What I Learned About Risk Management from a Christmas Tree

My family has a tradition of going to a Christmas tree farm, selecting a tree, bringing it home, setting it up and decorating. This year was a disaster…here’s my story (please don’t tell anyone) and the risk mitigation strategies I learned.

Hobson wanted a selfie at the Christmas tree farm.

Hobson wanted a selfie at the Christmas tree farm.

Normally, we get our tree the day after Thanksgiving. Not this year. We waited until the second weekend of December to make our tree trek. My wife Sherri and I took our dog Hobson with us (our son and daughter now live out of town). There were very few trees left.

We finally found one that didn’t look like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. The trunk looked straight, and the tree looked fine (no gaping holes if you looked from the right side). I cut the tree. The tree farm owner shook the needles out, wrapped the tree in a net, and helped me tie the tree on top of our car.

We drove home singing along with our favorite Christmas carols. I found our Christmas tree stand in the attic…the one we’ve used for years…the one that had lost parts over time. I thought to myself – that’s okay – I will rig it. We put the tree in the stand, and I screwed the bolts into the tree to secure it. I did my magic.

We backed off and looked at the tree. It didn’t look straight. We moved the tree around so you wouldn’t see the holes in the tree. Happy that everything was okay, we decorated the tree with ornaments (some sentimental favorites that we’ve had for years) and lights. I put the cheesy star on top of the tree and filled the water reservoir.

I told Sherri that I didn’t think the tree would be standing the next morning. Not confident with the old tree stand, I went to Ace Hardware, Walmart, and Lowes on a search for a super-duper tree stand. I did not find what I was looking for, so I ordered it online from Amazon. Surely the tree would stay up for three to five days.

One evening, Sherri and I were enjoying a relaxing evening. We had finished dinner and were enjoying a nice conversation when it happened. KABOOM! CRASH! What was that?

We ran into the family room. There the tree lay on the floor with broken ornaments and water running everywhere. Hobson darted back and forth barking at the calamity.

We spent the next 30 minutes reconstructing the tree. I wasn’t going to let the Grinch steal our Christmas. I did some more rigging (sure-fire duck tape this time) while I was praying for the UPS truck to arrive with my super-duper tree stand. Didn’t happen. I turned off Pandora as it played “Holly Jolly Christmas.”

Next evening, the tree fell again. I had it! We took the lights and the remaining ornaments off the tree. Before I took the tree out of the house, a giant grasshopper flew out of the tree at warp speeds. Scared us to death. I killed the grasshopper and tossed the evil tree into the woods.

While I was at work the next day, Sherri picked up another tree and a new tree stand. She set up the tree by herself…she’s Superwoman! Then she heard someone drive up in the driveway. Guess who? The UPS guy with my tree stand.

We decorated the tree. Practice makes perfect! Yes, it’s once, twice, three times a lady. I am happy to say this tree looks great, and we’ve had zero problems.

Lessons Learned:

We don’t always enjoy what life brings our way, but let’s gain wisdom and insight that will enable us to mitigate risks in our future projects.

  1. Get rid of broken tree stands. Sounds obvious – doesn’t it? Do you have a formal close out process for your programs and projects? Do you conduct a lessons learned sessions? Do you update your templates and fix things that will be used in your subsequent projects?
  2. Think ahead. I knew about the condition of the tree stand. I should have anticipated the need and bought a new tree stand earlier. Proper Planning Prevents Poor Project Performance!
  3. Anytime we rely on a third party (e.g., Amazon), there is an additional risk. We often lack control of things. The problem is not always the third party. It’s may be us. We don’t proactively communicate our needs and give a third party adequate time to respond. There is often a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities.
  4. Shortcuts can be costly. I am all for doing things efficiently. However, sometimes we take unwise shortcuts. Duck tape and other silly devices will not cut it. Save yourself, some headaches – do things right the first time through. Quality management can save the day!
  5. Accidents can happen at the worst times. When planning your project, make sure you have risk-adjusted schedules and budgets. Estimate your schedule and budget reserves according to your risks. Give you and your team appropriate margin.
  6. Relationships are more important than the project. When projects go awry (and don’t they all?), focus on the relationships first. It is easy to become frustrated and to start pointing fingers. Leaders keep a positive attitude and encourage their team members to press on.

What are you learning about risk mitigation strategies in your personal life? Don’t miss the gems of wisdom that you can apply in your projects. Make mental notes or journal about what you are learning.

On a personal note, I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Want to know the true meaning of Christmas? Check out Luke 2:1-21.