That old one about the Ford Taurus

The Ford Taurus is one of the best selling cars in Ford’s history. It was loved by customers and over two million of its first-generation model were sold. The Taurus was a success, launched to a fanfare, with numerous performance, design, safety, and reliability awards to its name.

Yet when the original five-year project was completed, the project manager was sacked because it was late by three months.

Next, was the second-generation redesign. But now, the new project manager had learned the lesson of his predecessor. So with project schedule as the most important criteria, team spirit diminished, vendor relationships suffered, and ultimately customers were left disappointed, “What did people ever see in this car in the first place?”

It might not be about being quicker (or cheaper). It’s difficult to define ‘better’. But undoubtedly, the strong drive behind every successful project is the illogical pursuit of becoming transformative.

Transformative is rarely straightforward or logical

Pre-orders for Microsoft’s X-Box Series X were basically sold out.

This is not surprising. The performance is faster, the graphics are gorgeous, and a game pass gives you easy access to hundreds of games. And, although you have to wait almost a year, it’s anticipated with excitement, sometimes a longing.

It’s transformative.

Of course, once you get the console, you’ll play around, hang out in the chat, and probably start to make plans about where to spend a few hours exploring the next time.

Sony, whose PlayStation 5 was released just two days later, could probably build a games console a lot faster. A team of PMs doing a functional decomposition and a work breakdown structure would probably estimate the duration at about 9 months. That’s where the critical path shows the minimum time necessary to complete the entire project.

But they’re not in the business of building games consoles. The games consoles are a window, a means, a chance to create.

If you run everything through a Gantt chart, you might end up with a logical plan, but the logical plan isn’t what enables passion or delight or change.

If you had double the time

What’s the difference between a three-week spec and a six-week one?

What would make a ninety-minute interview worthwhile? Or an observation worth four hours of effort? What would influence someone to spend three days in a workshop rather than one day?

“More of the usual” is the wrong answer.

In order to significantly increase the patience of your stakeholders or the time that you have, you’ll need to do more than book more meetings with more people and produce more paper.

Stakeholders don’t give double the time for more talk, a fatter document, or a prettier diagram.

Instead, they’re after a different dimension, a different journey, a different kind of analysis.

Rich picturing

Solving the wrong problem is ineffectual. Diving straight into designing the solution doesn’t have a high success rate, and it will wear you down.

Rich picturing is an efficient alternative.

When understanding a business challenge, or an operational issue, or a system problem, you can rich picture it.

Find the things that your stakeholders are concerned about and struggle with. The people, the views, the structures, the processes, the cultures, the impressions … and sketch it out, brain dump down all the relevant knotted components within. Then see the shopping list of parts that you need to dig into deeper.

You can do the same thing when you analyse your product, your way of working, or your next project. Find the essential elements (the situations) that matter to the organisation and to your stakeholders, and thread them together in a holistic way.

Always be experimenting

The ever-changing world that requires us to constantly be experimenting, to resist creating safety, is driven by the fact that the stakeholders we serve are curious, dissatisfied, or uncomfortable. Everyone else can largely be ignored and refuse to show interest.

The good news is that two amazing things we can leverage, big shifts in the way we can test feasibility with our stakeholders:

  1. It’s cheaper, quicker and easier than ever to create a prototype or a proof of concept. This is true for paper mock-ups, as well as for high-fidelity models or usable MVP’s.
  2. It’s cheaper, quicker and easier than ever to find the early champions, to engage with stakeholders who are seeking better.

This means each of us is in the hot seat to make a proposition. Shape a promise. Choose your dimensions, find the stakeholders who seek to change, and show up with your best work.

Call it an experiment if you want to.

But it’s project life.

The project life of engaging with what’s possible, and of mobilising stakeholders who want to make a change.

Always be seeking, empathising, investigating, solving, seeing, believing, and yes, experimenting.

The other way to read this is: always be failing.

Well, not always. Sometimes you’ll succeed. But a lot of the time, you’ll be failing. And that’s okay.