The other day I was staying at my townhouse in Minnesota and was looking for something to eat for dinner. I searched the cabinets and refrigerator and settled on grilling a cheeseburger. Then the realization came to me that the task would be slightly difficult. Using a grill during the winter in the Midwest is possible when it is cold out, but this specific night it was -4F (with a “feels-like” temperature of -24F). So, while possible it is not the most inviting thing to do. So, I thought of my options and decided that I could make it inside on the stove. I thought to myself how hard could it be? When I was a kid, my mom always made cheeseburgers on the stove. And, while my mom has many amazing qualities and talents, let’s just say cooking is not necessarily at the top of the list.
Cooking started out fine. I cooked one side of the burger. When I lifted the lid of the frying pan and flipped the patty over there was some smoke coming from the pan, but nothing out of the ordinary. When I walked back to the stove to flip the burger back over, the “nothing out of the ordinary” smoke could only be described as being like a thick fog rolling in off of the ocean, or in this case billowing through the first floor of the townhouse.
I realized that the smoke detectors were going to go off if I didn’t act quickly. I obviously didn’t act fast enough because they went off one by one… since they were all connected. First floor, second floor, garage… While I was dashing around trying to figure out how to fan out the first floor I got really nervous about all of the other consequences of this smoke and the smoke detectors. For example, since the townhouse is in a community with other attached units and there are smoke detectors AND sprinklers in the ceiling, I wondered whether the sprinklers would go off and soak everything, not only in my townhouse but in the others around me? I managed to let the fog roll out by opening the garage door and front door to get a good cross breeze and slowly but surely the smoke detectors stopped. Besides it being a bit cold in the townhouse for a little while the crisis was diverted.
It got me thinking about the purpose of a smoke detector. And, at this point you may be wondering, “Why is he writing about this in a project management blog?” While I was grabbing my jacket to stay warm while the smoke subsided I started to think about the purpose of a smoke detector. It is to keep us safe and to alert us of potential fire. It isn’t a fire yet, but it is a system that is meant to tell us if we don’t act quickly we may have a fire. There isn’t a guarantee that the smoke will ever lead to flame, but it is certainly possible. And, because of technology, the connected systems give notice that something isn’t right and can alert the other systems around us.
In Project Management, we have a lot of different “smoke detectors” we employ purposefully or perhaps are there already even though we may not realize it. For example, we have Total Float in a schedule. This can alert us that activities on the Critical Path of a project could cause problems, but aren’t necessarily causing issues yet. Another example is Project Status Meetings. These meetings aren’t scheduled so we can sit around and tell each other what we have accomplished and in some cases waste our time, but to give the Project Team the opportunity to all meet and discuss potential areas of concern. In our personal and professional daily life, if you think about it, I believe there are a lot of areas where we can find our own “smoke detectors”.
So, tonight, when you are sitting around your house thinking, “I sure am glad I don’t have Graham here cooking dinner for me!”, also consider what types of detectors and alarms you may have on your projects and where you may want to add a few more. Getting to the smoke before there is flame can be a tremendous sigh of relief in the end.
The old adage “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” may not always be true, but certainly where there’s smoke, there will likely be fire! Watch for smoke, and keep your project safe!