The “Columbus” Project – Today

Would the Santa Maria have a British Flag under this scenario?

Art by Chris Greco

After my father died over 20 years ago, my siblings and I had access to his notes, speeches, and other documentation that he left as part of his life as an executive and consultant.  There were two articles that intrigued me.  One I will write about later, but the document I found relating to the title of this paper is one that left me smiling and pondering at the same time.

I have never found where this article originated and have tried to find a copyright or other periodical citations and I have not be able to locate the writer.  If someone out there is the writer of this article and can provide a citation, please let me know and I will be more than happy to give you credit.  The article is over 40 years old, so I do not know if the writer or originator is still alive.  I refuse to take credit for this satire on the Christopher Columbus voyage, but the example is so real, so pertinent to our times as both a project manager and management in general, that I had to write about this story.

The article starts with a brief introduction, along with the date that would denote the present day (in this case it was August 1970 — I told you it was old!)

In his time, Christopher Columbus cranked out a couple of nutty, if knowledgeable, notions. First, he argued the world was round when everybody who was anybody knew it was as flat as a doubloon. Then he stoutly maintained you could reach India by sailing west-ward across the Atlantic. Let’s assume history has slipped a few hundred years. Columbus is planning his historic venture under the ground rules of business management today. He hopes to set sail August 3, 1970, instead of 1492. He’s just received a royal okay from King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella and a passel of palace politicians. Armed with all our modern business “conveniences,” plus the ubiquitous Project Progress Report, Columbus picks up his quill pen and writes:

BiWeekly Progress Report  1

(From Grand Admiral Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand)

“First general staff meeting. Each section chief asked to submit detailed goals and timetables for his department. Task force formed to locate three seaworthy sailing vessels. Chief of Planning converting entire project into planning networks boards to be displayed in the new conference room upon completion. Chief of Public Relations brainstormed a title for our venture, ‘Project Ocean Blue.'”

Report 2

“Three vessels located, the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Preliminary analysis of large seagoing vessel market indicates these ships are the only square-riggers immediately available that meet budget requirements and specifications. New Systems and computer Group has undertaken feasibility study to determine if they should do a feasibility study on computer buy or lease options. General Provisions unable to locate walnut for the conference room. Expert in artificial satellite navigation hired by Navigations.”

Report 3

“General Provisions reports difficulty in purchasing the three vessels. Holding up procurement is Termite Inspection certificate which must be issued prior to sale. Chief of Provisions attempting to circumvent delay by obtaining Waiver of Inspection. Completed feasibility study indicates a feasibility study is feasible. Wide variety of navigation equipment reviewed. Bids to be let next week. Walnut still unavailable for executive conference room. Advertising for the crew being run in all major coastal cities.”

Report 4

“Have leased a computer and installed a work control system called Work Hours in Process. Preliminary system reports indicate Ship Procurement is lagging. Navigation and Meteorology ahead of schedule. Chief of Provisioning able to get termite inspection waived. we are pleased to hear of your visit next week; pushing for completion of the executive conference room.”

Report 5

“Work temporarily delayed by labor dispute. Personnel in General Provisioning refused to work with the new Work Hours in Process (WHIP) Systems. They took an exception to the name WHIP System and refused to work under the WHIP for anyone.  Name subsequently changed to WTS (Work Tracking System) and operations resumed. Legal Department suggests [foreign] registry to obtain maximum tax consideration. “sorry our new executive conference room was not finished for your visit.”

Report 6

“Additional obstacles appeared. Stern portion of the Nina fell off–termites. Ship Engineering locating new source of oak for necessary repairs. Team of government inspectors arrived, insisting vessels be certified as complying with new laws and regulations before work continues. Computer indicates work behind schedule except in Navigations where electronic equipment is being delivered. Consultant from  Inc. retained. Mr. Markowitz is an expert in motivational problems and work flow. Personnel Department has been unable to find veteran square-rigger sailors. However, they did hire 180 experienced sailors whose experience on junks is very similar.”

Report 7

“Mixup in deliveries resulted in executive conference room being paneled with oak and a carload of walnut delivered for ships repairs. Chief of Public Relations reports analysis shows nonacceptance of vessel names.

“Ships renamed  The Bonnie Bright,  The Blue Briar, and The Brentwood.  Analysis indicates B’s are big this year. Dispute over control of the Purchasing Unit has been settled. As a compromise, the Department will report to Markowitz, the consultant.”

Report 8

“Major decisions concerning vessels postponed for one week while general staff attended mandatory policy and procedures training on the insistence of Markowitz. Repairs progressing slowly on The Bonnie Bright (Nina). Government inspectors insist on inspecting all materials that go into repair. Problems developed with navigation equipment. Weight of units presenting problems of imbalance to older ships. Engineering working on a fix. Repairs to the The Bonnie Bright progressing slowly. Load of oak rejected by the inspectors because supplier lost his approved Vendor Rating for hiring a non-approved carpenter. Computer indicates vessels should be seaworthy, and general provisioning three-fourths complete. Chief of General Provisioning assures me logistics still within revised pessimistic estimates of original revision of the revised network. Foreign registry for the vessels received.”

Report 9

“Coordination of the project difficult. Staff having communication problems since returning from mandatory policy and procedure training. Engineering computes that if all navigation equipment is stowed on the starboard side of the ships, it can be kept in equilibrium if two-thirds or more of the crew stay on port side.

“A personal complication has arisen. My ship’s officer’s papers do not apply to a foreign registration.” Immediate search conducted for a ship’s captain who will qualify. Meetings held around the clock to bring the project back on schedule …

Report 10

“Several candidates located for ship’s captain. Interestingly, the consultant, Markowitz, was a captain stationed in Lithuania during the war and is qualified to hold registration. Government inspectors lean heavily to selecting Markowitz due to his five-point veterans’ preference. Distribution of seven million marketing brochures halted until captain selected.”

Report 11

“Markowitz chosen ship’s captain and new brochure being reprinted. Executive conference room completed and work board prominently displayed. Biggest break came, however, when government inspectors discovered they were on the wrong project. Actually they had been assigned to oversee construction of a replica of Lei£ Ericson’s bark for the Royal Museum. I have fired Chief of Navigation over new navigational equipment flap. Have decided to use archaic but reliable instrument called a sextant.”

Report 12

“Computer indicates vessels are 87 percent seaworthy. Estimated the project will only require two more weeks and an additional 20 percent allocation to complete.”

“A request for additional time and funding is hereby made.”


“First, let us congratulate you on completing your conference room. We have followed the progress of ‘Ocean Blue’ with special interest. We are thrilled by the thought of three square-riggers called ‘The Bonnie Bright,’ ‘The Blue Briar’ and ‘The Brentwood,’ manned by 180 career sailors and captained by a man named Markowitz.”

“Unfortunately, a complication has arisen. First, an enterprising former employee named Frank Drake has formed a spin-off company, copped your ‘Round World’ thing. He set sail for the New world last week.   May I add ‘Project Ocean Blue’ was the most contemporary managed, best organized, ·and highly motivated adventure that ever went out of business.”

What this article points out does not need any additional narrative from this writer.  There are, however, a few questions that may bring a nice summary to this satirical article:

  1.  What was the original requirement?
  2.  How were these requirements morphed into something else?
  3.  How did the modern conveniences interlace with these requirements?

As project managers, it is our job to discuss with the stakeholders and determine requirements and then ensure we meet these requirements.  Please take the Columbus article with a grain of salt.  The bottom line is this:  if we do not consider the “reasons” then we cannot deliver the “results.”

Learn, Offer, Value and Educate (LOVE)


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