The Zen of cold showers

This is a story about a proverbial cold shower and many actual cold showers. Earlier this year, I took voluntary redundancy to dedicate myself to our home renovation. I had campaigned my manager for it. Yet was still surprised that they took me up on the offer. (Even though I shouldn’t have been!)

The proverbial cold shower happened soon afterwards when the enormity of what my wife and I undertook hit me. Although everything was in place when we pulled the trigger, we soon found the constructor was over-committed and that we would be in for a bumpy ride.

The physical cold showers were to come later and leads to the story of what I learnt while managing a home renovation project.

Firstly, I consider myself a competent and experienced project manager. I have managed, led, and participated in hundreds of projects during my career with the vast majority of them completed successfully.

However, managing a construction project in a foreign language is a whole different beast to the IT Projects I am used to.

I could write for days about this project but will limit myself to the following summary:

  • Preparation took more than two years. Between drawing up plans, getting them approved, weird administrative hurdles, and obtaining finances, the project was scoped and budgeted before the start. In contrast, many IT Projects seem to spring up overnight with little planning or clear scope.
  • Construction projects in Spain are notorious for extended delays. It was quickly evident that I would need to hound the builder for resources. Luckily this is no different to IT Projects.
  • Being on-site daily and for extended periods ensured we moved back into the property only one week later than scheduled.
  • It also saved me thousands due to detecting issues early and being able to deal with them.
  • There were four major parties in the project: the architect, the builder, his workers and us. This makes for six channels of communication. Add in the language barrier, and opportunities for miss-communication was high. Being present and not being afraid of looking like a fool with broken Spanish, sign language and badly drawn sketches alleviated most of these though.
  • One interesting difference I noticed was that in IT Projects, we are obsessed with managing, or more accurately limiting the scope. The builders were the complete opposite.  I had to reign them back from adding significant pieces of work continuously.

Of course, not everything went to plan. The biggest issue was that despite promising a 3-month turn-around, Naturgy had not laid the pipe to our property yet, which brings me to the cold showers.

Taking cold showers in summer in Spain is pleasant. Taking cold showers in autumn/winter is bracing, to say the least. The cold water takes your breath away, and once you recover from the shock, it is invigorating!

Finally, the Zen part.

Going all-in on a major life project is a giant leap of faith. Intuitively, you know that it will have a massive impact on your quality of life. It is scary and exhilarating at the same time. A little like taking a cold shower, it is uncomfortable, but the rewards are worth it.


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