EVERYDAY LEADERSHIP: Use the PERT chart to accomplish daunting tasks

My wife Carol invited four friends for Christmas Day dinner this year. The day before Christmas I noticed Carol with a far away look, deep in thought. I asked her what she was thinking about and she responded, “Just thinking about all I have to do tomorrow and when I have to get up to put the turkey in.”

I jumped up and grabbed my flipchart, actually it was only a pad of paper, and I explained the PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique) chart and asked her if she would like me to use this tool to answer her issue of timeframe. She was game so I began to ask her several questions.

First, I asked her when do you want to eat. She bounced the question to me and I explained, “Since I have not missed a meal since 1977, I would like it fairly close to noon. She decided that 1:30 would be doable. She went on to explain that the 17-pound turkey she had bought would take three and one half hours to cook.

Carol had gotten ahead of the process by completing some of the meal the day before. The advance preparation included mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruit salad, and apple crisp. She had also set the table with our best china and silverware. To relieve the timeline, our guests committed to bring green beans, corn pudding, cranberry salad, and cherry pie.

So she would begin with an hour of prework of making two kinds of stuffing, getting the turkey into the pan, inserting the stuffing and then three and one half hours to cook the turkey. Concurrently, she cooked giblets on top the stove. Also while the turkey cooked she could shower and do some last-minute cleaning.

When the turkey was done, she would replace it in the oven with the second dressing dish, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes, and a ham. Concurrently on top the stove she would warm up the green beans and microwave the corn pudding. All of this could be completed in 30 minutes. Finally, she needed to slice the turkey, make turkey gravy and take the dressing out of the turkey, which would take 20 minutes.

So, on Christmas Eve as we were designing our PERT Chart to determine when she had to get started, we added up the shortest path. One hour prework for the stuffing, three and one half hours cooking the turkey and preparing the giblets, thirty minutes to cook the side dishes, and twenty minutes to make the gravy, slice the turkey and remove the dressing from the turkey would be needed.

The critical path (the shortest time to complete the entire task) was five hours and twenty minutes. She had to get up no later than ten minutes after eight. In the end we ate closer to two o’clock than one thirty. Carol could have completed this meal without the PERT Chart but it helped me understand the complexity of fixing a meal of that size.

There are many tasks at work for which a PERT chart would be useful for supervisors, managers, and leaders. When I was working on my dissertation, I struggled until I made a PERT Chart of the process. The chart enabled me to see the whole process, focus on the first segment of the task and finish it in a timely manner. The PERT chart is a simple tool that helps us understand the potential timeframes of complex processes.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories ‘/with Leadership Lessons, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.