What IKEA Hacking has taught me about project management and learning from failure.

I’ve used a version of this picture before (see 4 foot posts story), but it’s so uncannily accurate that it’s worth seeing again. The purpose is to illustrate some of my project management ‘issues’ and learning through failure. This was all the result of some accidental IKEA Hacking.

The Project: Refurbishment of a Client’s (youngest son) bedroom. Transformation from a pre-teen ‘mosh-pit’, to something significantly more sophisticated (that will last until he moves out).

The Project Failures:

  1. Poorly Defined Outcomes. The Client changes his mind about thirty times a day. This includes ‘big ticket’ issues like ”am I a vegetarian or meat-eater?”, so little choices like door handle design were bound to be fluid. I never got a solid commit to anything.  Fail 1..
  2. Lack of Scenario Planning. I did have a plan and an idea of how IKEA were going to meet my needs. Unfortunately I got dazzled by a special offer of ‘end of line’ mirror doors and the original plan was forgotten. The ‘last minute surprise’ always happens to me in IKEA, I should have been prepared. Fail 2.
  3. Poorly  Executed Procurement . After vaguely agreeing changed specifications with the Head of Project Procurement (controller of finances/Wife), I headed off for some fun. Spinning around in the office chairs (23 revs/min) followed by a lie down to recover. We did come in under budget, but with a set of surplus half doors, how did that happen?  Fail 3.
  4. Construction Phase Conflict. Nothing new to say here, I’m sure most people will have experienced this. Things always go wrong during the construction phase, some people lose their cool and behave badly and the construction team becomes dysfunctional (yes it was my entire fault, sorry). Fail 4.
  5. You Tube to the Rescue. Hurrah! You Tube is full of videos of how to build IKEA stuff. I finally work out that it isn’t my fault. I’ve got the wrong stuff and I’m actually IKEA Hacking. Everything is on You Tube. Success!
  6. Face to face is best. Full of righteous indignation I was ready to take on IKEA. Unfortunately telephone help-lines don’t really work at 10.30 on a Friday night and neither do 25 minutes ‘hold’ times. The only realistic option is to show up in person. You are harder to ignore in the flesh. Fail 5.
  7. Physical things are easier to deal with than intangibles. I did visit the store, twice. First time was with just the neatly ordered paperwork, and I failed to resolve the problem. Second time was with a trolley full of badly re-packed boxes. It’s amazing how that changed the dynamic. It’s almost as if the problem only really exists if it’s sitting there in front of you. I also got to speak to an expert installer who solved my problems immediately. Success! Unfortunately I still have the surplus set of half doors (still don’t know how that happened). Fail 6.

Learning from Failure: if I want my next project to run smoothly I need to:

  • Have clear outcomes;
  • Plan carefully;
  • Modify plans when things change;
  • Stay positively engaged with the Team throughout;
  • Communicate face to face whenever possible; and
  • Know when I need to speak to an expert.

So what’s the PONT?

  1. We can learn a lot about project management by building things from IKEA. I’ve learnt more during this practical experience than in several classroom based project management courses.
  2. Communication is an absolutely critical part of the project management process, in work and real life.
  3. A small amount of time with an expert can save a lot of hassle. 30 seconds with the expert installer was more useful than about 2 hours of watching (and re-watching)  ‘how to’ videos.

Apparently what I was doing is called IKEA Hacking. This involves taking standard IKEA products and doing something different with them than what was intended. This is a good example of open innovation by-product users, and unfortunately the source of my difficulties. Not surprisingly there is plenty of material on the Internet dedicated to IKEA Hacking, here are a few links:

http://www.ikeahackers.net/p/about.html  (I wish I’d looked at this site before I started)



Picture source: http://tamingdata.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/tree-swing-project-management-large.png

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

7 Responses

  1. i’ve had a grudging affection for ikea since mrs a6 phoned to tell them that a kit we’d bought was short one vital fixing and the person on the phone assured her that if she came back in they’d give her a screw over the counter (sorry).

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