Archive for November, 2006

Wedding project

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

This semester I am enrolled in a Project Management class in the business school as an elective for my Interior Design master’s program. This is a very useful and informative class and one that I would urge all design students to arrange to take, even if it has to be done through another department or school. Design work is project work and these skills are invaluable for all design positions.

Our term project was to plan a multi-cultural wedding where the bride and groom were of two different religions (neither could be Christian). The wedding was to be high-society, it was to be held in DC, we could only bring 10 relatives from other countries, and we had to spend $1,000,000. Our deliverables were a business case, statement of assumptions and constraints, work breakdown structure, project network/schedule, risk and change management processes, metrics, and lessons learned. The work breakdown structure identified a range of wedding-related tasks, including guests, stationery, site, transportation, hotel, decor, food, media, security, and honeymoon. Our team of 8 divided up these deliverables and activities and each contributed to the final Powerpoint slideshow and notebook. The slideshow stressed the cultural aspects of the wedding and summarized the business deliverables; the notebook contained the full text of the business deliverables.

Our team choose a Nigerian bride of the Igbo people who follows traditional worship practices and a Muslim groom from the northern part of Sudan. We did a lot of research to learn about the very interesting wedding traditions of these two cultures. In both cultures, weddings go on for several days and festivities are usually held in tents, so we decided to plan for two days of wedding events – the first for the Nigerian ceremonies and the second for the Sudanese ceremonies. We would install three large tents in the meadow at the National Arboretum in DC – one tent to represent the groom’s family compound, another for the bride’s family, and the third for dancing. Both events would be held in the evening. (Links to websites that discuss Nigerian weddings: BBC News, article by Utibe Uko, Motherland Nigeria, Top Wedding Links, Chicken Bones: A Journal, African Wedding Traditions. Links to websites that discuss Sudanese weddings: Nile Kids, African Wedding Traditions, Al-Ahram Weekly.)

My particular area was the interior design, which included the tents, tent decor, lighting, flooring, equipment, furniture, linens, plants, and flowers. Because this was a business class, I wasn’t expected to go beyond listing activities, obtaining budget information, and developing a schedule, so I didn’t develop my design beyond the concept stage.

For the Nigerian ceremonies, my design concept was to create a lush tropical garden with dappled sunlight shining through the leaves. I envisioned filling the tents with tall coconut palms to create a canopy over the guests and using other tropical plants to create borders and dividers as needed to demark the family seating and guest dining areas, covering the ground with natural raffia or palm woven mats, and draping the tables with neutral but lush table linens. Because the guests and wedding party in Nigerian weddings typically wear very colorful traditional clothing, color would be provided by the clothing and by tropical flowers on the tables. Lighting would be a combination of accent lights shining through the palms to create dappled light and shadow, tiny sparkle lights in the palms and on the tent perimeters, and unobtrusive direct lighting as needed for dining, food service, and other tasks.

For the Sudanese ceremonies, my concept was to create the feel of an exotic and ancient bazaar with rich colors and textures and dramatic lighting. My plan was to drape the ceilings and walls with rich red silks and cover the floors with deep red carpets. Diners would sit on floor cushions of gold and black silk around low, custom-made square tables of dark wood. Palms would create boundaries and intimacy as needed. Lighting would be a combination of dramatic uplighting through the palms, sparkle lights around the perimeters, gentle downlighting as needed for food service and dining, and a profusion of warmly-glowing copper lanterns of all sizes hung from the ceilings, lining the pathways, and lighting the tables and seating areas. Food service would be on copper trays.

I pulled the slideshow together after each team member had provided input on her or his part of the project. Because this was a business class presentation and not a design presentation, my decor slides showed only the basic concepts. The slide show as a whole is interesting because it has lots of pictures and explains the wedding traditions of these two cultures. Click here to see the show in PDF format.

This was a good project – it was fascinating to learn about the wedding traditions of these two cultures, weddings are happy occasions so planning them is fun, I learned the various stages involved in the business side of managing a project, and I had a chance to experience team dynamics.

House blogs

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

Here’s a fun website. HouseBlogs is a “community-powered home improvement publication” that contains posts from people who are undertaking projects on their houses or apartments and links to blogs that other DIYers have put up. The posts track the bloggers’ experiences and the lessons they’ve learned. The stories read like a soap opera – they really pull you in – and are full of pictures, how-to information, and product resources.

I’m a huge do-it-yourselfer. When we built the addition to our house 25 years ago, it would have been fun to post our progress and to see how other people solved some of the problems that we ran into. This is what’s so great about the internet – if you can just locate it, you can learn about anything you want and find other people who are interested in it too.

But the site made me think in bigger terms as well. Last year my architectural history professor assigned a paper that detailed ad nauseum the contents of 150-year-old probate records in a certain county in the South. The paper was somewhat dull to read, but it was actually quite interesting how the probate records really allowed a look into the way the people of that time lived – the furniture they used, the kinds of rooms they had, how much things cost, and what was important to them in their daily lives at home. Think how pleased an architectural historian 150 years from now might be to find these house blogs! These blogs are recording tomorrow’s history. In the scheme of life, the details of these house projects are of small matter, yet they’re so wonderfully important when they’re happening and they show so much about our culture. Looking at this site blips me into the past and then out to the future and makes me appreciate the exquisite present-ness of our lives.

Working towards excellence

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

I like things to be done right. And who doesn’t. As consumers, we expect services to be completed correctly and products to function as they should – and we deserve as much. If I hire a painter to paint my living room red, I want it to be red, not purple, and I can’t imagine that many homeowners would feel otherwise.

So, if customers deserve to get what they contract for, then service providers have an obligation to serve their clients well. The perplexing thing is that often this doesn’t happen. Of course, miscommunication, changes, and cost increases can play havoc with a project, but I keep running into an impediment that is completely within the control of the project team – a lack of committment to excellence.

Let me give an example from my current grad school experience. This semester, I’m in a Project Management class in the business school. Our term project is to plan a hypothetical high-society wedding between a bride and groom of different non-western cultures and our wedding must respect both cultures. We are specifically prohibited from “Americanizing” the wedding. We are formed into teams of about 8 individuals, most if not all of whom are adults who have full-time jobs, many as project managers. Because our wedding involves non-western cultures, the activities don’t fall into typical western categories. So far, so good. The problem is that some of my teammates are approaching this project with quite a bit less than full effort and others are using canned western wedding templates for budgeting, sequencing, and decisionmaking. Granted, this is only a school project with no real client to disappoint, but in my mind it doesn’t take a great deal of extra effort to, say, create budget categories that track the activities involved in this project rather than simply download and fill in a western template that contains activities that don’t even apply in our chosen cultures.

My concern is not that we’ll get a bad grade (we won’t), but the lack of a true committment to excellence. Perhaps a student project is not a good example – after all, the student mentality of doing just enough to get the grade is fairly prevalent and my teammates all have full-time stressful jobs on top of their schoolwork. However, I think there’s an attitude evident in this class that pervades much of the work culture in the United States, and herein lies the real problem. A good-enough attitude at an employee level yields shoddy products and disappointing services. When it’s company-wide, a good-enough attitude adversely affects the company’s ability to compete. When a good-enough attitude pervades a nation, the nation’s trade balance suffers.

I suppose it’s not so simple. People have different ways of thinking and working and it’s a challenge to assemble a team with a shared vision. Moreover, in today’s market team members often can’t do their best work because they haven’t been allotted the time and resources they need to do so. Perhaps I’m a Pollyanna, but I’d like to think that, despite this, sometimes teams really do manage to achieve excellence. I truly hope that someday I’ll be part of such a team.

Resources: Acoustical ceilings

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

Manufacturers of acoustical ceilings:

October ‘06 index

Monday, November 6th, 2006