Shopping as Project Management

I got stuck to do some shopping recently!

We live in that part of the world where weekly and bi-weekly produce markets are still a standard feature of everyday life, so it all started fairly innocently: “Can you go to the market?” My selective memory has long abandoned any capability for remembering the signifance of household items, so I reached automatically for a used envelope and a pen. “Sure” I said, putting a good face on it.

“OK, we need some apples from the organic stand near the bike shop and then some celery from the other organic stand – you know, the one near the phone box. And a bunch of parsley. Oh! And potatoes. See if you can some “Bauernbrot” bread from Passader Bakery van” So far so good, I’m getting away relatively lightly and this is casual “get some stuff” trip rather than a full-scale shopping event. The list is still manageable.

Simple shopping list

 “While you’re there, can you get a prescription for me at the Chemist’s.” “And see can you get some Hollunderbeersaft at the Health Store” This is getting more complicated – my selective memory is starting to protest! And not without cause: “I think I’ll try that new recipe, what do I need for that?”. Let’s restructure this list.

“We need ground walnuts – get those at the Health Store. And some of that vegetable extract” I can’t believe I hear myself saying “do we need milk?” Affirmative, which means that the supermarket has been added to the route. “What else can you get at the supermarket, while you’re there: rice, yoghurt, and butter?”

As the supermarket is beside the post office, I decide to post those two – now urgent – letters that have been lying around for days. In the process, I realise that the few Euro in my wallet are not sufficient to fund this extended visit to the market, so that the ATM has to be added to the list.

Structured shopping list

This is turning into a damn project!

We’ve got resources (me) – at this stage I’m beginning to think that I mightn’t have enough or the appropriate resources!

We’ve got constraints (money or more correctly, cash flow), which have a direct effect on the sequence of tasks.

Prioritised shopping list

We’ve got detailed specifications, with apples from one organic stand and other stuff from another.

We’ve got grouping of tasks, in this case by location.

As it turned out, I had to address the substitution of tasks and a certain amount of re-work during project execution: The Health Store only had whole walnuts, so I had to re-visit the supermarket to get ground ones! Workarounds on the fly!

There are also deadlines implicit in some of the tasks: The last collection at the local post box is at noon on Saturday, which I missed, resulting in a detour into town where I almost missed the last collection at 13:00. (Welcome to Old Germany - where the postal system grinds to a halt from Saturday midday 'till early Monday!)

We’ve got deliverables – a bag of potatoes is more tangible than what we’re asked to deliver in most projects.

We’ve got worthy goals: Having stuff to eat!

We’ve got quality metrics.

And most certainly we’ve got a project contract with the associated (demanding) client!

So the next time you get stuck to do the shopping…

Just put on your Project Management hat and look on it as a learning opportunity!

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Project Management | Humorous | Colm Toolan |

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