Don’t over complicate things

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” (Confucius)

For the last 15 years my primary job at work has been Project Management. One could argue that for 5 to 10 years before that I was doing the same thing, just without the title. I also spent 5 years as a process improvement specialist, helping people find ways to do their jobs with fewer needless steps. One thing I have learned in over two decades of project management and process improvement is that any task can be broken down into smaller chunks that are easy to understand and execute. And, once you do that, all jobs can seem much easier.

Back in the 1990s I was asked to head up a team to update all of the computers in our building. I’m dating myself a bit, but we were installing a new version of Windows (maybe 3.1, maybe newer, I don’t remember). Back then we didn’t have the tools to push updates over the network, so updating the 1,000+ computers in the building meant that we had to visit each computer and start a process that would take upwards of an hour.

At that time few of us had ever been trained on formal project management. There were a large number of things that had to come together in order for this project to complete on time and on budget. Several organizations had to work together, some technical issues needed to be solved, there was testing to do and so on.

One afternoon I gathered a team of people together in a conference room with a roll of masking tape, a stack of index cards, and a marker. We started just naming all the things that had to be done, and writing them one to a card. As we went along we taped them to the wall and put them in the order that they needed to complete, and used other strips of tape to show dependencies. Soon we had the plan all laid out. As I said, none of us had any formal PM training, so this was done on the fly. When we started the meeting there was much trepidation about how we’d be able to get it all done. When we finished, we had a plan.

The reason the creation of that plan was successful was that we broke it down into smaller pieces. Each card represented something that someone knew how to do, and knew how long it would take.

A couple of years ago we were trying to get purchase orders processed for a project. They always seemed to take more time than we expected, and it seemed we were always finding out new “secret” steps to the process that we hadn’t known before. I decided to employ the same technique I had nearly 20 years before to uncover what was happening. This time we used a white board, but otherwise we did the same thing. We listed all the steps in the process that were done by the various groups. When we finished we had a picture that we could share with our management to show them how things got approved, and where the bottlenecks were in the timing. After that, we still had some problems with orders, but when we did we knew right where we were in the process and could address them.

This next principle talks about making things seem easy to correct for those that we lead. The truth is that this works because most problems are easy to correct. That is especially true for us because we have the advantage of additional experience, and an overall view of the system. Those we lead might be doing this for the first time, or making their first sets of mistakes. Since we’ve already let them know that we have made mistakes in the past, it seems only natural now to share with them how we solved them.

When we make things easy for the other person to correct, we aren’t waving a magic wand. We are simply helping them to see what we had already discovered in our hard work earlier.

So, when we are looking to help others to succeed, where maybe they have failed in the past, let’s remember

Principle 29 – Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.

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