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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 10/6/2005

This is your monthly e-Newsletter from
Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!


Project Management: Here Comes The Bride!
  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

Suppose someone held a wedding and no one came.  That would be a huge disappointment for the bride, groom, and their families, but it would most likely be the result of poor (or no) planning and execution (or possibly a hurricane). 

This is a glorious moment in time for my wife, Barbara, and me.  Our wonderful daughter, Melissa, just married Dan, a terrific guy who we are extremely proud to welcome into our family.  Their beautiful marriage ceremony and reception came off flawlessly, and all had a great time.  I am as proud as is possible and grateful for my wonderful family, and now, our extended family.  OK, enough of the superlatives, although I strongly mean every one of them.  As Missy and Dan are also valued proofreaders and editors for my e-Newsletters, I can’t help but make them the topic of this one, and to use the experiences leading up to their marriage as an object lesson in effective engineering (quite a stretch, huh!).

As far as product planning goes, a wedding “product” is a fairly simple one – a wedding ceremony and reception.  However, as a project planning and management exercise, a wedding is very complex with a large variety of tasks and events along the way.  The project managers for this wedding were primarily Missy and Barb (with strong contributions from Dan, the bridesmaids, the groomsmen (including my son, Jeff), Dan’s mother, and others).  My role was primarily observer, participant, and check writer. Missy and Barb did a masterful job.  As any good project managers should, Missy and Barb planned the work and then worked the plan (see eN-031023 – Development Methodology: Failure to Plan Means You Are Planning to Fail!)

Planning a wedding has a lot of similarities to planning any project, with many of the same stresses, uncertainties, doubts, pitfalls, surprises, unexpected events, successes, celebrations, and hopefully with as happy an outcome as Missy’s and Dan’s wedding.  A wedding “project” can be carefully planned and executed, or can be allowed to “just happen”, often with consequences that are not good and which don’t set a foundation for future success of the marriage.  As the project plan is managed, there are “Known Knowns”, “Unknown Knowns”, “Known Unknowns”, and “Unknown Unknowns” (see eN-041104 – Project Planning: Plan Based on What You Do Know, And On What You Don’t!)

Any wedding starts with the engagement.  In this case, Dan proposed to Missy on a ski slope in Maine in front of a beautiful mountain view in honor of their first meeting while on a ski trip a number of years earlier.  Very romantic and well received!

After the engagement comes the planning.  Here the “Known Knowns (KK’s)” are first accounted for.  In any wedding the KK’s include the wedding logistics, such as picking a wedding date (around which everything will thereafter revolve), finding affordable places for the ceremony (and selecting a clergy person) and reception, picking the food and drink, settling on the number of guests, identifying places for wedding guests to stay and negotiating rates.   Hors d
'oeuvres, wedding cake, flowers, table centerpieces, other decorations, DJ, photographer, gifts for bridesmaids, groomsmen, out-of-town guests, and anything else directly associated with the wedding ceremony and reception (and there are a lot more) also are included. The bride and groom must pick out their wedding rings, meet with the clergy person to plan the specifics of the wedding ceremony, and must plan their honeymoon.  The wedding party itself must be chosen, asked to participate, and accept.  The bride must find a wedding gown (and get it fitted), pick bridesmaids dresses (and get them fitted), and identify where to get tuxes for the guys in the wedding ceremony.  The list of people to be invited must be discussed and prepared, then culled to the limit that the reception can hold, then added to knowing that all invited won’t be able to attend.  The wedding invitations (along with RSVP cards, directions to ceremony and reception, etc.) must be picked or created.  The RSVP’s must be tracked and those slow to respond must be contacted (and possibly more invitations must be sent out if more than expected can’t come).  

The KK’s also include some specific events such as an engagement party, a bridal shower, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and possibly others.  Each of these becomes separate projects with their own planning and logistics.

For each of these KK’s, the individual tasks must be determined, including expected durations, who is involved, dependencies on other tasks, what is in the critical path, etc.  Planning for a wedding is a complex process with many intersecting, and often conflicting, activities.

As the process proceeds, there are also “Unknown Knowns”.  These are the things you don’t know you need, but when you learn you need them, you know what to do.  An example may be that you learn late in the process that specific guests have dietary restrictions.  While unexpected, such needs are easily handled by a call to the reception hall. 

Known Unknowns” will also occur during the process.  These are the things you know you’ll need, but don’t know specifically what they are.  For example, you may know you’ll be having an open bar, but you have no idea how much people will drink.  You can either plan to have some contingency cash available (always a good idea with a wedding), or inform the reception hall to cut people off when a pre-established limit is reached (knowing this may not go down well with the reception guests).  You can plan for it, but you better be prepared to adjust your plans when it happens.

Finally, there are the “Unknown Unknowns (UU’s)”.  These are the things you don’t know about in advance, and when they happen, you don’t really know how they will affect things or what their impact will be.  In the case of Missy’s and Dan’s wedding, a big UU occurred when Missy was injured in her car when a snowplow hit her almost head on.  The accident nearly totaled her car and re-injured Missy’s knee (for the 4th time – thank God for airbags).  It caused a lot of pain, suffering, surgery, recovery, and then continued pain for most of the duration of the time leading up to the wedding, and made getting all of the tasks done very difficult and with substantial ongoing pain.  Missy, being the trooper that she is, worked through the pain and kept things going.  Thankfully she wasn’t incapacitated, but it did make the planning and management effort much more challenging and difficult.

In the case of Missy’s and Dan’s wedding, the result of all of the planning and effort that went into the wedding was a tremendous success.  The event went flawlessly, and everyone at the wedding had a terrific time.  Barb and I, who are heading into our 36th year of marriage, could not be happier or more proud.  Missy and Barb showed the results of outstanding project planning and management.  It was a true pleasure to say at the outset of the ceremony, “Here Comes the Bride!”  I know they’ll have a great marriage.  [OK, so I lied about stopping with the superlatives.  What can I say; I’m a proud father!]

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