Using the Watershed Model to Manage Projects

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When I finished college, I took a class at the Navy Yard in Project Management. It is the only Project Management course I have ever had and it was enough. They told us that the Navy was the first one to use CPM/PERT on the Polaris missile program in the late 1950’s. I believed them because I liked working for the Navy. The Navy also claimed to be the first one to use computers in World War II and I bought into that one, too.

Since the Navy paid for my masters degree who am I to argue?

The class also taught us how to use Project Management skills for both IT and construction projects. This is what I liked about the class. They gave us confidence to do Project Management in either environment. Only later did I learn to use Project Management software tools to control my IT projects. When I built my house, I employed the project management skills I had learned from the Navy. I did spot checks and made modifcation requests along the way to the final product. I really was blessed to have taken this class.

I was a dual Urban Planning and MIS major in college so I could apply Project Management to both arenas. Maybe this is why the watershed model made so much sense to me for both IT and construction. It was much later that I started using the Rapid Prototyping model for software engineering project management. In systems engineering, they teach a circular method of project management. I always find this harder to justify than the good old watershed model. Today, software packages like Microsoft Project let us do all we need in planning a project and leveling resources. I think the instructors in my Navy Project Management class were very wise to have taught us the dual nature of Project Management.

Some years later in a GWU law class called Defense Program Management they taught us that you develop any number of projects using the right tools like software. I became aware that I was interchanging project management principles for construction with IT and engineering. It is great that one discipline can apply to so many other disciplines when you understand the underlying facts. I think I will cherish the fact that the only Project Management class I ever had to take was the Navy version.

The graduate schools just didn’t have the same impact that this Navy class had. They marched senior project managers out before us and they told us where we would make mistakes. They also told us plenty of war stories about famous DOD projects they had worked on. This was very valuable. It was even more exciting to apply the principles once I became a manager. I realize how lucky I was to have such good training at the right time in my career when I was just starting. I wrote many systems and used the Project Management theories they taught me when I was in Washington agencies.

Now that I look back on it, I was young and needed the guidance. When asked to perform software project management, it was no problem learning the techniques. I usually turned in a project management report with my weekly status report to my boss. Now I do the same thing on a monthly basis and I use the software to manage large construction and IT projects. The dual nature of the watershed model give us a way to handle both these types of projects at the same time. I think anyone planning a project of either type can benefit from the type of training I received from the US Navy.