The Value of Scale

April 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

I met with Sam recently after working for half an hour or so with her group on their studio project. It was apparent in their meeting that they were feeling like they were spinning their wheels without getting traction and getting anxious about the amount of time they had left in the semester to get through their process. I attempted to help them move forward and make them feel better about the amount of work they could do in the remaining time.

After sitting in with them Sam and I broke off and had our 1-on-1 meeting. It was apparent that she wanted to continue the group conversation in our discussion with the remaining time for the project being her main concern. After trying to boost her confidence by talking about the anxiety that all or most people and teams feel as large projects come to conclusion and explaining that the project is (shhhh…) more about the experience and journey than producing a groundbreaking solution to the challenge. Finally, I gave some advice, all based on the same concept: SCALE.

First, you have to scale the process to your time frame; it would be nice to spend weeks and weeks in each step, ensuring that due diligence was performed. On some projects you do not have that luxury though and you must move forward with imperfect information and/or intuitive decisions.

Next, scale your challenge to fit the available time. If you were given three weeks to address a problem involving pollution it would be unrealistic to start at the global, national, state or even city level. The neighborhood or a workplace could be a better fit. Similarly, tackling industrial pollution in a few weeks would be nearly impossible but addressing littering amongst a group of people feels much more possible. Choosing an appropriate scale for your problem can ensure that you can move through the process as required.

Lastly, we should scale the solution to fit the remaining time. If you have to choose a solution and have two weeks to attempt implementation, you should use time as a criteria when making your decision. With two weeks left it would be more reasonable to choose the strategy involving a small group rather than one involving many players or one requiring six steps as opposed to 66 steps.

Coaching Reflection

December 9, 2010 § 2 Comments

During the second half of this semester I acted as the project management coach for first year MFA students working through the Simplex creative problem solving process to address an issue concerning Herron. Team KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) was given the difficult task of tackling an issue related to smoking in or around the building.

I met with team KISS about once a week to offer feedback, insight or simply to participate in their meetings. As the team was nearing its last week on the project we met to discuss project management. Using three questions — What’s helping our process?, What’s hindering our process?, What are we learning from the process? — I tried to get KISS members to reflect on managing their project up to that point and how they would handle the last steps.

In the last meeting we had a good conversation and the team was able to articulate their learning the project management realm during the course of the project. As the project began they were eager to define a schedule with tight deadlines so that they could be done with the project on time. Working through the project they came to the realization that rather than following a strict timeline, the path they followed was more of a natural, organic route. They stated that there was a need for “soft” deadlines so that they could complete their work in the end and that it could be a hinderance and not in the project’s best interest to make a decision or move forward simply because their schedule dictated that they do so. (Certainly it is vital that the project met it’s final deadline.) The team felt that they spent an appropriate amount of time in each step, not too long or too short, and that being flexible and intuitive on decision making was necessary. I found it interesting that they also identified the possibility of having an official project manager for their next project.

I believe that I worked with the team well over the project term because I was able to build trust and a positive rapport with them. I often asked them how they were doing, inserted myself into the process and took time to encourage and offer positive comments whenever I saw an opportunity. This confidence with each other helped when it was time to talk about serious issues and to give honest comments; I was critical of aspects of their project at times but because we had a respect for one another I was able to share and they were receptive to my thoughts. I tried to keep my comments specific and to the point, in effort to not overwhelm or confuse them with unfocused or too much information. When it came time for our final meeting on project management I used the three process questions, with a focus on their schedule and project management, to frame our conversation and it worked very well and they were able to articulate their thoughts and learning as described above. These questions are invaluable and could be used at any point during a project to gain an understanding of team strengths, weaknesses, and learning. The tips for providing positive feedback are also highly valuable for communicating with others, and have application across many relationships.

Finally, I learned that I really enjoyed acting as an advisor to a project team. It was usually a highlight of my day in the studio when I sat with them to learn about their project and to talk about elements of it. Sometimes I could offer insight and other times I was able to learn something new from them.

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