When a project fails – part 1

It is so true that you learn ten times more from your failures than successes, and I have had the experience of being involved in two big projects that fell flat.

The first one was for a luxury yacht builder. Everything was looking good on paper, the company had a few of their 60ft yachts on the water and had a new 50ft design. They had secured funding for the tooling production, and the first three boats had already been sold. I was doing contract work on an iron ore mine in Sierra Leone at the time, and one day after I arrived back I got stuck in to the plug design.

The boat was to fit together in a modular fashion, with a substantial amount of the fit-out done prior to the modules being dropped in. However, when the tooling design was shown to me I completely disagreed with it. But here I was working with people who had far more knowledge and experience in this sort of thing than me, so I told myself to trust them. I got stuck into the project, giving it 100%. Starting with the plug designs of the hull, coach roof, saloon etc. As the months passed by my sense that this approach was not the way to go continued to grow, as the project fell further and further behind. Additional funding was secured and a new timeline worked out for the completion of the tooling. Once again we fell behind..

The conclusion for me was that after two years of putting everything I had into this job I resigned. By that stage hull#1 was in the moulds after being vacuum infused and a project timeline was in place for the launch. While I was convinced that this project would fail I was the only one who voiced any concerns, and I walked away with a very uneasy feeling. Long story sort, eight months later the company went into liquidation and the court case was being heard just before Covid 19 struck our country.

So while my feelings towards the project were vindicated, it was a terrible thing to have happened to the investor, and the clients who had by that stage already paid in full for their boats. As well as a terrible situation for the South African boatbuilding industry as a whole.

So what did i learn? To trust my instincts, to speak up more in future. And that there are times when I need to be harder, draw a line in the sand and stick to it, even when others try to talk me out of it perhaps.

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