My luck with Cars…


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We all have our moments where we feel that if it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.  I try not to linger too long on that feeling.  However, when it comes to cars, I’ve been blessed with good luck so far.

Being the youngest of four growing up, I was usually the recipient of hand me down cars.  My first car was my sisters forest green 1972 VW Super Beetle.  As you may know, the VW has a small rear engine that’s simple enough that even I could fix it.  Pioneer cassette deck bolted to the dashboard and room behind the rear seat to fill with speakers.  I could be heard miles away with Van Halen blasting at 110 decibels cruising to work.  I was never stuck in a snow bank because I could almost lift the rear by myself though I lost a wheel one day going down the road.  Thirty miles per hour to 0 mph in 18” is possible.  Trust me!  I found the wheel, put it back on, and drove away.

The next car was a 1976 Toyota Corolla because it was time for Mom to get a new Chevy Cavalier, which would follow the Corolla.  I drove that car from Florida to Nova Scotia loaded with camping equipment.  The fondest memory was when my best friend and I took his canoe, which was 4 feet longer than the car, over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to go crabbing.  The bridge is over 4 miles long and almost 200 feet high with open grates on each lane.  Can you imagine the updraft and the feeling of almost flying off the bridge?  Ah, to be young and stupid again…  Back then, you could catch a bushel of crabs in an afternoon and beat rush hour home in time to cook them up and enjoy.  I took the Corolla to U of MD and when I was a junior, Mom’s Cavalier became my next car.  I think I may have gotten $200 for the Toyota by the time I was done with it.  Maybe…

The Cavalier held on until I graduated and started working.  It wasn’t the best of the cars but did the job. Barely.

Once I started working, I splurged on a Nissan 4X4 because every suburbanite in the DC area needed a 4X4 for that occasional dusting of snow.  Of course it didn’t take long to figure out 4X4 is worthless on ice.  I loaned it to somebody to take it on a skiing trip because that’s where you need 4X4.  The problem was that it was driven back in 4-wheel drive.  I soon realized during the next monstrous dusting that the 4-wheel drive was toast and I might as well been on ice skates.

My wife always had nice hot rods. She had a Trans Am while we were dating and then the first Mustang GT right about the time we were married.  As soon as we started having kids, the Mustang was traded for the first family 4 door – Honda Accord.  The first and only new car we ever owned.  It had power windows.  And a moon roof.  A grown up car!

I drove truck for work and put 150k miles on it until it my wife convinced me it was looking embarrassing.  The truck lasted until I received a phone call from my wife from a payphone (Yes – pre-cell phone days there were payphones!!) telling me she had to carry our 2 young daughters and my golf clubs so the tow truck could take the truck to the garage to get its monthly fix.  I took that as a strong suggestion that it was time for the truck to go.

The truck turned into a Nissan Rodeo because we were a family now and every suburbanite needed a SUV for that occasional dusting of snow.  Now we had a Honda and an SUV.  We officially reached Parenthood!

Not too long after that, my work took us to New England.  We sold the Honda, which we think had probably had over 160k, but we couldn’t be sure because the odometer broke the year before at 130k.  We took off over Thanksgiving weekend with two kids and an 8 months pregnant wife.  The Rodeo was not made to provide a comfortable drive for a very pregnant wife.

When we got to New England with one car, the first purchase after the winter thaw was a Ford Taurus – the best car I’ve owned.  After driving the 4-wheel drive truck and Rodeo, I realized the best all weather vehicle ever was the Taurus.  It made it through seven brutal winters and never had an issue getting stuck by a snowstorm or starting on the coldest mornings.  It quickly developed its own character with its mechanical deficiencies: only the driver can open windows, can only clean the passenger side of the windshield, etc…

The Rodeo was traded for the first minivan and now we officially reached parent status.  We put over 100k miles on two different minivans.  Every weekend we’d load up the van and took off for the mountains or beach along with annual drives to Florida for Winter Break and Ocean City, MD for summer vacation.  It’s amazing how three kids can “break in” a vehicle when you travel as we did.

When it was time to move to the Midwest, I realized the Taurus had never been driven more than 15 miles 1 way for 7 years and yet it had 120k miles on it.  The 1000-mile drive loaded down with as much stuff as possible would be the test.  And it passed.

Not too long after reaching the Midwest, my daughters started reaching driving age.  The Taurus was their car of the future.  My two oldest daughters learned to drive in that car.  They shared the Taurus because there was no way they would be caught dead driving Moms minivan!  They didn’t think it was cool and we knew we didn’t want it to become the local taxi service.

The kids hoped and begged for a new car.  They would drive it to school every day plotting how to get one.  They named the Taurus “Yoshi” after one of the Mario Brothers characters.  As the years and miles went by, Yoshi started aging and developed a 6-month self-flushing radiator – the sign to add antifreeze was when the heat didn’t work in the winter and the air conditioner didn’t work in the summer.  A hot rod sound followed due to a loose muffler, which meant we could hear the car entering the neighborhood.  This serves also a signal for the neighbors walking that a new driver was approaching.  And if the muffler wasn’t bad enough, a screeching sound started during the winter that only appeared when they pulled into or out of the school parking – as if to say, “The Planets girls have arrived!”

They convinced me to take the car and see if it was trashed as they thought.  I told the mechanic the issues and the kids plan to get a new car.  He smiled and accepted the challenge to get Yoshi back on the road.  Turns out the screeching was the A/C stuck on full blast but the knob was broken – super glue and turning off the A/C eliminated the screech.  The hot rod sound from the muffler was fixed with two bolts.  When fixed, the car purred.  Best $70 ever spent.  Imagine the disappointment when I had the girls drive the car home from the garage.  The 6-month self-flushing radiator remained a character flaw because the repair exceeds the value of the car and eventually led to the downfall of Yoshi.

When my Dad retired, he bought himself a red 1996 Mustang convertible GT.  The first person he let drive was my wife because she had experience driving a car like that.  I’m proud to say I was the second, which was still before any of my siblings!  When my Dad passed, the car went to my niece and she drove it thru college.  When she graduated and got a new car, the Mustang came to my family.  Finally, I didn’t have to share a car with the kids.

For now, one of my daughters drives the Mustang and it’s proven to be a strong car.  Not as pretty as it once was and slowly started to show signs of “sell me”.

I was finally able to get a grown up car.  Our plan is to trade the van inn for just about anything else but a minivan – my wife wants a Charger – take the girl out of the hot rod but not the hot rod out of the girl!

So, for all of the moments where we feel that if it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all, my perspective is starting to get challenged when it comes to cars.

Carry on…


What if I Fail?


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Cover of "About Schmidt"

Cover of About Schmidt

If I failed and nobody was there to witness it, would anybody care? I’ve survived several companywide restructures and about to endure another. Fortunately, I’ve had a chair still waiting for me when the music stopped that was still in. Not the same chair but thankfully a chair. This time anyhow…

Too often I fear I’ll end up like the Jack Nicholson‘s character in About Schmidt who, on the day of his retirement, sees his life’s work ends up in the dumpster before he leaves the parking lot.  He’s basically erased from the company no sooner than a wave erases a footprint and maybe starts to think his life has had no impact and eventually it will be as if he has never existed at all.

What’s not thrown in the dumpster is in the box we leave the office with for the last time that we soon realize is a collection of desktop or wall hangings that has no meaning anymore because the moment in time they represent is a moment reduced to “remember when we/you/somebody thought I was valuable?” I still have my father’s stuff that sat on his desk and his awards that I look through occasionally and wonder if my legacy will be reduced to a similar box. I enjoy looking in my Dads box because I know that box represents a portion of who he was and how others perceived him.

Yes, I think someone would care because my life will not defined by what I do from 9-5 but how I’ve lived 24×7 since the day I was born. Ralph Waldo Emerson once defined the meaning of success as  “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived”. I hope to be remembered that way one day..

Carry on.

Titanic Project Management Blunders


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English: Logo of the White Star Line Français ...

English: Logo of the White Star Line Français : Logo de la White Star RMS TitanicLine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found this through the IT Metric & Productivity Institute ( and thought I’d share.  This mini documentary (Titanic Project Management Blunders) covers the story of the White Star project for the three Olympic-class luxury mega ships (Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic).  It examines all the phases of the project (initiation, planning, design, construction, testing, implementation & operations) using the modern lens of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK).  In particular, the 10-month period from Olympic’s maiden voyage through to her collision with HMS Hawke and the substantial impact on the project completing Titanic.  White Star deemed Olympic’s nine month track record adequate for launching an almost identical sister ship straight into service without adequate sea trials.

Hand Painting A Used Car

painted-car-2[1]Sometimes it feels like we’re hand painting a used car.

Every day we encountered situations where we need to think: are we doing this the right way, the wrong way, or the easy way.  How many times do you encounter these situations already knowing we are doing it the wrong way. Why else are we at this crossroad?

Many times, the right way is the hardest even though we know it is the correct way. Sometimes it’s not even the hardest way.  It could be a simple task such as cooking. You know you should preheat the oven but do you?  Maybe it’s doing your taxes…have you prepped all of your W2’s and receipts or do you do it on the fly? What about a project at work? the quick and cheap way in often not the right way.

By simply changing an out of date method by making current the date of the method is like hand painting a used car. It’s often the easiest and cheapest. From a distance, maybe it looks like the right decision. But when you get up close, you realize how ugly it is. Sometimes the situation calls for this type of short term solution.  But have you thought if this is more work than doing it right the first time?

Often we do things the easy way which often turns out to be the wrong way.  We can do only our best which is often not somebody else’s best or expectation of best. We often make decisions on how to handle situations based on the information we know at the time. The key is knowing when to readjust the approach and not be afraid to make the needed change.

We’d like to think there is no such thing as an easy way out yet we often find one. Difficult situations pass and when you look back you want to know the solution isn’t rash or stupid. The smarter you work through an issue, the better the outcome will be. Don’t simply hand paint a used car to get through life.

M&M’s, Project Management, and Life


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Inspiration and motivation can come from the most unusual places and people.  Every now and then, somebody says something that makes you stop and think, “I never expected to that from them!”  Not only didn’t you expect it, but also it made perfect sense in a bizarre way.  Sometimes it’s genius in its simplicity.

Not to show my age, but my friends and I were fans of Van Halen during their heyday until they crash and burned like most bands.  When they reunited in 2009, I recalled a story related to brown M&M’s and trashed dressing rooms.  I caught an interview with the lead singer, David Lee Roth that reminded me of the story and the details.  Basically, the way it described in his autobiography, Crazy from the Heat:

Cover of "Crazy from the Heat"

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets.  We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max.  And there were many, many technical errors … So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . .” This kind of thing.  And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”
So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production.  Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error.  They didn’t read the contract.  Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.  Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show.  Something like, literally, life threatening.

When the band arrived for a show at Colorado State University in Pueblo, Colorado, they went backstage and saw the brown M&Ms on the buffet table, which told them nobody read the contract.  Turns out the college had just added new flooring to the arena and failing to read the contract resulted in $80K worth of damage because the weight of the stage sunk 6” into the floor.  Somebody missed the most critical requirements.

The “Brown M&M” theory has helped identify risks and issues as early in the project lifecycle.  As a parent or a project manager (are they really different roles?!) we’re assigned a “project”  either from the start or somewhere along the timeline.  If you are fortunate enough to kick off the project” , it’s your job to remove the brown M&Ms. if you inherit the project”, you have to find them.


The Good news:
It was a normal day in Sharon Springs , Kansas , when a Union Pacific crew boarded a loaded coal train for the long trek to Salina …

The Bad news:
Just a few miles into the trip a wheel bearing became overheated and melted, letting a metal support drop down and grind on the rail, creating white-hot molten metal droppings spewing down to the rail.

The Good news:
A very alert crew noticed smoke about halfway back in the train and immediately stopped the train in compliance with the rules.

The Bad news:
The train stopped with the hot wheel over a wooden bridge with creosote ties and trusses.

The crew tried to explain to higher-ups but were instructed not to move the train!

They were instructed that the Rules prohibit moving the train when a part is defective!

(Don’t ever let common sense get in the way of a good disaster!)

Lessons Learned (aka Hindsight is 20/20)


How many times have you been in the Lessons Learned meeting at the end of a project and thought 1) why didn’t I think of that, 2) I knew that or 3) not again!

The bottom line is did the project deliver what was expected?  Traceability helps document that promise.

The business owner or major stakeholder defines the charter.  The ability to determine if we delivered on the promise demands the ability to trace from the charter through deployment.

Things to think about:

  • Does the Charter clearly define the business need and have the full support of relevant stakeholders and leaders?
  • Do the business requirements support the charter?
  • Do the system requirements provide the solution to the business requirements that support the charter?
  • Does the QA test plan validate the system requirements that provide the solution to the business requirements in support of the charter?
  • Does the UAT test plan validate the business requirements implemented by the system requirements in support of the charter?

Do you see where I’m going?  Let me keep going…

  •  Do your Change Management plans prepare your stakeholders and end users?  Does it engage leaders; align priorities and job functions to enable change, and measure value?
  • Does your Communication Plan identify different formats and distribution channels based on the impact of the change?
  • Do you have a Transition plan that includes the environments and deliverables post deployment?

Project planning not only includes planning for these tasks but also must include the ability to draw that line from start to finish.