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What does Sand Sculpting and Project Management have in Common? Print

I have been in project management for the past twenty years.
Throughout my life, I have enjoyed numerous visits to the sandy shore. However, it was only recently that I discovered my passion for sculpting sand on these beaches.

At the same time, I became a project manager for a successful entrepreneurial company. Perhaps these two aspects of my life have impacted each other, helping me to grow in each.

sand sculptingApplying my project management experience in an entrepreneurial company is not impossible, contrary to what I expected before taking the position.
From my vast knowledge and experience in the field, most entrepreneurs want things done now and often see project management as a hindrance.
Entrepreneurs typically have a low tolerance for following a project plan; they just want to know when it will be done.

When I joined FindWhat.com in the spring of 2002, I managed the building and infrastructure of the company’s future, five-story building.
The project’s success was based on two factors: cost savings and timelines. The project was a tremendous achievement.
However, in my eyes, the significance of the project’s success was second to the knowledge it provided our executive staff in understanding the importance of following project management methodologies.
This would set the foundation for establishing ourselves as a project-oriented corporation.

Through an analogy with sand sculpting, I can better explain the significance of building successful project management strategies in an entrepreneurial company.

The environment

Let us first consider the environment.
Examine the sand. Take some in your hand, add some water and see if it has good bonding characteristics.
The sand needs to hold together firmly or it will crumble when you begin carving it. You should be able to make a ball. Similar to evaluating the sand before you begin sculpting, you need to take a good look at the environment where you will be establishing project management plan.
What are the characteristics of the staff you will be working with? Who is the most adaptable and will be your major supporter? Like the sand, without proper evaluation before you start, the work will crumble. Much like water is the glue that holds the sand together, a sound methodology that fits your company’s culture will cement your projects into a cohesive platform for growth and development.

How to pack the sand

If you are building a smaller project, you must hand pack the sand.
Simply, get a bucket of water and dump some sand into it. Then mix the sand and water into a consistency similar to pancake mix.
Using your hands like a front-end loader, scoop out a large double handful of super wet sand from the bottom of the bucket, pulling the sand towards you. Move the sand fast or you will lose all of the water before you get to your destination. Then, flatten your handfuls of wet sand into pancakes by jiggling them with gentle pressure.
It is very important that you do not pound, push, pat, pack or pummel the sand into submission! The goal is to distribute the water consistently through the patty so it settles into and binds to the patty below.
You must adopt patience, as it is crucial to your success.

Much like packing the sand before you sculpt it, you must determine how much process to apply.
Entrepreneurs will have little patience for filling out several forms. Most entrepreneurs feel the time involved in documenting a project is worth the risk of not having it.
After all, they are risk-takers. The decision to use regimented project management methodologies or simply some baseline forms is a hard one.
Similar to sand sculpting, it is probably a safe bet to start slowly. Learn what works, then apply some coaching and mentoring. If you dive right into intensive forms or trying to apply the entire PMBOK®, you will most likely find yourself with a failure.

Using Forms

Forms, like PMBOK®, are utilized for larger projects.
Your forms can be made of plastic or wood.
Be sure to situate your project above the high tide line. You don’t want it wiped away when the water rushes in. Shovel about six to eight inches of clean fine sand into the form. Pour in enough water to make the sand “soupy.” Using your hands, stir the “soup” thoroughly, eliminating any dry sand.
Then, allow the sand to settle as the water drains out the bottom. Now, pack down the damp mud for a more solid consistency and repeat the process until you reach the top. When you’ve reached your desired height, wait ten minutes or so, allowing time for excess water to drain well. Firmly pack the sand one last time.
Now, remove your forms.

Large projects require much more ridged management, or “firm forms.”
Getting entrepreneurs to support project management is much like getting your sand sculpting forms to stand without falling. It takes some creative thinking, skill and patience.

Sculpting the sand

Now that you have built up your sand, you’re ready to begin sculpting.
Typically, entrepreneurs are perfectionists.
Like the sand you are sculpting, there is little room for mistakes and perfection is a must. Knowing this, your challenge as a project manager is to educate them in project management practices and benefits.
You carve the sand slowly; give them the tools to make smart decisions and teach them how to pack the sand properly so projects won’t fail (or fall).

Entrepreneurs tend to focus on vision.
As you sculpt your sand creation, you must have a vision in your head.
When I create sand sculptures, I always have a clear picture of what I am doing days, weeks and even months ahead of time.
You can also use this visionary method to formulate a plan that an entrepreneur will understand—draw the pictures for them and make your vision theirs.

Finishing up – and the value

Detail is everything.
When competing in sand sculpting competitions, details are the differentiators.
Similar to managing a project, the characteristics are everything. If you miss one little detail, your sand sculpture may come crumbling down or the judges might overlook your sculpture.
As with managing a project in an entrepreneurial environment, you can’t afford to miss anything. Remember—entrepreneurs are perfectionists; you must prove to them you can meet their expectations. Your goal should be to create a winning sculpture or project each and every time.

Not just entrepreneurs but anyone that knows little about project management will ask, “What’s the value?”
Entrepreneurs are comfortable with numbers.
Knowing this, you can apply metrics to track programs and projects. It is relatively easy to determine the return-on-investment (ROI) from the tangibles of a project, but you should not forget intangible benefits.
Intangible benefits yielded from project management include customer satisfaction, improved moral and effective process flows.
Like mixing sand and water to create a sand sculpture, mixing tangible and intangible benefits will provide a solid foundation to determine the value of project management initiatives.

Although I have been paid to create sand sculptures, it certainly does not compare to managing large budget projects with respect to the financial rewards.
However, building a sand sculpture has intangible benefits of its own like stress relief from simply enjoying time at the beach.

sand sculpting competitionAs you build your sand sculpture, you will find that many people walking by will stop to admire your work and ask an array of questions.
Similarly, as you build project management within an entrepreneurial company, you will be confronted with many questions.
Knowing what an entrepreneur is looking for will help keep them interested.
You don’t want them to step in and take over your project; you just need them to understand what you’re doing.
You can only hope that when they walk away from your project or sculpture they will adapt pieces of what they learned and apply it on their own.

Finding the right blend of vision, process and methodology will enable you to become a proficient sculptor of projects in an entrepreneurial culture.


William Knight © 2004. All rights reserved.

About the author:

Bill KnightBill Knight is the director of the program management office for FindWhat.com, a leading developer and provider of performance-based marketing and commerce enabling services for online businesses.

Experienced as a program/project manager for 20 years, he has held key management positions with La-Z-Boy and the Department of Defense.
Bill (along with his team) recently won First Place in the Amateur Division at the 2003 American Sand Sculpting Championship.

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