Friday, January 6, 2012

Twenty-sixth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Fred was painting on the stones when the rest of the team arrived.
That evening Fred was in high spirits. He ate with Gwilym and his boys, excitedly going over the day’s events. “It’s as though we could see t’whole bridge and tower bein’ built right in front of us! And we could see where we’d be gettin’ in each other’s way and what had to happen before what else. And that Charlie, rememberin’ the road. We’d ha’ been sloggin’ through the mud before we’d a remembered it. I love this tool. I’m comin’ up wi’ a couple of verses for it in me Project Management Guide song.”
Gwilym smiled at his excited foreman. He too, was excited at how well it had worked but he was a little troubled by this morning’s events. “I think I may have been premature when I said we knew HOW to build the tower. We know the structure of the project but we need more definition in these activities.”
“Wha’ do tha mean, Gwilym?”
“Well, look at some of these tasks. Wood for arch supports, for instance. That doesn’t tell how to get there. The men need to do a lot of things to get that wood. Like: Measure arch; measure depth of water, make a drawing of the supports; add up the measurements; add some extra for scrap; order the wood; deliver the wood. Now, the men are doing that, but who’s to say that some of these more defined tasks won’t be repeated or skipped or unnecessary, just like activities in the Work Breakdown Structure. I think we need to define these activities better right now before we run into trouble.”
“Aye. I get what tha means, Gwilym. But does tha worry that t’men will think it stupid to have tha write down ever little step? Will they think tha are watchin’ over them like an owld mother hen?”
“Not if they are the ones giving me the steps. And not if I don’t go to ridiculous detail: ‘walk to bridge, look up, take out measuring stick, place one end at bottom of tower.’ I think they trust me now. I can go to the master of each activity and ask them to define their activities and then pull it all together myself for them to look at as a whole. And I can find the problems myself before I show it to the men so that they will see the value.”
“Sounds like a lot of work”
“Aye. I reckon it will be. Maybe you can continue doing my job while I work on this.”
“But Gwilym, tha knows I cannae write.”
“Yet you can draw like a champion, Fred. And you know your numbers. Look.” Gwilym pulled out a scroll that had all the letters carefully inscribed in beautiful calligraphy in alphabetical order. “Today I used the first five letters, A, B, C, D & E. There were about 20 stones per layer. What I did was start with the stone on each layer that faced directly west along the wall. On the first layer, I called this A1 and painted that on the outer face of that stone. Then I moved around the tower towards the river and called the next one A2, then the next A3, and so on. Make sense?”
“Aye,” said Fred dubiously
“Then I did the same with the next letter: B. B1 for the stone facing the wall, then B2 and so on. The next was the C layer, then the D layer, then the E layer. I got through some of the F layer.”
Fred started getting excited. “I remember t’symbols. So they are in order, t’same way t’numbers are in order, 1, 2, 3?”
Gwilym smiled. “Aye Fred. A, B, C, is the order of the letters, just like 1, 2, and 3.”
Fred looked carefully at the list of letters, then looked questioningly up at Gwilym. “But there are 26 of them, not 10. How do I count above 26 with letters?”
“The nice thing about letters, Fred, is that you can combine them to make whole words. Then words make sentences and you can write down whole conversations. We’ll get into that later. But for now, you need to learn the letters. So you are starting with this letter. It is called F. It’s pretty easy to write. Just a straight line up and down, with two straight lines coming off the right side: one at the top and one at the middle. Make the middle line a little shorter. And when you are done with that layer, call me to inspect your work and I’ll teach you the next letter.”
“I’ll do t’work, Gwilym and I’ll be right careful. But I know there are more than 26 layers of stone in that tower. What do I do when I get done with t’last one here, the one that looks kind of like a straightened number 2?”
“We can treat the letters like numbers then. What do you do with numbers after you use 9?”
“Tha takes 1 and starts again after that wi’ zero, then 1, then 2, making 10, 11 and 12. But what be t’letter for zero?”
“We don’t have a letter like that so we’ll name the 27th row: AA, then the 28th row: AB and so on. Can you do that Fred?”
“Which one is A and which one B again?” Fred inquired.
“These first two are.” And Gwilym went through the letters a few times with Fred.

The next morning, before the team had assembled, Gwilym showed Fred how to start numbering the stones and Fred quickly understood. He was painting on the stones when the rest of the team arrived. They looked at Fred with a new respect, then drifted off to do their work. Gwilym moved around them throughout the day, getting definition on all the activities and inscribing them all in his scrolls. He checked in on Fred after every level and praised his careful work. He noticed that as Fred painted, he repeated the name of the letter like a mantra, “F, F, F,” Gwilym smiled to himself and continued gathering information from his men.
They ate dinner together and Gwilym explained what he was doing with the scrolls. “I’m getting detail on all of the activities we worked out yesterday so that I can make sure we’re not running into each other, or having to do anything twice. When I’m done, we’ll go over it and look for the problems.”
Gwilym was as good as his word. He had spent the day inscribing all the defined activities into his scroll and, after the boys were asleep, compared each set of activities to work out the problems. The next morning, when the men assembled, he brought them back into the tavern for an hour and went over each set with them. He read the activities out loud, showed where he had made the corrections, and got their input into the changes. The men were at first shocked when Gwilym crossed out and rewrote over the existing scroll. They were accustomed to scrolls being sacred texts, carefully handled by priests. But they soon got used to it and felt respected for their opinions. By dinner they were all satisfied that the work was well defined and they ate and went off to do their jobs. One carpenter said to a mason, “Finally you won’t be asking me to do my work again after I’ve finished.” They both laughed and went to their places.
Fred continued with his painting while Gwilym rewrote the scratched up scrolls into a large book that he had purchased for this job. On the first page he wrote the name of the project in fancy calligraphy. The second page was a transcription of the charter. The third page was a list of the project stakeholders. The next page showed the Work Breakdown Structure while the following pages broke each major deliverable down into the defined activities that the men had just figured out. He finished up just as the men were getting ready to leave for the day.
Gwilym assembled the men and showed them the book. They were suitably awed. “It’s loik our own Boible for this tower,” one said.

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

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