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Out of defeat came some useful learning

Updated: May 3, 2020

Life’s so unpredictable

Life and business are unpredictable. I predicted an All Blacks win on Saturday night and didn’t predict I’d end up spending the later part of the evening reading about project management.

I simply gave up half-way through the second half sensing total defeat. Wanting relief from the suffering, I wandered into my home office. In despair, I picked up the first book to hand.

I’m glad I did.

No projects

So a shout out to Shane Hastie, a long-standing agile advocate. We met a week or so ago for a coffee and chat. And he gave me a copy of #no projects: A Culture of Continuous Value, written by him and Evan Leybourn.

Here’s the basic idea. Projects give us a warm feeling of certainty and predictability, but we’re deluding ourselves. The world and what customers want is changing so fast, projects can’t keep up. And lots of projects fail or don’t deliver anyway.

Vision and outcomes with short-term targets

Projects may deliver what was planned, but that may well be an output, not an outcome that adds any value. So where to now?

Abandon projects altogether? Well, not if you’re building a bridge. Once you’ve poured the concrete you can’t change the design. And you’ll still get a bridge at the end: a pretty solid output.

But for the rest of us living in our VUCA world, it’s hard, if not impossible, to predict what work we should be doing in six months time. But we need a direction, a vision, a purpose. “What you do know are the long-term business outcomes that you are trying to achieve and the short-term measures and targets that define success.” And we need to continually monitor these short-term measures and targets. See what’s working; learn from failures; and continually prioritise and re-prioritise.

All a bit messy, but in line with one of our favourite mantras: Life’s messy: get over it. Since Saturday night I’ve read more of #no projects. So thanks again Shane and Evan. But I wish I’d read it in happier times.


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