In life, things often don’t go as planned. When this happens, sometimes chaos and hilarity can result. The following is as true a story as I can remember. Names have been changed or omitted to protect the innocent (and the guilty!).
I was 10, and wilderness camping in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. I was there with my parents, older and younger siblings and dogs. Our camping site was located on a lake that is about 1 1/2 miles long, and 1/2 mile wide at its widest point. (That’s important information.) Here’s an actual picture of the place:
It was a lovely hot summer weekend, and my 8 year old sister and I were swimming and playing in the water off our campsite, next to the boat launch. We noticed some commotion above us on the road leading to the boat launch. My sister was busy with what she was doing in the water, so I went up alone to investigate.
I found 5 or 8 cars, some 20 people and one truck towing the largest boat I’d ever seen. The newcomers were arguing with the men at the campsite about the feasibility of the boat being launched into the lake. They demanded to see the boat launch, and seemed displeased when told they were standing on it. I asked my mother what was happening, and she said, “They are trying to launch the Queen Mary here!”
They turned to the State Forest Ranger, who’d just arrived, and tried to convince him he could use the rescue winch on the front of his truck to help them. While the adult campers chuckled behind their hands, he said that was out of the question. No amount of persuasion or argument would convince these folks the boat couldn’t or wouldn’t be launched. Even if it was, the twin engines wouldn’t be able to come up to enough speed for the water skiing they wanted to do in the confines of such a small
space. The Ranger and the men from the campground kept trying to tell them they’d have more success at a bigger place like Lake George or Blue Mountain Lake, but nothing would deter them from their goal of boating on that lake that day.
Well, nothing until while all the adults had been busy arguing, one had left his toddler in the front seat of his car alone, and unrestrained. This was in the years before seat belts were popularly used, let alone car seats. The parent had not set the emergency brake, and when the child started playing with the controls of the car and got it into neutral, gravity took over. My mother and I both saw the car moving at the same time, and shouted for my sister to move. She barely leaped away in time, as the father ran after the car and his child.
The child was retrieved and was perfectly fine, damp and delighting in his ride. The Ranger’s winch was employed, and the car retrieved from the lake. It was then they declared they were going to change the oil on the car right then and there, and let the old oil drain into the soil and lake. It was only the Ranger’s presence as a representative of the law which prevented some “frontier justice” by the men from the campground. The Ranger hauled out his ticket book, started angrily listing things for which he was about to cite them, and said tickets were a certainty if they didn’t leave immediately.
Within a short time, the lake again belonged to the wildlife, the campers and Ranger. The adults sat down to well-deserved cups of coffee and some relaxation, as they laughed at the boaters. I told them what my mother told me about the boat, and enjoyed the laugh I got. What my mother said to me became both the title of this post and the name of what is a favorite family story.
When I consider this story, I think about the Plan, Do, Check and Adjust process I have learned from LIFE. Orrin Woodward, best-selling author and LIFE co-founder, learned this information during his career as a successful engineer from its inventor, the legendary engineer Edward Demming.
In the Plan, Do, Check and Adjust (also called PDCA) process, we work out a Plan, Do the Plan, Check the progress of the Plan with an outside source like a mentor and Adjust the Plan as necessary to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. Each step is an individually critical component in success of any endeavor.
Let’s review my story in light of the PDCA process. The folks with the boat had a Plan: they Planned to launch their boat on the lake and go water skiing. They tried to Do their Plan. They tried multiple methods to Do their Plan. However, they failed to listen to the wiser counsel of others when confronted with undeniable data, didn’t Check their Plan against the available data and failed to Adjust accordingly. It was in this failure to Check and Adjust stage when the car ended up in the lake, instead of their boat.
So, how can we make this process work for ourselves? Please understand, in saying these things, I will be talking to myself as much as I am talking to you!
How many times do we go benignly along through life, trying to launch our Queen Mary Plans, little realizing how impractical or physically impossible they are? And even when they are possible, do we work them out with others who might know more than us, to help us make a better Plan? Others, of course, go blissfully through life with seemingly no Plan at all, living out the true-ism a failure to Plan is a Plan for failure.
Sometimes, we get stalled in the Do step. Some of us are wonderful Planners, but not so great at the Do part. A Plan is not meant to be a paper tiger. It’s meant to be a blueprint for building something. Nike didn’t make their slogan, “Just Do It,” for nothing, you know.
When we finally get our Plans launched and Do them, do we Check how we’re doing with them? Or do we go sailing onward, benignly or willfully ignorant of data running counter to what we want to be seeing? Data, as it has been so rightly said, isn’t right or wrong. It’s just data. To deny the facts of something in front of us and move on anyway is either ignorant or foolish.
Do we stop sometimes and Adjust what we are doing in the face of data that tells us stuff we might not want to hear? The Adjust stage is when you either refine the Plan, or decide it’s fine for now, and go forward. It is here where the counsel of a mentor can be most crucial. Often we need a voice outside of ourselves, who compassionately knows us, to look in on our situations and offer a broader view we likely do not see. It’s like going through a dense forest, and having someone in a helicopter above, who sees the way, telling you where to go and how to turn to navigate successfully.
Had the folks with the boat that day practiced the PDCA process, we likely would never have seen them, and I would not have this (hopefully!) entertaining story to illustrate the PDCA process for you. They would have realized their boat needed more space than our lake had, and gone elsewhere. They would have happily water skied, not needed to change the oil on one of the cars, not almost hit my sister with the car and left us in peace. And I would have been left to find another story to illustrate the PDCA process for you.
I hope my story of a failure of the PDCA process, and my explanations of it help you find joy in your journey as you use it to find more success in life!
- Unattended Vehicles (Letters To Lindsey)
- Tending To Forgive (Letters To Lindsey)
- Keeping Score In The PDCA Process (Orrin Woodward Blog)
- The Value Of The PDCA Process (Orrin Woodward Blog)