Episode 2 Week 1 – Monday afternoon

Episode 2 Week 1 – Monday afternoon


Alice has just joined the Acme Company as a Project / Program Manager. She’s been given her first job – to deliver the X Project.


There are days when only McDonalds will do.

For Alice, this was one of those days. She ordered a veggie burger, large fries, large Coke and two apple pies, for which she had a particular fondness. Since she roller skated to and from work, she didn’t feel too bad about the two thousand or so calories she was about to onboard. As she ate, a phrase kept running through her head.

‘If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.’

Who had said it? She couldn’t remember. Was it some Roman? Cicero? Seneca? Anyway, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that she had to figure out which port they were all sailing to – and this before they set sail and sank without trace.

She finished the second apple pie, dumped the stuff in the trash and, on an impulse, went to the bookstore. There, she invested in a Moleskine notebook and with that in her bag, she headed back to the office.

At her desk, Alice took out the notebook. On the inside cover, she wrote ‘ALICE’S NOTEBOOK’. Opening the first page, on the right-hand side, she wrote:

‘1 Visualise the goal’

Turning that page over, on the left-hand page she wrote, ‘If you don’t know what port you’re sailing to, every wind is a fair wind’. Underneath that, she wrote – in big letters:


Every project starts out as a cloud – somebody has a general idea of what is going to be done. Fair enough.

But Alice knew that project managers can’t deliver clouds; they can only deliver boxes. Something is either part of the project or it’s not. It’s in or it’s out. We’re doing it or we’re not doing it. It looks exactly like this; it doesn’t look like that. In other words – a box – not a cloud.

And while it was Alice’s job to make sure that they started with a box, it wasn’t her job to do it. That was Patricia Mendez, the Product Manager’s job.

Alice headed off to find her.

‘Yeah, I can do that for you,’ said Patricia, when Alice explained what she wanted. ‘No problem.’

‘Well, it’s not for me,’ said Alice. ‘It’s for the project.’

‘Whatever,’ said Patricia.

‘So just one other question. When could you have it ready?’

Alice tried to make it sound like she was asking a question rather than giving an instruction.

 ‘Ok, well it won’t be this week,’ said Patricia. ‘Next week, Magnus and I are in the Far East to see customers and we go to the Tech Stuff show. That’s the next two weeks. I’m going into hospital for a routine procedure the week after that and then I’m going home to Spain for two weeks.’

Patricia pronounced ‘Spain’ as ‘eh-Spain’. Alice thought it was inexpressibly cute.

‘So, say the week after that?’ said Patricia brightly.

‘So you mean you’ll be able to start it in five weeks’ time?’

‘Yeah. Exactly.’

‘Five weeks into a 26-week project?’

‘That’s right.’

‘To start it?’


‘So with one fifth of the project time gone?’

‘Those are the maths,’ said Patricia.

‘No sooner?’

‘Not a chance.’

‘Oh-kay. Let me think about that, Patricia. Gracias.’

 ‘De nada’, came the reply, as Alice walked out.

She returned to her desk. She thought briefly she should make another trip to McDonald’s. (In common with most people, she was hungrier now than she had been before lunch.) However, she decided against it. Taking on another couple of thousand calories really wouldn’t help anybody.

She swivelled her chair around, looked out the window and pondered. There was the problem of the what-are-we-building document. Who would write it and when would they do that and would it be any good?

But she realised now that she actually had a far bigger problem. Delivering the X Project in six months was clearly impossible. Of course, she would have to prove this and she would. But she knew already. You only had to hear a boss or project stakeholder utter the magic phrases ‘aggressive schedule’ or ‘aggressive deadline’ to know that they’d parted company with reality some time back and were inhabiting some kind of alternative reality where reason and logic and numbers no longer applied. If Alice wasn’t careful, this project could be dead in the water before it even started.

She swivelled back to her desk and wrote in her notebook:

‘” aggressive schedule” = crazy people’.

Reg was passing her office. He stopped and looked in.

‘Nice T-shirt, Reg,’ she said.

The T-shirt showed Moominpapa in a top hat taking bottles out of a case marked ‘whisky’.

‘Thanks. So how’s day one of the project going? Should I be ordering my Ferrari? I’m thinking your basic red.’

‘I wouldn’t do it just yet,’ said Alice.

‘Ah. Like that is it?’ said Reg. ‘Ok, thanks for the update. Keep me posted.’

‘I will,’ she said to his back as he left.

Alice looked at what she had written in her notebook.

The project team were clearly orbiting a galaxy far away. She would have to try and find a way to return them all safely to earth.