Like many people, the lockdowns have afforded me the opportunity to do a fair amount of DIY. Nothing major, but lots of little tasks that I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages. One of those was ordering and assembling a sideboard. I was talking to my wife about it when she pointed out that I was treating it like a project. She was right. And I approach almost everything as if it was a project (doesn’t everyone?). So, here I am writing about assembling furniture like a project manager.

Things were initiated with an idea. We had inherited some tea sets and ornaments last year and we had nowhere to put them. We didn’t want to keep them in boxes so we did a review of our current storage and discussed some options on how we could increase it. The obvious choice was another sideboard in the living room.

Then came the requirements. Easy bits first – dimensions and size constraints in the room and estimating the size of sideboard needed with a bit to spare (always have contingency!). Then the trickier bits like number of doors, drawers, and colour scheme, followed by ‘nice to have’ things like having legs tall enough that it was easy to hoover under.

A bit of stakeholder engagement on my part turned that ‘nice to have’ into a ‘must-have’ (even though I do all of the hoovering, just saying). It turned out that having tall legs was a constraint that made it quite tricky to meet the other requirements. After looking at literally thousands of options online over a period of weeks, we eventually found one that ticked all of the boxes (and we then double-checked our criteria just to make sure we hadn’t changed our minds on anything).

Then I read the reviews. “Good sideboard but almost impossible to assemble”; “Hired 2 different handymen and neither of them could do it”; “High quality but took days to put together”. Great.

We reconsidered our options. We had a plan B, but we actually really liked Plan A and we were quite invested in it now. With the optimism of the project manager, I was convinced I could do the assembly so we ordered it. After all, preparation is the key to success so hopefully two months of planning and researching would result in a 1-day project.

«Project Go-Live»

Screws

When the big day came, I was ready! I knew the risks and I had a plan. Any mistakes might mean I had to take it apart and start again, but I started on Saturday morning so that I could continue on Sunday if I needed too. I laid out every single piece (c300 + panel pins) and checked them against the instructions to make sure I had everything. Then I checked them again. I read through the instructions once (24 pages) and then I read them through again, while at the same time laying out all of the pieces on the floor in the order that I thought I would need to put them together.

As soon as I started I realised why the assembly was difficult; it was the dependencies. There were lots of near-identical pieces with very minor differences, e.g. a groove or a hole in a slightly different place, and the instructions weren’t always clear on which one to use. So I double-checked every instruction and I tried to visualise how the next pieces would fit together. I also tried very hard not to let my attention wander, although that was easier said than done. As most people who have been on a call with me know, I have two young, noisy, and energetic dogs who are always keen to help (in this instance by either barking at the partially assembled sideboard or chewing screwdrivers).

Six and a half hours later, via a couple of mistakes that I had to correct, I had a completed sideboard and a happy key stakeholder. One of the doors wasn’t hanging exactly right (I still need to fix that) but I was out of steam for the day. I tidied away all of my tools, put the packaging in the recycling, and sat down to relax.

If you’ve made it to the end of this article – and congratulations if you have – then you may be thinking that you spotted a lot of project management terms in there (initiation, planning, risks, dependencies, constraints, options, stakeholders, contingency) and you would be quite right. There are even a few allusions, some psychology, and a post go-live issue. And that is exactly how I thought about it and described it as I was doing it.

Because I assemble furniture like a project manager.