Posts Tagged ‘problems’

Project fogs are maddening. They are:

  • Pervasive;
  • Sensed by all;
  • Capable of frustrating excellent plans;
  • Have broad impact on project performance;
  • Complex and, like all things complex, require reams and reams of reports to define thoroughly making it virtually impossible to understand on paper. Nothing specific jumps out;
  • Unable to be resolved with a quick fix;

What does a project manager do? The answer is simple and can be stated in a paradox, “Embrace the project fog.” To do this the fog must first be understood.

When a project starts “things happen” and the fog begins to roll in. It shows up at boundaries taking the form of technical problems along with the environment and key stakeholders being confused, undirected, uncooperative, unsupportive or even antagonistic. The project manager is faced with the challenge of getting the project moving again while staying within the triple constraint of scope, time, and budget.

Brittle Plans

Usually, no plan is perfect. The reason is the plan is an abstract and a distillate of the planning process. It contains what the team thinks will work based on certain assumptions and is drawn from a larger universe of possible solutions.

Within project constraints the wisdom of the team is forged into the knowledge-based plan.

There can be alternatives built in but no plan is omniscient. So, things happen and the plan can become brittle and break. This is why toy makers have children play with the final product. A two year old can quickly find limits and defects in a product developed by a room full of engineers.

The Solution: Embrace the Fog

To disperse project fogs the project manager and team must embrace it. Embracing the project fog means dealing with it on its own terms. It means finding something that is equally pervasive, can be felt by all, and has a broad, positive impact across the difficult boundary. The solution has some other characteristics. It is:

  • Readily implementable;
  • Truly simple, i.e., dispels most or all of the fog by resolving all the conflicts and uncertainties;
  • Ultimately easily documented, and;
  • Seen by all as being a realistic solution;

The solution is the fog’s equal in terms of appearance and a countermanding positive performance. It is the team’s wisdom focused into a new or modified deliverable and/or process commonly called the workaround.

Yes, the word that gets beaten and abused – viewed as something just about anyone can do so, hop to it and git ‘er done. The fact is a truly good workaround that satisfies everyone from conceptual engineer to maintenance technician could be quite sophisticated and frequently a work of art.

The workaround’s simplicity can be viewed by the uninitiated as simple-minded.

I doubt anything could be further from the truth. Why? There is no linear, detailed, step-by-step path to the solution. The successful workaround reflects a power arising from and distributed across the diverse team, not resident in any one person or thing. Changing the team members or distracting them with too much work can disrupt the dynamic and turn off the ability to embrace the project fog.

So, when confronted with project fog embrace it! Pull your nose out of the details, put the team in charge, turn them loose, buy the coffee, soda, and pizza. Let them create the simple, documentable, durable solution. Watch them work their magic!

A recent article in NYT  talked about how kids are wired for distraction by always being online . Every Gadget they use is connected to the internet and the kids are always distracted.  Thinking about this, I thought it is not just the kids even we grown-ups do this.

The next time you see someone with an iphone, you can see every few minutes, he checks his email or something on the iphone. Yes, these gadgets are distractions, but there is a deep underlying problem than this.

Each one of us wants distractions and these tools are just another avenue for our distractions.  We want distractions because we want to escape from things which are bothering us like laundry, doing the vacuum, taking the kids out, unfinished work at office etc.  We all know that the easiest way is to go head-on with what is bothering us and resolve it, but the great majority of us flee and engage ourselves in distractions. So, how do we fix this?

Next time, you feel anxious and want to go for a distraction, notice it and then take on positive distractions like watching a movie or a funny video and once done, sit quietly with a paper and pen (ok, iphone is fine, too) and write down what bothers you. Most of the time, it is just some unfinished tasks,  Next to the task write down what will be the next clear step you will take to resolve this. Resolve to look at it on a certain day. When that day comes, look at your list and take action. That’s it.  You can do this mentally too but writing down seems to be effective, since when the bothering thought comes to your mind, you can remind yourself that you have already written it down and will take action on the appointed day.

Choose to face the problem and use the time previously used for distractions for more enjoyable tasks.

Flexible Focus #27: In search of solutions

by William Reed on November 11, 2010

The Rubik’s Cube is a world class puzzle, invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture, Ernő Rubik. Hundreds of millions of cubes have been sold worldwide, making it the world’s bestselling puzzle.

Each face of the puzzle pivots independently, making it possible to mix and match the colors. With 8 corners and 12 edges, apparently there are billions of permutations possible in this 3x3x3 puzzle. Once the colors are mixed, this puzzle can seem almost impossible to restore to its original condition, in which each side contains only one color. Though this puzzle has probably driven millions of people to distraction, the Rubik’s Cube® official website also has a loyal global following for what it calls the Rubiverse, with videos of the world championships, world records, games, solutions, photos, events, Rubik’s TV, and even a Rubik’s Cube® iPhone App!

Known as the frustration cube by those who spend hours twisting and turning the faces in vain, apparently it is possible for the average person to solve in about 10 minutes, by following a series of steps that fit the cube’s logic, rather than random trial-and-error. There are many videos online which show kids ranging from 3 to 6 years old solving the Rubik’s Cube puzzle in times ranging from less than a minute to under two minutes. Amazingly, the world record ranges in an average of a solution in 5 to 8.52 seconds!

Lessons in flexible focus

The resemblance to a 3D Mandala Chart is striking, not only in appearance, but also in the number of possible combinations made possible with flexible focus.

Flexible focus is fast moving. The reason it is worth watching videos of high-speed solutions to the Rubik’s Cube, is that you see the mind and fingers in fast and fluid motion. Too often we become mired in our problems. Our thinking becomes stuck in slow and repetitive motion, and the body reflects it with frustrated and ineffective inaction. You are more likely to find a solution when you speed up your thinking and get into a flow state.

Flexible focus is physical. Puzzle solvers seem to be in constant motion. They find the solution with their fingers, with no separation of thought and action. One of the best ways to get engaged in the search for a solution is to get physically involved. Two activities which are particularly beneficial to problem solving are walking and writing. Walking changes your perspective and gets the blood moving. Writing gets your fingers moving and your mind engaged.

Flexible focus is multi-dimensional. High-speed puzzle masters keep the cube rotating to be able to see the process unfold from multiple angles. Although the A-Chart is a 3×3 flat matrix, it need not be two-dimensional in your mind. Moreover, you can achieve a new level of depth by expanding to the B-Chart view, with 64 cubes that can be integrated in combinations that might otherwise escape notice.

Flexible focus is fun. Rather than getting bogged down in an inflexible view of a problem, why not approach it as a puzzle? The challenge of finding a solution becomes easier when you enjoy the process. When you are faced with a problem, don’t let it hold you back, let the games begin!

From logical to artistic solutions

While the puzzle provides perspective on problem solving, the point of departure for the Mandala Chart is that in business and in life we are seldom seeking a single solution. Sometimes we have to work within logical, legal, or technical parameters. But frequently we are free to come up with solutions which are a matter of aesthetics or preference. Instead of just one solution, we have many. Instead of either/or, we have both/and.

Don’t let the simple framework of the Mandala Chart fool you. Approach it with a Mandala mindset of flexible focus and it becomes a tool which is as exciting and engaging as the puzzle. Even more so, because the solutions lead to greater freedom and flexibility in life.

Reading and thinking about the Mandala Chart will get you started. But to engage the Mandala mindset, you need to write down and sketch your ideas, then put them into practice. Regardless of artistic talent, simply illustrating your thoughts can set your visual imagination in motion. It can also help trigger visual metaphors, which can clarify your thinking and improve your ability to communicate ideas. I explore this further in a separate article entitled, Sketch Your Ideas. It all begins by putting your pen to paper.

Taking the Quantum Leap

Most of time we barely scratch the surface in searching for solutions. Ask people to come up with a list of possible solutions to a problem, and you will find that most of the time it is a very short list indeed. A band-aid solution may temporarily cover the problem, but not cure it.

Einstein said that, “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We need to take a Quantum Leap to a new level of thinking if we want to come up with a solution.

Get the elements of the equation on paper. Then like the high-speed puzzle, twist, turn, and manipulate them in all kinds of permutations. Get yourself into a flow state and watch the solutions emerge. The subconscious mind is smarter than we think. It even works while we sleep, which is why solutions sometimes emerge after sleeping on a problem. Mix and match the elements, and let the creative process work its magic.

As a reminder to engage your thinking at a different level, download a copy of the SEARCH FOR SOLUTIONS Mandala, and start putting your pen to paper.