Zen and the Art of Project Maintenance

By Edan Puritt

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Persig and his son, Chris, took a 17 day motorcycle ride through part of the US. In July, I made a similar, albeit more expansive, journey with my son, Calvin. Unlike Persig, I wasn’t looking for a better lens to search for the ultimate answers to the question of life, the universe, and everything. For Calvin and I, it was going to just be an adventure. Spoiler alert. It was an adventure. Actually, a great adventure. A true odyssey: one filled with questions and wonder. And, an adventure not dissimilar to my approach to Information Management focused projects.

The key milestones

We covered 16,600 kms in a month of driving adventure. We navigatedcalvin-hoover-dam-nvthrough 7 provinces, 26 states, and 3 countries. We started in Ottawa, Ontario and drove west to cross the border in Sault Ste. Marie. Heading south of Lake Superior, we drove through the States, until we crossed back into Canada at Estevan, Saskatchewan. edan-and-calvin-jacksonville-flWe continued on to Calgary and the Stampede, and then started to head south on a diagonal through the Rockies and into Washington state, and placed our toes into the Pacific. From there we skirted the ocean through Oregon, then headed down the eastern side of California. We had a particularly long day from Lone Pine, through Death Valley, in and out of Las Vegas, stopped at the Hoover Dam, and finished in Sedona, Arizona. After that arduous day, we detoured to the Grand Canyon, then moved on down through New Mexico to Texas. A visit into Laredo and Mexico (Monterrey) was followed by destination New Orleans with the tastes and sounds of my favourite US city. The journey wasn’t done though. We moved on to Jacksonville, Florida to dip our feet into the Atlantic and then drove up the east coast. Rain accompanied us much of the drive north although the sun poked out when we stopped in the Carolinas briefly. On up through New York City and Maine, we crossed back into Canada and took a ferry over the Bay of Fundy for a visit with good friends in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. From there, it was just a two day drive back in pretty steady rain to Ottawa. calvin-rockies-bcSo now you know the general milestones of the journey. And already it should be obvious – like a project, we had milestones, but reality was, and is, always something to include in the calculations. You are or should be wondering about the challenges, the glitches, the hiccups. We had our share. Some was with the equipment. No IT problems or managers trying to thwart our progress, but setbacks for sure. Our machinery: me, on a 2013 Triumph Thunderbird Storm, and Calvin on his 2010 Harley Buell Ulysses. Overall the machines are workhorses. Both have been well-maintained and were recently serviced before the trip started. We had a plan to get new tires around Laredo as that would be 10000k into the trip, but otherwise we were hoping for smooth travels.

Share the story – not just the facts

On the second day, I did have a minor issue whenhenry-indian-triumph-fargo-nd my gas tank sprang a leak along one of its welded seams. What could have been a frustrating and time consuming issue, turned into one of the many highlights of the trip. Not only does Fargo, North Dakota have a Triumph dealership (Indian Triumph) but they have Henry. Henry is the senior mechanic– and a magician. The dealership was open on Sunday afternoon, and after dropping everything to take my bike apart, Henry found the problem. And then came the magic. Henry contacted Triumph America, who immediately, yes, immediately, shipped him a replacement tank. And then he contacted UPS, who altered their delivery schedule to get the tank to Fargo for 10 am, and by 11 am on Monday morning we were back on the road again. My friend Steve has often told me about the power of storytelling. And while I felt I understood, at least on some level, what he meant, this particular story brought it home for me. I’m used to the power of facts, of information. But it wasn’t the facts that made the difference. It was the story. A father and son on a grand adventure. That was the story Henry shared with Triumph and with UPS. Henry had become a part of our adventure, and then, so did Triumph and UPS. It wasn’t the data, the date of purchase, the warranty, the logistics, the schedule, or even the costs. In fact, I never saw a single piece of paper, or even a bill. These partners in the adventure joined Calvin and me and made it all happen. The first of many lessons on this trip, but a very good one. Share the story, not just the facts. It is the story that opens the door for others to share in any adventure, or endeavour.Dunkirk film

Take warnings seriously and remember your risk assessment findings

We also met the challenges of weather. First, when they tell you there is a wind advisory in North Dakota, take it seriously. We didn’t. That’s more adrenaline than I really need at my age (53). Sometimes the warning signs aren’t large electronic billboards on the side of the highway, but if you see a sign, pay attention. If you ignore the warnings, you are betting on just plain blind luck. You better hope your experience, your team, or something will see you through to the other side. edan-and-calvin-pacific-ocean-orWeather goes beyond wind and rain. I’ve been riding over 30 years and have always maintained that I want to be wearing appropriate gear in the event that I should fall off. That means, a full face helmet and full leathers. So yes, another of the challenges was heat. Not too bad while in motion, but a desert sun in July in the US south is broiling and we frequently were at temperatures above 40C. Tempted as I might have been, driving through no helmet states, a quick reminder of the original Threat-Risk Assessment, and our helmets and riding gear stayed just where they were supposed to be: on our bodies and heads.

Keep the goal vision clear and maintain productivity

In New Mexico, we also had the dubious pleasure of a sand storm, followed immediately by hail, rain and lightning. This was more storm than I was used to, but it was nevertheless a lot of fun. And a learning lesson reinforced. Sometimes you just have to buckle down and brave through the adverse conditions. Calvin tucked in behind me, close enough to be able to see my tail lights, and we just motored on. We knew there were blue skies on the other side, and that was our destination. Ahead. A very clear and shared objective will do wonders for motivation, even during the worst circumstances.post-storm-rainbow-azFinally, we met the challenges of our calvin-bluenose-lunenburg-nsown physical limitations. For all of Calvin’s benefits of a 21 year old back, my bike, with its touring seat and backrest, was designed for this type of adventure. Each riding day (we rode on 24 of the 31 days), we went as far as we wanted to, and no further. It was invariably a sore butt, or a sore throttle hand that was the final determinant. We always had a daily goal, give or take, but it was rarely a mandatory destination. This was a lesson I had internalized from my IT project implementation days. Project plans are great, but they really are more of a guideline than a plan. The true secret to success is productivity. When the risks are associated with hurtling down the highway on two wheels, and often in bad weather, productivity can be measured by our ability to respond quickly to unforeseen challenges.

There’s always tomorrow if you are willing to keep asking and exploring

Part of the great pleasure of the trip was to share my love of motorcycles with my son. It was more though. He was able to share in some of my past—seeing some of the places I have been before, and visiting with wonderful friends in Calgary, Chico, Laredo, (almost in Washington D.C.), and in Lunenburg. Both of us have been asked many times about all of the things we saw, and should have seen, and might have seen. While it is true, there is so much more that we didn’t see than we did, neither of us is all that bothered. We have no regrets. I’m not at all sure if it’s a gender thing, or a personality thing, but the trip, the whole trip, was something we wanted to do. It was not an excursion to see and do things. We didn’t spend enough time anywhere to really do it justice, so we will just have to go back. We saw a lot from byways and highways. We stopped every hour or so and have numerous pictures at lookouts and with stunning backdrops. We just never stayed anywhere more than 2 nights, and then only did that in Calgary, Chico, the Grand Canyon, and Laredo. In Calvin’s case, to say he was smitten with the nightlife on Frenchman Street in New Orleans would be a gross understatement. In my case, the understatement would be to say I was goal-oriented. I need to know where I am going each and every time I set my foot out the door. But it’s so much more than that. I need to keep asking and wondering. What am I trying to achieve? Am I getting there alone? Am I responsible for making sure the whole team gets there safe, sound, and together? In my work and in my life, those are the questions I ask BEFORE I begin. calvin-grand-canyon-azWith that, I’m back to Mr. Persig and his grand journey in search of the ultimate answers. It’s not the answers in life that have ever really motivated me. It’s the questions. From a big picture perspective, why are we here? How do we live with each other? Is this all there is? I’m not a religious person, but I ask myself these questions every day. I have discovered that I get along quite well with others who also ask those questions. I struggle with people who skip the questions, and then rely on their “institution” to provide answers. In my life, I am always asking what I will do now, soon, or later. If I know where I am going, I can prepare, pack, and anticipate. The same holds true with my work. I focus on the questions. Actually, I often ask the questions multiple times, just to be sure that my colleagues and I are all asking the same questions. And in much the same way, both Calvin and I have come back asking and wondering about the next adventure. It doesn’t really matter where it is, and my next adventure will likely involve one of my other children. What does matter is that we keep asking. We all really do know about the final destination, it’s how we get there that counts.