Two hundred years ago, for Lewis and Clark engaging advisors made all the difference.
In our second installment of “What historic expeditions teach us about project success” we look back just over two hundred years ago to 1803-1804. With sponsorship from US President Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark travelled across North America to map a route to the Pacific Ocean. With proper training, clever thinking and access to needed resources the expedition succeeded in achieving its goals, and in doing so set the stage for the opening of the Pacific Northwest.
Lets look at their expedition through our Project Success Lens:
1) Goals are clearly defined: Lewis and Clark had a primary goal; to secure US sovereignty over the lands before the Spanish and French did so. They also had a number of supporting goals including: 1) engage and study the Native American peoples living in the West; 2) study the plants, animals, geology and terrain of the region; and 3) find a direct passage by water to the Pacific Ocean.
They documented over 100 animal species and over 170 plants along with information on distance, minerals and geology of the area. Perhaps more importantly, they were able to establish relations with the Native American people of the region because in doing so they began to secure sovereignty over the region.
2) Sponsorship is committed and governance is clear: At the request of President Jefferson, Lewis and Clark were funded by Congress with $2,500. They had the sponsorship, training and resources they needed to begin, but once they began they were on their own to succeed.
3) Risks are anticipated and managed: Jefferson knew the journey was to be strenuous and would need a lot of skill. He sent Lewis to study medicinal cures and ensured he was educated in the use of navigational instruments. Lewis embraced the education because he knew it would prove critical for the journey. In preparation, Lewis consulted maps and books in order to learn everything he could about the risks they would face. Knowing that they would meet native people, Lewis and Clark brought goods to trade in exchange for navigational help, food and horses. History has shown that not all expedition leaders are so open to being educated, nor do they anticipate the need for local guides and supplemental resources.
4) Team is engaged and suited for the task. Knowing the trek would be strenuous, Jefferson assembled a team of U.S. Army volunteers that were eager to study and explore the West under their captains Lewis and Clark. The team proved to be a good choice as they faced difficulty and some hostile groups.
5) Plans are clear and realistic: Lewis and Clark had a goal to reach the Pacific, but no map or route to follow. They knew that there would be many obstacles including rapids, mountains and tough terrain and so they established that they would use the help of the native people to support navigation. By engaging native advisors Lewis and Clark were able to gain access to horses, supplies, assistance crossing rivers and local knowledge on preferred routes.
It seems that two hundred years ago using advisors made all the difference for Lewis and Clark. Their journey of discovery was new to newcomers to America, but the uncharted land was well known to the native peoples. By engaging them Lewis and Clark received the resources they needed to succeed on their journey and they began building relationships that would support maintaining sovereignty in the region.
That said, there is an interesting side story of caution. Apparently, one of the native groups Lewis and Clark engaged was less friendly. Seeing that the expedition was in need of assistance they attempted to take advantage of Lewis and Clark by demanding their boats as payment. Without the boats the expedition would be over. Fortunately, Lewis and Clark had kept their options open so they dis-engaged, moved on, and found a more suitable group of native people to act as advisors. Proceed with caution.