My wife and I have been racing off-road trucks for years as a hobby.  There is nothing more enjoyable than getting your adrenalin fix grinding gears, smashing through logs and muddy bogs, pulling winch cable in waist deep water, climbing insane rock piles, or burning rubber up a 57-degree cliff face.  Doing that while under the pressure of a timekeeper’s stop-watch and in front of screaming fans adds to the rush.  After years of competition, Four-Wheeler Magazine asked me to be the host of their TV show, Top Truck Challenge.  I readily accepted, how cool is that?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFRI88PbLOE&t=93s 

I still get my adrenalin rush, but now I am watching other people thrash on their expensive trucks. Top Truck Challenge is an international week long event where 10 trucks, called off-road buggies, are selected by the readers of Four-Wheeler Magazine to come to Northern California to compete in a grueling off-road adventure.  These drivers will test both their skills and their buggy’s ability to hold together under horrible conditions.  The attrition rate on the last event, called the Tank Trap, on the last day of the competition was over 70%.              

kiss1

 

In 2011 at the beginning of the challenge, all the buggies lined up in front of the grand stand for safety inspection.  These buggies were masterpieces of extreme engineering each costing $120,000 – $167,000 to build.  Mandrel bent exo-cages, supercharged motors spewing out 900 hp., coil over suspension capable of 6 ft. flexes, front and rear steering, and huge 46-inch tires.  All except one, there was one buggy that did not have the same fit and finish, polish and poise as the others.   It was plain and painted in a rattle can flat black color.  How did it get voted in by the readers to compete at such a high level?  Was it a joke?  Did the readers vote it in as a mockery to the sport?  How could it compete at the same level as these exquisitely engineered, high tech beasts with their professional drivers?  I had to talk to the driver of this buggy.

The owner of this misfit was a young man by the name of Alex.  He had built the buggy out of parts he scavenged out of the local junk yard.  As I looked over his rig I asked him pointed questions like; “what kind of shocks are these, I am not familiar with the make or design?”  “I can’t afford real shocks so I made my own out of some metal tubing, some drill rod, and some valves I machined myself” was his reply.  I was amazed, they looked legit.  He continued to show me with pride all the parts he’d handmade and what he used from the scrap yard.  “This is my homemade four-link suspension with a swivel made from an old trailer ball, the axles are from a military truck, with brake calipers and rotors from a Chevy Suburban.  This winch I got from an old wrecker truck, my motor is from a crashed Pontiac, and since I can’t afford EFI (electronic fuel injection) I just machined a throttle mount to offset my carburetor 15 degrees so that it won’t flood on steep hills” he went on.  I was really impressed with his ingenuity and the simplicity of his buggy.  The total cost was less than $2000.  The tires that Mickey Thompson sponsored him with cost more than his whole buggy.  He mentioned that his town in Arkansas held a fund raiser and bake sale to raise gas money so that he could travel to California for the competition.  I told him that I was impressed with his rig, he beamed and said, “ KISS is my motto,  KISS- Keep It Simple, Stupid – an acronym that had its meaning reinforced in my mind by Alex.

Days before the event even started the internet was abuzz with flaming discussion on Alex showing up to compete in this prestigious event.  “He is out classed.” “He has no right to be there.” “He’s outranked and not at the same caliber as the rest of them.”  “What is this redneck POS doing here in this event?”   These were some of the comments flying in forums across the web and 10’s of thousands seem to band against him, some even calling on Four-Wheeler to pull him from the competition. 

On day one before the first events, the hill climb and rock course, all the competitors were busy fine tuning their buggies with their laptops, adjusting timing, burn rate, altitude adjustment, rear steer automatic self-centering, coil over shock dampening pressure, bump stop limit, and temp settings.  All except for Alex who just sat under a tree with his father telling stories.  When the buggies fired up, it was music to my ears, a crescendo of harmonic high revs, with the wine of superchargers, the whistle of turbos spooling, and earth pounding V8s echoing through the canyons.  Each event took its toll on the buggies, mud flying and filling every void with its abrasive goo, rocks cracking and exploiting every vulnerable part as the drivers piloted their rigs, clawing their way through a course of rocks the size of Subarus.

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Motors swamped in the 5 ft. deep water holes, logs snapped suspension parts like twigs underfoot, and electrical parts failed and so did some drivers under the heat and pressure of competition.  All except one.  Alex, with his cool under pressure driving style, and his overly simple design, just walked through each course as if he was driving to church in Arkansas.  Not much can go wrong when his suspension is a simple coil spring set up from an old Dodge with homemade shocks.  His motor faithfully puttered along, and his manual stick transmission shifted smoothly under his calm feet.  To everyone’s amazement this boy from Arkansas and his $2000 buggy of simple scraps took the champion’s trophy and beat rigs of the highest technology and finest machining.  All because he KISSed it.  He kept it simple. 

KISS is an acronym coined by Kelly Johnson lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works (creators of the SR-71 Blackbird spy planes).  Even though the planes were very complex, he drove to keep the design and mechanics as simple as possible.  It was a success.  The planes flew for decades without any extreme failures.

As a consultant, I was asked to help a medium-sized company set up a PMO.  The new managers of this PMO were your typical newly endowed (with a PMP) project managers.  They were gung-ho to set up a rigorous project management methodology with state-of-the-art tools, templates, dashboards, and processes.  They were hoping for an upper management mandate to push the organization into a new realm of mature project management.  Maybe even an EVMS (Earned Value Management System).  My questions to them were, “what is the consumption capability of your organization?  Do they willingly accept upper management mandates of change?  How will the average VP or manager utilize BCWS, BCWP, ACWP, EAC, VAC, ETC, etc.?  Will they understand the alphabet soup of PM acronyms?”  First before we roll out any new procedures, processes, systems, or methodologies, we need to study our audience.  How mature is their understanding of project management?  If it is low, then throwing them into the world of rigorous project management will cause them to push back and resist change.  We need to KISS, keep it simple (stupid).  Start off with one or two projects to pilot.  Get those project teams on board and produce some simple dashboards.  Use very simple tools that employees are already familiar with to track tasks, iterations, backlogs, deliverables, schedules, and cost.  Resist the temptation to introduce new PM tool sets until you have set up basic processes.  Share the results with other teams and upper managers over a period and ask them for their feedback as how they can improve and mature.  Guide them in a way that they think these new concepts were their ideas, and even give them credit for it.  This way you create buy-in from them and resistance to new PM processes and tools will diminish.  They will be more accepting of change if they feel that they had a hand in its development.  

In setting up the PMO constantly seek out input from the managers and employees.  If at any time you find them resistant to changes or new adaptations, slow down a bit and look for the simplest remedies.  Less things can go wrong if it is simple.  Management may be resistant to spending a lot of money on project management tools if they do not see the benefit from those tools.  Avoid flashy sales pitches of tool sets, but instead subtly show how the tool works and how it will benefit the organization.  

Whatever you do in implementing good project management tools, processes, or practices, just remember to KISS, Keep It Simple, Stupid.         

 

Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Stan D. Prueitt

Stan D. Prueitt

Contributing Author

Stan D. Prueitt, a performance consultant in Process Improvement, Organizational Design, Human Design, and Project Management; holds motivational seminars, life coach workshops, Lean Six Sigma certifications, and performance seminars across the country.  Stan draws upon his colorful past experiences and associations to blend simplicity, common sense, eternal principles, humor, energy, and wisdom into a strait forward approach to self and team improvement.  His mentors and Martial Arts Masters have forged Stan into a wealth of experience and knowledge of which he freely shares.  Students of his seminars leave with recharged spiritual batteries, focused purpose, energy for new opportunity, new understanding, and a tool set to become an effective change-agent in their own lives or organizations.    

 While currently leading enterprise integration and organization and process performance initiatives for the LDS Church Educational Department, Stan still finds time to consult to private and municipal organizations on the side.   Previously he was not only a Director of Project Management at the Los Alamos National Laboratory but also one of the leaders in the Lean Six Sigma program.  Stan led a team to restructure the organization to focus on process centricity, performance, enterprise project management, and to move the overall maturity of the organization from level 1 to level 5 of the enterprise maturity model. 

As a true efficiency expert Stan wears many hats, he is a published author of 4 books, co-founder of two publicly traded renewable energy research firms, president of Thunder Ridge Wildlife Refuge, holder of one US patent and inventor of two classified weapons program inventions, adventure TV show host, Lean Six Sigma master black belt, Lean Six Sigma and Performance Management instructor, master instructor and holder of six black belts in the Martial Arts, owner of USLLC Tactical Marital Arts training center, professional off-road race driver, entrepreneur of two successful franchise chains, radio show host,  project manager for research projects, motivational speaker, certified law enforcement officer, husband and loving father of five.

 

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