Project Managing Christmas Lights

I found out that I may never be able to avoid doing work over the holidays. The work I’m talking about is project managing the annual Christmas light decorating. As I laid prostrate on my own roof I realized that I was stuck in a familiar situation – not the roof or the lights, but managing project deliverables and client expectations.

Allow me now to retell my story with some humorous but insightful alterations. I find it important to note that I received permission from the client (my wife) before posting.

Every year I hear from one particular client, always just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. Although it’s expected, it always seems to hit me by surprise. As far as timing goes, I suppose the client is right, this project does always take a little longer than I think it will – not the actual doing of the project, but the planning, adjustments and some only marginally predictable outside influences seem to make it harder than it should be.

Limits to Reusability

As we began to plan the project, I started to gather the usual resources and documentation from last time. I found them filed away right where I’d expect them to be, but not quite as orderly as I’d hoped – which is fine because sometimes you can organize things when you put them away OR when you get them out again. At least that’s what I tell myself. As I unwound the dependencies, I recalled how my father was always so careful to place, wrap and label everything appropriately – even to the point of purchasing small products to help. As stingy as I am with my money and time, I refused to follow in his steps this time and I used a more, let’s say organic solution, which did work out in the end after a little fidgeting.

After locating and setting out the resources I began to test each component. Everything should still work just as it did when I archived it all months ago, but with this project and this client, I’ve learned to be a little more careful. Sure enough, there were significant failures, all due to reasonable technology replacement cycles, but nonetheless not fully anticipated. I recorded the specifications for the replacements and began some research online. Unfortunately the Internet yielded little as these replacement parts have become somewhat ubiquitous and due to a large and relatively uneducated consumer market, little variation seemed available.

Meeting the Vendors

As my client’s expectations, while not unrealistic, were quite demanding, I invited her to accompany me to meet with local vendors to discuss product variations and prices. From my point of view, the technology was all quite utilitarian and frankly, because we weren’t bringing in any designers, the aesthetics were often lost on me.  As we met with the vendors, we discussed options and viewed available inventory.  This was extremely discouraging because it became evident that the client was already sold on an unavailable and nearly obsolete technology.  Additionally, we learned that just last week a larger company had swept in and bought up almost all of the remaining inventory.  Without mentioning it (or maybe only mentioning it once or twice) the client made it clear that this delay could have been avoided with proper planning.  I countered with the nonchalance that comes from seeing countless products and technologies come and go and suggested that this predicament was as inevitable as the switch from standard video to HD (which the client is also trying to avoid).  This seemed to placate the client, and she set out to discover the next best product line to adopt.  I stood back and watched with a smile on my lips.  I like new technology.

New Technology, New Requirements

With our new technology in hand, I set out to determine the best way to integrate it into our existing framework.  Much to my chagrin, the new technology had a different output-to-length ratio which requiring additional daisy chaining.  We pushed the limits of the specifications and after some load testing we discovered that things would work.  Luckily, even with the alternate configuration there was nothing wasted.  The new product was lighter, had a longer life cycle and required less power to run.  It seemed like a big win.  As I laid out each element, I snapped a few more photos to send to the client as a quick work-in-progress.  Things looked good until we moved the product into the production environment and noticed that the output volume was lower than expected.  With the new technology’s lower power requirements and the discovery that the limited output was only unidirectional, I began to really worry that the end product would not meet the critical eye of the client.  I really felt like this technology shift was a bad idea and we’d have to rip it down and start over again with something else.


I was close enough to completion that I felt we should eat the costs and go ahead and finish the project with the new technology before showcasing it for the client.  Hat in hand, I approached the client in a face-to-face meeting to share the conditionally good news.  The client stayed optimistic about the results and requested that we schedule the demonstration immediately.  As we viewed the finished product in the production environment, I cautioned the client of the limitations due to the unidirectional output.  The client winked and asked me to view the product from the end-user’s point of view (which I had entirely overlooked until now).  As I got into position, I realized that due to the positioning of each element, as prescribed by the client, the unidirectional output was perfectly positioned for the target audience – not me, not the client, but the end users!  I realized despite the project’s challenges, we had delivered perfectly on the intent of the project.

Merry Christmas, and may all you unidirectional LED Christmas lights be aimed appropriately!