Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The PM Triangle | Renting A Car Between NY & DC

(Based on a true story)
Last month, two young professional consultants who work in Vienna - Mr X and Mr Y - were on vacation in the United States for the first time in their life. They decided to rent a car from New York to Washington to meet Ms. D who drove four hours from Charlotte, NC to see them in what was described by Mr X as a reunion. The motivation for the three to reunite is that they studied together to obtain their masters degree in Linz, Upper Austria in 2010 and became friends thereafter.
The plan was to meet at 7pm in front of the Hotel that lies 10 minutes driving distance from the airport where the rented car had to be dropped off. As part of cost reduction plans, the three former colleagues decided to stay in the same room. If we considered renting a car as a project, we could point out the scope of the project as follows:
A car is to be rented from NY to DC to maximize comfort given that it's more expensive than public transportation (60$ Bus). The car has to be at lowest rate to reduce costs. The whole process should be finished before 7pm.
The Planning Started as follows:
Mr X opened a website for car rentals. Because the decision was done on a short notice, the prices were relatively high. Both consultants were not experts with car rental in the U.S. but they decided to give it a try based on their previous experience in Europe. Mr X took the lowest rate which is advertised as 100 $/day. The rate belonged to a company which is not known to both of them but it was the cheapest. Other famous companies had a rate of 120 $/day but after a short discussion Mr Y agreed with Mr X that they need to cut costs. A basic insurance package was selected which will add 50$ to the total cost.
Mr Y - being more into project management tasks than Mr X who is known to be more technical - took the task of Cost Estimation and came up with a simple formula for that:
Total Cost = 150 + 50 (rough estimation of refilling the gas at drop off) = 200 $
"It is not a big a deal, each one of us will pay 100$ in the end.", Mr X said.
The effort of driving was decided to be divided between Mr X and Y. They both thought that there are no risks related to this process since they are experienced with driving and a GPS device in the car will make life easier for sure. The GPS device was Mr X's smartphone that uses Google Maps and was found to be efficient in previous experiences. Mr X calculated the time between New York and Washington.
They confirmed to Ms. D that they would arrive at the hotel at 7pm.
The next day, Implementation of the plan started:
Mr. X noticed that he forgot to charge his phone from yesterday so the battery was around 20% but he assumed that the car (being a new one) had a USB cable that could be used to charge the phone. Mr Y woke up a bit late because he had to go the night club the day before to enjoy the last night in NY before continuing the vacation. They were a bit in a hurry.
When they arrived at the rental company, they found a client fighting with one of the employees in the office because they deceived him and charged him more money than what they agreed upon. He looked at Mr Y and told him "This company is shit, I'll call my lawyer. Don't rent the car from them.", Mr Y looked to Mr X in skepticism.
It was already 1pm and they cannot change the company now to keep up the time deadline. The employee welcomed them in a fake smile.
"Seriously, are you going to rent this car? hahahaa!"
The employee made jokes about Mr X and Mr Y for choosing an economy car. She offered them to upgrade the car with an additional cost of 30$. "That's 15 dollars each", Mr Y said. Mr X agreed. She also refused to give them the basic insurance package since they don't have american license.
"So we'll add 50$ for a full insurance package, that makes it 200$ + 12% taxes so in total it will be 224 $", She said.
"Does the car have a USB cable since we need to charge the phone?", Mr X asked.
"I am afraid not. But I can add 20$ GPS device. And by the way, since you are going on toll roads you'll have to buy a toll permit for 25$. So that's total of 270$", She said.
They payed the fees and thought it's still not a big deal since they'll divide all costs.
Actual Cost = 270$ + refilling gas costs
The journey started at 3pm. It was fun on the road and they both had fun talking about the good old days. They kept in touch with Ms. D via Mr Y's phone. She arrived at 6pm and told them she'll check in the hotel till they arrive.
As a team, Mr X was the co-pilot for Mr Y who decided to drive the whole journey. Mr X would tell Mr Y to take this or that exit on the highway and updated him. The GPS - which was old technology - was only set in american system (in miles and feet) something which made it a bit hard to understand the remaining distance on the GPS before taking exists. But on a highway it was easy. But once they arrived in Washington around 6:30pm, they were about to face new impediments.
"One mile = 1.6 km. Because I am used to the metric system, when the GPS tells me to take an exit after 1 mile, I feel it's nearer than it actually is!" Mr Y said.
Ms. D has already advised them not to drive in Washington with a car because it's known to be harder than other cities. The reason is that the city has confusing city layouts with mixes between blocks and roundabouts.
As they drove through the city to the hotel they took wrong exits in roundabouts that lead them out of the city. Mr X would once tells Mr Y to take this exit now. Mr Y takes it and it's wrong. They keep going. Then next time Mr X stops advising because he loses confidence in his opinion. Mr Y takes the exit and it's wrong again!
As a team, they both lost confidence in each other because they couldn't calculate correctly the distances with the help of an old technology. They got angry on each other as well.
The GPS said 10 minutes left to arrive to the hotel. However, this 10 minutes accumulated to 1 hour. Mr X had an uncontrollable urge to pee so they had to stop in a gas station. They decided to go to the hotel first before dropping off the car so that they meet Ms. D at least at 7:30pm
After meeting Ms. D and having a nice conversation, they asked her to come with them to drop off the car. Because the company is an unknown one, the renting drop off location was not at the airport. They had to call the company to show them how to get to the dropping off location. It was too stressful especially that the police stopped them on one of the roads. They thought they did something wrong but it turned out that some important official was just passing by.
"STOP STOP! A diplomat is passing." The tough looking NYPD policeman said firmly
They reached the drop off location at 8:30pm. Ms D was waiting for them in her car in front of McDonald's. Once they reached the drop off location, they realized that they forgot to refill the gas tank. So they left again to search for a gas station until they found one. In the gas station, it took them sometime until they figured out how the process works because in american gas stations you get asked how much you want to put in the tank before you actually fill it. They payed 60$
"How could I estimate how much gas I want to refill the tank with? It's even in gallons!" Mr Y asked Mr X.
At 9:30pm, they dropped off the car. Ms D was already so hungry since she arrived at 6pm. At that time, they decided to walk around the city until they get to somewhere to eat but unfortunately, it started raining.
Mr X and Mr Y evaluated the project to be a failure. They failed the scope of the project. But they learned a lot.
What lessons do you think could be learned from what happened in project management terms after you look at this picture?
It's called the PM Triangle.

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