Archive for April 3rd, 2010

Hot Rod Project Management 101

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Hot Rod Project Management 101

Tomorrow will be Easter Sunday and a day to spend with the family.  A nice meal and the weather outside is absolutely terrific.  What more can a person ask for?  Life is good.

Continuing with my quest of designing and building the chassis for the 1929 Ford Roadster hot rod using C4 Corvette suspension components from a 1986 Corvette Indy Pace car has not been an easy one.  There have been many changes and modifications to the hot rod project.  The chassis is an example of what some would say is a design prototype.  I did not work from any plans, and everything is created as I move forward.  This is a design created on the shop floor away from the computer screen.  If all I could do is work on the hot rod that would be great.  The average person building a hot rod cannot.  There is work to contend with.  You need to pay the bills, so you need to work.  We have families, and everyone in the family deserves some good attention.  You cannot ignore your family.  If you do, then you get into big trouble.  Then there are your accommodations.  In my case, the old Victorian house I live in.  It requires a great deal of attention in the way of renovations.  In the summer there is grass to cut, weeds to trim, and in the winter time, snow to shovel.  If you have anything else on the side like I do, with a couple of apartments, then you have to deal with tenants.  There are so many things that will interfere with the build process of a hot rod.  I guess this is why we see all sorts of unfinished hot rods for sale.  The builder lost focus and interest.  It takes time to build a hot rod, lots of time.  You need to keep on track and be determined to finish any project.

There are all kinds of theories of Project Management.  The most recent dictate how to develop a scope statement that defines the project, gantt charts that set out time lines for the project, and define who does what. Project management theories are of little use in this situation.  You can set out time lines and make charts but you have to put your hands on the materials and the tools and do the work.  People who can formulate an idea and then flesh it out by actually finding, and assembling the materials with the necessary tools are becoming more and more rare.  With your own projects or any project on any scale, there is a time to leave the computer screen or the pencil and paper and the “visioning” sessions and put your hands to work.  As time moves on, we are generating a society of individuals that do not know how to build or make anything with their hands. Shops and shop classes of all kinds have slowly disappeared from secondary schools and engineering schools. No one builds anything in a shop.  Students are taught to draw a picture of something in AutoCAD.  I have noticed this in the College program that I teach over the last 25 years.  Students now do not have the same hand skills when compared to students 25 years ago.  They are not familiar with the qualities of the materials they are putting into their designs.  Now the world has the plastic snow shovel.

A good example of problem solvers, builders, real project managers would be the group in MythBusters. Jamie Hyneman, Adam Savage, and the cast of MythBusters have the right approach to engineering. All you need to do is watch their show and you will get the idea. People like Jamie and Adam are few and far between. You cannot teach these types of skills, they are acquired. These fellows are a very rare breed of problem solvers.

As a teaching professional that has been building anything and everything for my entire life, I find that these project management theories and methods are nothing but useless.  These are positions filled with people that do not know how to build anything.  The old and probably politically incorrect saying use to be:  “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”  Now it is too many project managers and not enough builders.  There are many things that cannot be predicted from the screen of a laptop.  If there is any doubt about the veracity of this statement in your mind, answer one question. Has any project manager been able to finish a project on time and within budget?  There is bonuses paid and after the dust has settled they give themselves awards within the associations they belong to.  Oh well!! 

Back to your own project. You better know how to feel whatever it is you are building.   Working on a computer in front of a monitor does not give you that experience.  It is the start, but a designer needs to get dirty hands out on the shop floor.  These designers think that the 3-D image on the computer monitor is all they need.  Do not fall into the trap Toyota has fallen into.  Here we have a group of designers blaming the acceleration problem on driver error, floor mats, and the gas pedal.  Maybe some of this is true and maybe not.  These designers are not listening to the problem.  Designers are quick to pass on blame, even going so far as to blame the problems on the assembly line workers in some cases all to avoid taking ownership of the problem.  Many critics believe it may be an electronic problem based on their own experience with their own Toyotas.  Okay, some of the facts might be hidden.  Car manufacturers are good at holding back information.  They assess risk and determine what the risk will cost them in the courts.   Let’s stop and think about run away Toyota’s.  Modern electronics are getting smaller.  We are using electronic devices that are very small, even microscopic.  The automobile has one of the most hostile environments around.  There are extreme temperature changes, salt, sand, dust, grease, moisture, and all sorts of grime and dirt.  It is very hard to seal out, prevent contamination, and effects of these foreign elements.  With electronics getting smaller, it takes less to create an electronic problem on circuit board.  With vibration, and the expansion and contraction of parts due to temperature, it is not that hard to have an electronic malfunction especially an intermittent one.  These intermittent problems are the most difficult to find and address.

What does this have to do with building a 1929 Ford Roadster?  Whenever a project is created, you better be prepared for the unexpected and adapt to it.  You need to be like the Borg on Star Trek, “ADAPT”.  When something is not right, not working the way that you want it to, change it. This is what I have been doing for the entire build process of the 1929 Ford Hot Rod.

In the next day or so, I will show how the rear sway bar from the 1986 Corvette Indy Pace car was added to the 1929 Ford hot rod with Corvette IRS.