To you, this may look only like a bulletin board covered with pattern envelopes and swatches.
But to me? It’s been a radically effective tool in an experiment I’ve named
The Getting Things Sewn
Project Management Improvement
I love projects. I’ve done loads of projects. I have the endless enthusiasm of a border collie for doing projects. Unfortunately, this does not make me a great project manager. So something had to change, and soon.
On a Saturday afternoon in late January, I took serious stock of where I was in getting my things sewn. I was very dissatisfied.
It took me ages to develop a well-fitting pants pattern. Months and months of trial and error did lead me to eventual success. But to get to that success I put many other sewing projects on hold, and that was frustrating. For quite a while I had wanted to perfect a core collection of patterns to see me through most occasions and activities in my life. It was time to get this core collection pattern project underway somehow–and fast.
On that Saturday afternoon in January I started a mind map. I wrote,
I want to make dramatic strides getting things sewn in 2020, and I don’t mean simply doing what I’m currently doing, only faster.
I want to dramatically increase
- keepers in my wardrobe
- how well and how many ways my wardrobe items can be combined
- my sense of what I can realistically accomplish
I want to dramatically reduce
- redundancy in my processes
- my pattern collection
- my fabric collection
- the length of time between acquiring supplies and wearing the garments I made
and, I wrote,
I want to eliminate
- wardrobe orphans
- my backlog
- placeholders in my wardrobe
On that Saturday afternoon I was looking at getting things sewn from a higher level: from a multiple-project management level. Sure, I’ve had multiple sewing projects before–who hasn’t? But I had never deliberately managed multiple sewing projects.
Why not? Because working from that higher level, consistently, hadn’t really occurred to me before!
Once I’d had this blinding glimpse of the obvious, that I could–that I needed to–deliberately run multiple sewing projects if I was to have a wardrobe that serves me, I was on a mission. No more spinning wheels; I would learn to spin plates.
I pulled a giant bulletin board and began to recall which patterns I was considering for my core collection. I didn’t plan on a particular number but ended up with nine to start with:
- a straight skirt
- a flared skirt
- a jacket
- a coat
- a knit top
- a blouse/shirt
- a sleeveless, collarless woven top
- a dress
Two of these patterns were already fitted and thoroughly tested: the blouse/shirt (Vogue 8772) and the pants (McCall’s 6901).
This left me with seven patterns to fit. For someone who had loudly and frequently proclaimed how much she disliked fitting and pattern alteration, this was a huge attitude shift . But again, one look at my handful of keeper wardrobe items and my sad little selection of placeholders waiting to be replaced at the earliest moment was all the convincing I needed.
By evening the Getting Things Sewn Project Management Improvement Daily Challenge was all set up, and it hasn’t changed very much in its first 68 days.
Here are the two rules of this core collection pattern-sewing project:
Every day I must work on at least one of these sewing projects.
I have to have contact with each of these projects at least once every 14 days.
I have two main tools that are reminders of my project every time I’m in the sewing room: the bulletin board and the clipboard.
I need visual reminders, and this bulletin board works great for that. Each pattern envelope has two Post-It notes on it:
- one records the dates I worked on that pattern
- one records the 14-day deadline by which I must come back to that pattern
At a glance I can see the past (when I worked on that pattern) and the future (the date by which I’m expected to return). These Post-Its remind me:
- You did it–keep up the good work.
- Don’t forget–you’re expected back here!
The clipboard records the same information, plus one more thing: the number of the day in this challenge. So, for example, yesterday (April 2) was Day #68. As I see the days go by and the record of my day-to-day work grows longer I really am encouraged in this small but significant way.
Seeing the upcoming dates on the clipboard conditions me to plan time to work on my daily challenge. There is this small but significant expectation that I will keep this promise to myself.
Here are things I did not make rules about:
- I have no rule about the amount of time I have to spend on the daily challenge, and I don’t record the time. (My hairdresser asked me once, “How long does it take to sew a [jacket, coat, dress, etc.]?” I answered, “How long does it take to fish?” I don’t know what time to count. And now you know why I don’t have a sewing business.)
- I don’t have a rule about what activity counts. I call many activities valid work: sewing muslins, evaluating fit, altering patterns, and sewing garments all qualify, obviously; but also researching fit problems and sewing techniques in print and online sources. If I am engaged in my project, I am meeting the daily challenge.
Each project is stored on a full-size, commercial sheet pan that is easy to pull out and return to my rolling baker’s rack.
So, after 68 consecutive days of working on nine sewing projects, how am I doing? My mind is buzzing with all the things I want to remember to say, because I’ve had so many insights into how I work, I hardly know where to begin. Here are a few observations:
- The 14-day rule has worked two ways for me. Most days when I update the Post-Its on the pattern envelope I think, “Okay, I have to get back to this at the latest by April 16.” But a couple of times I’ve noticed I’ve thought, “Thank goodness–I don’t have to think about this again until April 16!”
- From one day to the next the challenge of the Daily Challenge has varied. One day the challenge is to try to understand and apply a fitting concept. Another day the challenge is to clarify some matter of style–how much flare do I want in this skirt? Another day I may be staring at photos of myself in a muslin and evaluating the fit.
And every day my challenge is to decide, decide, decide:
- Do I make another muslin?
- Is this a good fit?
- Am I ready to sew the garment, or should I make a wearable test first?
- Should I change to a different pattern?
In the past I now see how much time I wasted wondering rather than deciding. I would wonder whether I should work on this pattern or that one, whether I would look better in this style of garment or that. Many projects would be started and then languish.
In this Getting Things Sewn Project Management Improvement Daily Challenge I have “pre-decided” some things that have saved me countless hours of pointless wondering:
- I will work on these nine patterns
- I will do something on at least one every day.
- I will keep each of these projects in the active category by working on each within a 14-day period.
These rules are giving me the structure I need while also giving me the flexibility I want.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have my Daily Challenge requirement to meet for today, Day 69. I have a coat muslin waiting, and I am not going to break that promise to myself!