helps eliminate the stress that has built up.
Sailing for me is a lifelong love, just like project management is. I love leading teams to be an amazing, cohesive, working units that can complete a project against, what seems at times to be, insurmountable odds. Planning, mitigating, adjusting and perseverance mixed with a fun attitude carries me through both.
The past few weeks have been a test, in fact, I think Resa is ensuring we are really committed to her in some bizarre fashion. People laugh when I say that boats have personalities but we've had enough of them in my life to believe it is true. Our first boat and I did not see eye to eye and I was very glad to see the stern of her when we sold it. Our second boat was love at first sight until the day we sold her, interestingly enough the very first day with the new owners she lost her impeller. We had not had a lick of issue with her over the several years of ownership. Our last boat didn't seem to care for Keith that much and we ended up sinking a ridiculous amount of money into things like transmissions but overall we toughed it out together and came to an agreement. Now Resa is going through that same cycle of testing. The most recent adventure was losing the prop.
Yes, you heard me right. We went to go sailing the other day, had a full crew onboard, untied the dock lines, put Resa in gear and went nowhere. At first I thought someone had left a dock line tied, then there was a brief panic thinking we had a transmission issue, finally Keith put his cell phone underwater and spotted that the prop was totally gone! Which is bad, but not as bad (i.e. costly!) as it could be and if it was going to happen, what better place then in the slip?!? Just the day previous I had spent a few hours changing the oil and had run the engine to warm it up, it must have come off at that point because we we went sailing the day before without issue.
We actually had a backup prop and cone so we started to plan on getting the boat over to the yard to haul her out and thought we'd check around the boat to see if we could possible see the prop. On low tide we went down to the dock and looked around behind the boat and were a little discouraged to not see it...though not totally surprised. Then as we walked back to the boat and glanced under it...there it was...sitting bright as day right under the boat and we could also see the cone that was suppose to hold it on not a foot away from it! We tried retrieving with hooks and made a few calls to divers who were not available immediately before our neighbor popped out and offered his services....for the nominal price of a six pack of beer. So we were able to recover our hardware and still have a backup prop and cone which we will keep with us on the boat now at all times. I popped over to the yard and chatted with them about a good time to haul Resa late in the day so we could keep her in the sling overnight to put the prop back on, this time with Red Locktite which is what Volvo and the FB Sweden Yachts group both recommended. This is the permanent Locktite and seems counter-intuitive because we have to take the prop off the boat to replace the zinc and the red Locktite is going to make that extremely difficult! Regardless, we had a plan and we were able to get it to the yard with help from yacht club friends and a very talented husband towing with the little Boston Whaler. We hauled her and got the prop back on....and that's where it should have had a happy ending.
In the morning we received a call from the yard saying they need to drop Resa back in early so at 8:30 we were there dropping her back into the water and as she splashes, still in the slings we start the engine up ready to back her down and back into the slip when one of the yard guys says "I don't see any water coming out". I quickly go below and double check that I did in fact open the thru hull...which I had....so we turned the engine off and began to see if there was another easy answer. (insert hysterical laugh). After some 10 minutes of dorking around and not identifying a quick solution, the yard guys decided to push Resa over to a side tie so they can keep hauling and dropping boats while we started to dig into what was going on with our Volvo.
Keith and I started at the intake, checking hoses and everything looked fine, checked the vented loop and the new valve we'd installed, we checked the impeller and it looked and turned over with the engine running, the water was going into the heat exchanger fine so we looked to the last step where water goes through the exhaust elbow and out the back of the boat. Low and behold it was totally blocked where the water is suppose to go through. There was also some carbon build up but not a total blockage. So we at least had an idea of the root cause of the issue. and we know we need to replace it but since we live pretty far removed from a supply of these and we had a trip scheduled to Sequim to buddy boat with the Sea Scouts that night, we opted to clean the part as best we could and see how it goes. At worst we would at least be able to get the boat back to the slip hopefully and at best it would be fine for awhile until we could get a new elbow shipped to us. Turns out, the cleaning of it helped significantly and water was flushing through at a decent volume so not only were we able to get Resa back in her slip a bit before Noon but I also had time enough to provision and gear up for a fun trip to Sequim for the weekend.
I'm the wife of the captain, a mother of three boys and a PM in the corporate world. This blog is my view of life and activities related to our boat.