Project Managers - still we persist...

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Categories: ocean cleanup


A while ago I posted about an ambitious initiative to clean up the ocean’s plastic pollution.  It is led by a young Dutch innovator named Boyan Slat.  If you forgot that post or want a refresher, here’s an excellent video describing the initiative.

  Like any project, and perhaps even more, due to its level of innovation and ambition, it is prone to uncertainty.  And indeed, this project has hit a snag.

From this story published by NBC news:

An ambitious project to clean up a vast tide of ocean pollution has been sidelined. The project's 2,000-foot-long screen — which was already failing to capture plastic while stationed more than 1,000 miles off the coast of California — broke apart just before New Year's under the constant wind and waves of the Pacific Ocean.

USA Today also reported on the failure here:

...and also here:

What does a project manager do when there is a setback?  Do we quit?  Perhaps.  The PMBOK® Guide and general good practice tells us to re-evaluate our projects to see if we have reached a “kill point”.  But that’s not what’s happening with this project, perhaps because the stakes (and the levels of plastic in the ocean) are so high.  Nope, we're not quitting.  Like "The Little Engine That Could", in this case, the project team chooses to persevere - to try again... to be agile and creative... and to persist.

“Of course there is slight disappointment, because we hoped to stay out there a bit longer to do more experiments and to….solve the [plastic] retention issue,” Slat said. “But there is no talk whatsoever about discouragement.

What has to happen?  More development.  In a very odd way, this is a form of Agile, isn’t it?  Listen to the inventor again:

 “This is one of the classic structural engineering challenges,” Slat said. “You saw it first with the railroads, then with airlines and now with this first cleanup system. It’s very hard to predict. It’s very hard to model. So this is all very educational.”

In other words: design, deploy a prototype, fail, modify, re-design, deploy, fail a little less, learn each time, rinse and repeat until: success.

Despite the failure, I applaud the effort and find the attitude and focus very refreshing – and something from which we can all take a lesson.

I will be following up with two other ocean cleanup stories over the next weeks.  One involves an initiative to manually collect the plastic washing up on shorelines and turn the waste into bracelets.  The other is a story of an effort similar to Slat’s OceanCleanup system from Israeli company Soda Stream.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: February 09, 2019 12:18 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Great insights Richard & Dav. Thank you very much

Richard & Dav., good approach to re evaluate and never give up so re design is very important one when inherent capacity fail to reach desired out come then re design is a must
so the kill point is the last resort, thanks for sharing

Interesting post.Thanks a lot!!

This short post gives a good insight on reevaluating the project.

Of course it wasn't a "kill point." It was instead an opportunity to observe, receive feedback, and apply the results of that observation and feedback into a new iteration. In projects, as in life, setbacks and obstacles are to be expected and overcome. Thank you for sharing this with us, and I look forward to reading about these other very worthwhile projects.

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