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Is a Break/Fix Situation a Project? I just found out the hard way.

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

Like many people, I am working at home and using my kitchen more than usual. Unlike most adult women I know, I have the blessing of quarantining with my childhood hero. He usually answers to, “DAD!” Fortunately, he has a lifetime of experience fixing things.

Here are a whole lot of project management fundamentals that I suspect will resonate with anyone who has ever tackled a home project with a loved one. There are major parallels here to what happens in a break/fix situation at work also. I hope it makes you laugh. But more importantly, I hope it makes you think.

Selecting the Right Project (We Hope)

Trigger - Weird “pop” sound comes from the kitchen.

Discover Root Cause - Oh no! The bottom element in the oven snapped!

Issue #1 - I have no idea what to do and immediately leap to the conclusion that I am going to have to buy a new oven and that is going to take a long time and cost a lot of money.

Solution offered by Expert Resource - Dad says we can replace it ourselves and promises it will be “easy.”

Develop Resources - Expert Resource suggests this is also a teaching moment. Handy-woman-in-training agrees.

Issue #1 Resolved. Rather than the project, "replace the stove," the project is: "replace the bottom element in the oven."  Scope shall include on-the-job training.

Initiating. Carve time out of schedule to begin project. (Truth be told, at this moment, trainee has no idea it’s a project and just thinks it’s a task.)

Planning. What Planning?

Executing. Let's DO this!

Issue #2 - Procure part during pandemic with no experience when Expert Resource does NOT do internet and the machine’s serial numbers are no longer entirely visible. (Ugggghhhhhh)

Issue #2 Resolution Research

1) Look all over the house for original paperwork on the oven. Dead end.

2) Ask Mom how they found the last part that had to be replaced. She doesn’t remember exactly and thinks it was directly from the manufacturer and not Amazon where there would be a record of the purchase and possibly the model number. Recommends Google. Super.

3) Look on manufacturer website. Complete nightmare. Thousands of parts. Spend what feels like FOREVER time trying to figure out how to search using the right magic words and partial numbers.

4) May or may not have identified the right part. Wasting money on the wrong thing is undesirable.

5) Call a friendly human, explains situation, gets advice, but no guarantee. The part costs less than $60.

6) Accept risk it could be wrong. Must make decision with best information available at the time.

7) Pray.

8) Celebrate small win. This is progress! Issue #2 Resolved.


Monitoring & Controlling. (There is no Controlling here, let's be honest.) Daily status discussions sound like a broken record.

“Did the part come today?”


“Did the part come today?”


“Did the part come today?”

“Nope.” Workaround Woes - Adjusting meals to not use the oven is SO annoying.

Major Milestone - YESSSS!! Part is delivered!

Quality inspection - Appears to be the right part! (Small celebration at this interim milestone!)

Competing priorities - Expert Resource is ready but trainee is working on another project. Expert Resource becomes impatient. Trainee rushes completing current project while Dad hums.

What Feels Like Really Executing for Real Now - FINALLY! The actual work of the project happens. Teamwork needed to pull the stove out from the wall. Trainee sees marks on the floor and fights OCD to immediately make them disappear.

Issue #3 - Trainee fits behind the stove, has never seen the kind of screw holding the back panel on the oven. There appear to be approximately 100 of them. Communication issue ensues in trying to describe mystery screw. Inspection by Expert. Expert hands trainee a completely wrong but workable tool and searches “all over God’s creation” to find the right tool. Trainee finishes job with wrong tool anyway. Trainee searches far and wide to find the Dad and report project is stalled without expert assistance.

Expert’s motivation is waning. Issue #3 resolved. Sort of.

Project continues with expert expecting trainee to understand what he is saying. Trainee does not always follow orders exactly and asks questions resulting in expert getting more annoyed. Expert clearly would rather be taking a nap. (Clear example of opportunity cost.)

SCOPE CREEP #1 - Trainee sees what looks like charcoal in the bottom of the oven and decides it must be cleaned out before replacing element. Expert just “wants to get the project done already.” Trainee offers compromise and simply dusts out the bottom of the oven. She simultaneously feels like Cinderella and the winner of this skirmish. Expert hums.

Finally, it is time to replace the element!

Issue #4 - Trainee does not have enough strength to perform task. Expert must step in and execute. Expert getting more annoyed.

Project continues with trainee struggling without the right tools. Expert getting really impatient now and wants to skip steps while declaring that we don’t really need all of these screws.

Trainee wonders why speed is his #1 concern when expert is retired. Trainee feels quality is #1 and wants to do the job right. Compromise ensues with finger tightening all screws instead of using wrong tool to tighten them all. To make it go faster, expert and trainee both work on finger tightening task. (Resource loading.)

Teamwork required again to put oven back against wall.

Stakeholder interruption - Dog wants to go outside.

Expert sits down and then suggests quality testing.

Trainee turns on oven and holds breath.

VICTORY! The element works!!

Expert says he doesn’t like the smell and disappears.

SCOPE CREEP #2. Moving oven made marks on floor. Cinderella procures cleaning supplies, goes after the floor while smelling bleach and victory. Goes back to work.

Closing. Hours later, trainee checks on expert to close the project formally by saying “thank you” and offering a socially distanced high five. He seemed pleased. However, he has decided to reject participating in tonight’s dinner, which also means that the expert will not likely participate in lessons learned. Ever.

Top lessons learned reflection (trainee’s solo exercise because expert is napping):

  • Realizes this is a training moment and writes article. Article gets longer than planned but results in actually laughing out loud. Keeps going.

  • What was challenging? Not following orders exactly resulted in dismay.

  • What to try next time? Do what the expert says. Do not question it. Pretending this is a military exercise will make it go more smoothly.

  • What went well? Ordering from the manufacturer with a human’s help.

  • What to do to make sure it goes well again next time? Save paperwork from box in file.

Trainee declares victory and plans to make oven-baked brownies to celebrate. She thanks the expert again for saving her a boatload of money replacing the entire appliance and teaching her how to do this “easy task."

Is a Break/Fix Situation a Project?

Since I was able to explain practically the entire situation in project management terms, and it fits the definition of being temporary, unique and creating a product, service or result, this "easy" break/fix situation did turn into a project. However, if I had the part in the garage, the proper tools, the knowledge and physical strength to replace the part on my own, it would have been an "easy" 20 minute task.

How about you?

How many times have you had an "easy task" turn into a project? Have you seen projects balloon to double the cost and time due to poor project management?

Don't let it happen on your watch! We're here to help. Would you like to have fun learning practical techniques that work in the real world and upgrade your resume? Learn more and apply for our 8-week practical certificate course at before all of the virtual seats are gone.


About the Author/Handy-woman-in-Training: Dawn Mahan, PMP is an award-winning consultant, international speaker and project nerd. She sees projects and project management everywhere. Does any of this sound familiar? Let us know!

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