It started out as a routine workshop during the early stages of a short, intense project with a “hard” deadline. After a while it became clear to me that nobody other than myself knew how to deliver the solution within the challenging timeframe.
The analyst who represented the customer and the project manager appointed by the software company, both good and competent people, were aligned in their desire to set off down the wrong road – one with a deadly hidden cliff at its end. I had visited such places before and knew of the dangers. When faced with unrealistic targets it is surprising how many professionals rush towards the perceived safety of the waterfall, only to discover too late its treacherous nature.
The business analyst expressed a view that seemed to be borne out of a clear set of orders that she had received: “We must deliver X quantity of these, complete and fully working, by date Y”. The project manager took a similarly premature view of delivery but with a slightly different perspective. “We need to discuss the project schedule in detail so that we can set realistic delivery dates”.
As is so often the case for such projects, the gap between the customer’s required delivery date and the supplier’s proposed completion point was massive. This is a common problem in the world of Information Technology. Schedules are constructed at the outset using wishful thinking and incomplete knowledge of the system to be built. This is why Agile approaches were developed.
The mismatch in expectations results from the lack of a detailed understanding of the customer’s requirements. The solution is simple. Working collaboratively with the customer, learn as much as possible in the shortest time about what needs to be delivered. Do this by implementing a single, carefully chosen set of user interactions during workshops involving small numbers of key participants. Aim to complete all of the required data mappings during the process.
And now to the crux of the matter. How should one influence the course of events based on a certain knowledge of what needs to be done? I am not a control freak. But sometimes it is necessary to persuade people that you know a better way forward. Rather than imposing my view on those others involved, I invest time in explaining why my path should be considered for adoption.
The Knot Garden believes that it sometimes makes sense to lead others gently but firmly in a certain direction. But this should only ever be done with their willing co-operation. In this way we can still move forward in a collaborative fashion, with individuals feeling that their contribution is valued, rather than by the application of brute force. We leave the business of controlling others to the Wellingtons who lead an army and must defeat a Napoleon on the battlefield.
This principle opens the door to a wider discussion of the important but profound question of control. We will explore the subject in depth over time but for will be content to reflect on a simple proposition. As The Knot Garden puts it, learn to control yourself completely first and then resolve to control events only to the extent that is necessary. Do not seek to control others but rather help them to see other ways of reaching their goals.