Strategy, Like Modesty, Is Typically Absent In Those Who Claim It
The unfortunate reality is that many organizations forego the formal strategy phase of a project, opting instead to jump headlong into a quagmire of their own making. Not only is this approach misguided and myopic, it’s stupid.
The decision to bypass an initial strategic analysis will echo its failures throughout the life of a project. And much like the myriad problems it causes, it is completely avoidable, and very much a waste of everyone’s time.
If You Haven’t Thought About What You’re Doing, You Have No Idea What You’re Doing
Stop me if you you’ve heard this one already:
A company walks into a bar and announces it will have a drink.
“Great,” the bartender responds, “what can I get you?”
The company thinks a few beats before answering. “You know, I hadn’t thought about that. I just know I want a drink.”
The bartender, let’s call him Mac, takes this in stride. “What do you normally drink?” he asks.
The company stares at him, dumfounded. Mac’s a pro, though, and isn’t phased. “What’s the last drink you remember having?”
Eyes on its shoes, the company responds, softly, “I’ll have what companies normally have.” The tone is flat though, and the words come out sounding more like a question than anything else.
“Well, what sort of drinks do you like, in general?” Mac is trying his best.
“I just know I’m having a drink,” the company trails off. “I don’t know why I have to think about it.”
Mac stands behind the bar, towel in hand, at a loss. “I’m not sure how I can help you, buddy.”
- END SCENE -
Sounds ridiculous, right? It is. Don’t be that company. And don’t make us be Mac. We’ll throw you out.
General Strategy For Strategy: Some Basics To Keep In Mind
- Before You Go Anywhere, Figure Out Where You Are
Sounds simple enough, but far too often organizations skip the assessment portion of a project and jump straight into the requirements gathering phase.
The effects of such a misstep can be devastating. Understanding your current state is essential for realizing your future vision. Whether you’re adding to existing assets or breaking ground on new ones, if you build on sand, your castles will crumble.
By not evaluating your current stock of products, services, processes, data, and relationships, you’re explicitly choosing ignorance. It’s not “forward thinking” to disregard the past, it’s careless. And it will surely bite you in the ass.
- Running In Circles Will Always Be Slower Than Walking A Straight Line
The difference between speed and velocity is direction (it’s true, the internet says so). “But Bluprint, we have deadlines and we don’t have time to sit around and not be building something.” Ahh, yes, the myth of urgency. Used as both carrot and stick, it’s one of the easiest ways to rationalize bad judgment. The trouble is, now you’re stuck with a tight timeline and crap decisions. Nice.
What’s worse, that hurry-up mindset is infectious. Bad decisions turn into bad habits, and fast. Before you know it, you’ll be spending more time stepping over your own mess than actually making progress. Plus, you’ll have fostered an organizational integrity as malleable and evasive as those original project deadlines turned out to be.
Take time to understand your needs. And make time to step back and check that your efforts are bringing you closer to where you want to be. Without direction, and without sound corporate self-awareness, a lot of your gross production will just be gross.
- “Why” Is The New “Because”
You are not six anymore. Ask why, and then ask it again. Don’t be afraid to demand clarity and context, at every level. If someone within your organization can’t defend what he is working on, you have an issue with that employee. If he can’t articulate the underlying goals and strategy of a project, you have an issue with your organization.
Don’t accept blind direction. Know what you’re working on, and why. Challenge your approach and methods to ensure they are sound. Speak up, speak often. Then, expect the same from everyone on your team.
- Don’t Just Amass Requirements, Curate Them
More is not better. In fact, most often more is much, much worse. Requirements should be concise and focused. They should be organized and easy to understand.
Define an organizational language. Develop a universal taxonomy. Hone your tone. Give your content authors and consumers the ability to have a shared conversation.
Understand how your organization creates content, organizes content, and digests content, keeping in mind that this will most likely differ by role, discipline, or business unit. Then, and only then, look for tools that will help you realize the processes and content needs you’ve already revealed.
- Different Requirements Are Different
Needs are not one dimensional. A single business case comprises requirements spanning many contexts and stakeholders. As such, it’s crucial to explicitly acknowledge and differentiate between types of requirements when assessing and documenting needs.
Don’t misunderstand, that doesn’t mean silos of requirements. The quickest way to crap software is to compartmentalize needs analysis.
True, business requirements are different from functional requirements, are different from user-facing requirements, are different from data requirements. And yet, legal requirements influence marketing requirements, influence architectural requirements, influence... (get it yet?). Everything is separate, but everything is connected.
Are we being pedantic? Yes.
Is this a crucial concept lost on most projects? You bet.
Is it easy to do? No, but we can help with that.
- Problems And Solutions Are Not The Same Thing
So don’t treat them as such. If you ever find yourself in a conversation that includes some variation of the following, run away.
“...we just need to put three new fields on this screen, that’s all the client wants...”
Leave the room; leave the the building (then come say hello).
Take time to absorb your challenges before entertaining solutions. The two are complements, to be sure, but if you fail to genuinely appreciate the former, you will never fully achieve the latter.
- The Tortoise And The Hare Were Both A**holes, Don’t Emulate Either
Unless you’re really into science fiction novels with everyone-wins endings, don’t approach project management expecting magic and surreal serendipity. Good work takes time. In fact, good work, when subjected to a bad PMO, takes even more time.
Of course, you are not powerless. You still have control over your timeline. But you need to be smart and flexible. Come to the table with your priorities in order. Understand what’s important and make sure your schedule reflects that.
“But everything is equally important.” No it’s not, try again.
Yes, you will have multiple priorities. And yes, there will be many dependencies. But that doesn’t mean your roadmap should be one big, steaming pile of mess.
Break deliverables down. Create parallel threads. Keep an eye on all the pieces, know their relative importance and impact, and move with fluidity.
Most importantly, adapt as you go along. Individual pieces may fall behind, but resources and priorities will ebb and flow. The only constant is change; and it’s your greatest asset.