Project Management and Canoeing Have More in Common than You Might Think

by James on September 7, 2010

Couple on a canoe tripI grew up in Manotick, Ontario on an island in the Ridaeu River. I’m not trying to get all Huck on you but this experience provided me with a perspective on project management that has served me well.

Living on an island required an early and deep understanding of water. Swimming and canoeing were integral parts of my early life. So much so that I spent two summers, while in college, working for a long distance canoe tripping camp, Camp Outlook. We took under privileged and juvenile delinquent boys and girls on 10 day canoe trips in Algonquin Park.

Hang in there, I’m getting to the point.

Packing was a constant problem for the young people who attended Camp Outlook. We tried telling them to just “think it through.”

Blank stares.

Then one of the councilors, I don’t remember who but I’m sure it wasn’t me, told them to think about the trip in terms of their bodies and all the things they need to do or have each day.

Start at your toes and end with your nose.

This worked really well. The children had a point of reference they could relate to and against which they could make the decisions required to pack efficiently. When you have to carry everything you need over a 1,500+ yard portage, an extra 15 pounds in the pack becomes a very big deal. And when you are many miles from the nearest road, forgetting something is equally inconvenient.

OK, time to reward your patience, here comes the point.

In business being able to think through a process is a an important and, based on observation, under utilized project management skill. Consider your next project and start at your toes and end with your nose:

  • Think through all the steps and stages you need to go through to reach a successful conclusion.
  • List all the elements, people, resources, etc. required at each step.
  • Think about what might go wrong at each stage. Put something in place to reduce the danger of things going awry and have a plan if they do.
  • Document and publish your plan. Be sure all the people who touch each stage of the process understand and agree to their role. There are online tools you can use to help out with this. I like Basecamp. Tell us what you use.

This approach won’t guarantee that every project is a success but it sure helps. You don’t want to carry an extra 15 pounds and you don’t want to hear the question, “Who packed the TP?”

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