About being sensible

Missives from Hothouse Design

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Why some projects get stuck before they start

Deirdre Wilson – Friday, June 30, 2017   


Why some projects get stuck before they startOne of my great delights in life is having a really honest conversation. The honesty comes is when either person can say what they really feel without fear. It is in this context that I can tell someone that they are an idiot and they read affection in every syllable even though we both have acknowledged that they just did something really stupid.

One fabulously honest conversation recently revealed an interesting reason to not get started on projects. My tell-it-like-it-is friend and I were struggling with a content calendar for a client and had made some breakthroughs in what steps we should take to get it moving and have it make sense. My friend turned to me and said that she often doesn't want to start projects because the content and resources are too big a mess. The weight of the job of tidying everything up to make it workable is enough to cause paralysis.

I totally got it because I have felt the same paralysis many times. I think it is a common problem in small business where it is really difficult to be well organised. Whilst I'm sure it is difficult to be well organised in local government jobs, in big business, in retail, in any work area, but the difference with small business is that most business operators are wearing so many different hats and at the same time are under time pressures from clients or customers.

It is when you are time poor and stretched in all directions that you most need to be super organised. But that's a really tough ask when you are doing your headless chook dance. No wonder so many 'systems' for being organised have sprung up – think GTD, Marie Condo, Pomodoro Timers etc.

What made the difference for me was a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist explaining to me that stress is not knowing how to meet all the obligations I think that I have – the key is that some of those obligations are self imposed. His solution was to write a list of everything I think I have to do and work out where to start. So blindingly simple.

His advice resonated with an embarrassingly large clang because it matched some problem solving workshops I had delivered where I described a problem as being made up of lots of little problems that are related to each other. By solving one of those smaller problems you will kill off entirely or reduce the size of some of the other small problems and get rapid problem shrinkage – and that's what we all want: rapid problem shrinkage! So I already knew what to do but couldn't see it.

I have learnt that the overwhelming mountain of mess that some projects start with can be cleared up reasonably easy by starting with list making. I make a list of everything I have, everything I am missing, everything I need to know at this stage and then start asking questions and allocating tasks to others. And I know that there will be more to add to the lists but at least I feel better, can make a start on the project and have a clearer head to work out priorities, deadlines and identify the critical path through the project.

I was glad that my friend was honest with me and shared her blockage because it shone a harsh light on a couple of my projects I have avoided so well that I had almost forgotten about them!

Of course there is a moral to this story and it is that if you want your project to keep moving then you need to remember the old GIGO rule from the early days of computing: garbage in, garbage out. Supply a mess to your suppliers and you will get a tidied up mess back but it will still be a mess because clear thinking can't happen in the midst of a mess. GIGO – still valid.

This post is by Deirdre Wilson, Director of Hothouse Design in Melbourne Australia.

I am lucky enough to have great conversations with some really interesting, clever and honest people. Mostly we talk about life and human nature and occasionally we talk about business. So I am sharing some of those conversations, or at least the topic and the conclusion. Please join me in the conversation by commenting.

Who am I? I am one of the owners of Hothouse Design. We are really good at helping people explain stuff. Sometimes that stuff has to be explained over and over again – either because the audience keeps changing while the content remains the same, or the content changes but the audience remains the same. And we are develop robust processes that allow things to be done over and over again.

By combining being good at explaining stuff with being good at developing robust processes we end up being a really good fit for people who need to explain stuff over and over again. Like comms people on infrastructure projects, or trainers working in public transport or engineers designing roads.

Basics. Know what they are. Get them right. Repeat.

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