Fast, faster, fastest. This would be
the approach we have to take sometimes; paring down our methods and
our intentions so that we achieve the greatest possible results in
the shortest possible time frame. This kind of delivery looks good
even though we cannot sustain it for long. All that paperwork does
have a use, even if its not in the immediate delivery of a specific
When paring down, I take a page from
The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by
Carl Sagan. It’s a good read, and a good bit more accessible than
the weighty tomes which inspired it. It also, unlike the later
texts, contains a number of purely practical techniques for dealing
with the extraneous stuff the world throws at us. In this case, an
The idea is simple. Take a small sheet
of paper (I use 4×6 note cards). Take a look at whatever strange and
complex problem presents itself. In my life, the problems mostly
have to deal with negotiating constrains in time, resources, and
scope while maintaining adequate focus on people, process, and
technology. Solve whatever problem you have in the space provided.
If you cannot, odds are good you don’t have an answer yet.
For example, today I built a critical
path for a deployment project on a napkin. The small space forced me
to focus in on real, tangible milestones. Since I write in pen, it
forced me to ponder exactly what I put, where, and why. The first
unholy mess of a path suggested I probably needed to do some more
thinking. The second, on the back of co-worker’s napkin which I
snatched when he turned away, looked like it might work.
This is not a communication technique.
Yes, project management’s first, last, and strongest contributions
usually revolve around communication. Rather, this quick sanity
check provides us with a tool for checking our own reasoning before
we go out and make fools of ourselves.
You can, though, use this trick to
refine a message before sending it. We’ve all composed those long,
rambling emails which just go on, and on, and on without delivering
any real message. The next time you find yourself about to hit
send on a message taking up more than one screen, stop. Haul
out an envelope and see if you can express your idea to yourself in a
little more succinct fashion.
Oh, and one other thing. If you have a
chance, set aside your envelope for a day or two, then go back to it.
Ideas which seem brilliant and clear in the heat of the moment
sometimes grow a little fuzzy with some sober reflection.