I don’t suppose John Lennon had Christmas dinner in mind when he wrote Come Together, the opening track of the Abbey Road album. But it’s the song that I found myself singing all the way through the process of cooking our festive feast (my turn …) this year.
The challenge is to get all the food, piping hot, onto all the plates at exactly the same time – an unreachable goal, of course, but an ideal that we strive to attain in the true tradition of Man’s enquenchable desire to control the natural world.
I tend to think of cooking Christmas dinner as a problem of project management. It’s all about planning, using estimates, making assumptions and peeling sprouts. It’s a situation in which I try to apply a touch of the old Critical Path Analysis, mostly unconsciously, but always with it in the back of my mind.
I remember first finding out about CPA (as we exponents routinely refer to it) in an edition of Reader’s Digest (still, by the way, the largest circulating magazine in the world), when I was a boy. In some respects, Reader’s Digest was our equivalent of the smartphone, as many people would be seen with their heads bowed, swiping through its A5 pages, oblivious to the world around them.
It featured all sorts of interesting stuff like updates on space technology (asking questions such as “Will Man ever walk on the Moon?“), “The Challenge of the Desert” and (a regular favourite) “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power“. One of the most popular strands was an analysis of what happens in a car accident. In the cover below, you’ll see the 1957 story headline “Slow Motion Picture of Death on the Road“.
Articles on this specific theme were included very often, providing readers with a gory, millisecond-by-millisecond analysis of what happens to “Gerald” (say) as his cracking forehead begins to pass through the ever-so-slowly shattering windscreen. There’s an example of this kind of thing in this classic reprint, the original published even before my time.
But I digress.
One such fascinating piece was about Critical Path Analysis, and it included all kinds of thought-provoking advice on how to plan the timings of a project so that everything “comes together” on time. And now, of course, it comes in so useful in situations such as cooking Christmas dinner.
I got up especially early on the day, and began planning my approach. Clearly getting the turkey underway early enough was of “critical” importance. So I immediately built that event into my CPA plan. Next I analysed the time differentials involved in peeling the potatoes, parsnips and swede, allowing a suitable period for key elements such as the relative time:space in the oven:temperature variation quotient.
In a matter of a few hours I was able to see that the project was coming together really well. I allotted some fast tracking variables to creating the gravy pathway, prior to building in an Activity-on-node diagram, showing my revised critical path schedule, along with total float and critical path drag computations. With the project planning nearly complete, I prepared a PERT chart insert to ensure that the pudding arrived at exactly the right time.
With all planning documentation, drag factor diagrams and PERT scheduling completed successfully by 1.00pm, I began unwrapping the turkey.