CXO

Some advice on taking advice

Many project management blogs, including this one, talk a lot about what to do in a specific set of circumstances. We share "tricks of the trade", ranging from organizational tips to silly little things like using colored dots to mark out where we want to put an outlet or network drop. These kinds of tips help in a lot of ways. They help to make those of us who write feel like we know a few things. They also rarely apply to the specific situations people find themselves in.

Huh? Didn't I just say that these tips help? Well, yes. They do. Kind of.

Lets take the example of using a hand-crossbow to loft a lead-line down a short warehouse space (or any decently long run). The idea's pretty simple. We wrap the end of a short quarrel in a big wad of duct tape. Attach a nylon cord just under the wad. Load, point, shoot. Try not to hit anything important on the other side. Presto, we have a run whipped out in no time flat.

This simple technique relies on at least, in no particular order:

  1. Access to a hand crossbow
  2. Understanding of how it works
  3. Hand-eye coordination
  4. Willingness to accept risk
  5. Having a straight line for the run
  6. The run cannot have long protrusions or be too cluttered with hangers

Now, this is a simple trick which involves a basic application of practical geometry to accomplish a relatively unsophisticated goal. Imagine how much more complex the circumstances surrounding any of the tricks we outline, from using my beloved multi-colored dots to ideas about time management and organization, would look if we wrote them out in a list. Such a list would include political factors, relative levels of communication skill between the among participants, educational achievements, assessments of learning methods applicable to various people on the team, analysis of the physical environment and how it will change over the period during which the advice will come into use, etc.

Change one aspect of the circumstance surrounding the advice and it may become completely worthless. Worse, if someone tries to follow the advice they could end up either physically injured (e.g., the fellow who shot himself through the hand with his newly purchased hand crossbow) or in a professional bind. Sometimes the physical injury is the easier of the two to deal with.

That's why I don't give out advice if I can help it.

However, when I receive advice, I try to get the giver to explain to me exactly what circumstances lead up to the solution they describe. Who were they working with? In what capacity? To what degree were they accountable for the political fallout? How much of time did the trick save on the front-end that they had to make up in the back end? Were they even there for the back end? Was the trick useful with executives, other consultants, or factory workers who didn't want to have anything to do with IT in the first place?

Anything less, and I'm not doing myself or the poor person who gave me the advice justice.

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