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Project Management on the Road:
Best Laid Plans

by Kerry Quinn

“The bestlaid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
-Robert Burns

It has been a year since taking off on a journey to Explore – Serve – Share with people in the adventures of life (read our launch article here). The goal of my wife Lisa and I was to free ourselves from everyday living and focus on serving where we could as we traveled.

What we can say unequivocally is that at each turn in the journey, no matter how detailed the plans, we encountered the projects we worked on quickly altered from our best-laid plans. In project management, project planning is the second phase of a project. One sets goals, collaborates with the team, and establishes a roadmap for the project. Seems simple enough. However, projects can be altered by both internal team factors as well as external factors. Here are a few of the adventures we encountered.

The first project we supported was with an organization called Wreaths Across America. “Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, their mission to Remember, Honor and Teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,400 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad” (www.wreathsacrossamerica.org). We participated as a volunteer in North Carolina. What was projected to be hundreds of volunteers working in concert to systematically lay wreaths turned out to be a crew half that size that waited hours for wreaths to arrive on site – all due to external factor out of the control of the project team. In the end, the day was a success and the after-action review provided great insight into planning for next year.

Another project we supported was with the USO (United Service Organizations). The USO volunteers teamed with the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, NC who host the 2018 Marine Corps Trials – a Paralympics-style adaptive sports event hosted by the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, which promotes recovery and rehabilitation through adaptive sport participation and develops camaraderie among recovering service members and veterans (www.marines.mil). We were able to work with military personnel from across the globe and support events throughout the week. What we found with this project planning was a rigidness that hampered flexibility to provide the most efficient support. Again, a very successful event that gained retrospective insight to develop better planning and execution for future years.

The next project we supported was with an organization called Team Rubicon. “Team Rubicon is an international disaster response nonprofit that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly provide relief to communities in need” (teamrubiconusa.org). In the absence of a disaster to support, we served on a team executing a service project for the Equinox Ranch –a non-profit organization dedicated to giving veterans the homecoming they deserve through healing of traumatic memories. (equinoxranch.org). The volunteer team met up in western North Carolina to renovate exterior decks and landscaping. A Team Rubicon leadership team formed volunteer work teams, provided daily work plans, and supervised the project. It was a fun project to support and the only hic-up arose when communication broke down and a work team veered off the plan of the day. The entire volunteer team took a quick break to talk through the incident and refocused on the tasks for the day to finish on schedule.

As Lisa and on left that last project we were headed to a training event in Tennessee for the week. What was to be a seven-day trip turned into a month-long journey no planning could have predicted. Our daughter, living in Virginia with her family, contacted us to say a tornado just touched down in their neighborhood. They were safe but there was a lot of damage on their property the surrounding homes. We hooked up our travel trailer and headed north to Virginia to help where we could. The response from the city and local community was incredible. Assistance and clean-up came quickly to the residences affected. It was apparent the community had plans in place for service and support and the executed that plan very effectively.

That event launched us on an unplanned series of projects helping family and friends with business and household maintenance or renovation projects. We traveled through Virginia, to Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and then back to North Carolina. Each project had its own set of challenges and in the end, the project planning at each site helped make for outcomes that solved each need.

The summer of 2018 ended with a bang as Hurricane Florence headed for in North Carolina. Hurricane season comes and goes each year while households and business prepare for potential storms. Preparations (project planning) in our community varied widely. Storm warnings and imminent evacuations ensued. As we began outdoor preparations – boarding windows, securing outdoor furniture, and packing – it was evident we needed to aid our neighbors. What we planned as a few hours of work turned into two 18-hour days. After the storm passed, we returned to our community and significant damage to our town. In the end our take-away for project management was to prepare, prepare, prepare.

This year has been a great learning experience. The plans we set took us in so many directions we never anticipated, but in the end we are better people for them.

How did the past year treat you, and what lessons did it bring you?

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