Papyrus, White Boards, Glibness, and Cerebral Knowledge
Category : Project Management
Glibness (n): fluent but insincere or shallow.
I once consulted to a high-tech engineering company outside of Pittsburgh. The engineers had attended one of my project management seminars a short time prior, and asked that I come in and do a bit of coaching.
One of the best students in the class asked for some help with his project. He was about half-way through the project and looking for some guidance to help him finish. We met, exchanged pleasantries, and got to work. I went through my usual checklist and inevitably came to the precedence diagram (a diagram showing the sequence and flow of the project work). “Of course I have one”, he responded (as I had stressed this topic in the class).
“Excellent, let’s pull it out so I can see it”, I replied.
“Well… it’s in my head”, he responded.
It took a half-second for me to recover (I didn’t expect that response), put a smile back on my face, cleaned off his white-board and said, “Okay, let’s go through it.”
The next few minutes went exactly as I expected. He started confidently, telling me what activities were currently active and what followed them. It didn’t take long before the confusion started. “Oh, wait, I forgot about (some task)”. “Oh, yes, then there’s (some other task)”. This went on for a short while.
Tasks were missing in his head. He had thought about them at one time, but his mind relegated them to the background. He hadn’t thought through the sequence (we changed many sequences during the exercise, and had to add a few new tasks). But after we were done on the white board, we had a solid plan to finish his project. The entire exercise only took about 20 minutes.
We’ve become a cerebral society. If we need information, we just GTS (Google the S[tuff]) and move on. We tend not to study it, we don’t analyze it, we frequently don’t even challenge it (after all, it must be true… it’s on the internet). We get fast answers to quick questions and move on.
It’s a form of glibness, a shallow understanding of the topic. He is a bright engineer, caring, hard-working, and wants to do things right. He just kept everything in his head, never put it on paper or a white board, or even in electronic format. He never spent the time to really look at the sequence, challenge assumptions, and get it right.
The problem is the mind forgets, it automatically re-prioritizes what’s in short-term memory. Things go missing, they go to the background, and of course, the mind doesn’t bother telling us when it does this, it just does it.
Examples of this are so numerous I dare not mention them all. One of the techniques Kimi and I started doing some time ago in our speeches is asking senior managers if they ever laid out all their projects in front of them to see how resources were allocated. Their usual response… deer in headlights! That tells me that if they actually did that, they’d realize the difficulties they were placing on their staff.
I still love paper. I frequently sketch things out on white-boards, go over it many times (and usually with a second pair of eyes); then, once I truly understand it, it will end up in electronic format somewhere so I can pull it up any time. I write down my assumptions, decisions, and rationales. I can’t tell you how much time this saves me.
While I believe mankind is getting smarter, we still can’t just run things from our heads. We can’t run projects from our heads, we can’t manage strategic plans, business processes, or research cerebrally.
Try it. Spend the time and effort, lay it out, see it in the physical universe, and go over it several times. Peer review it… have another pair of eyes look at it. It’s amazing what you’ll discover and the mistakes you’ll avoid and the time you’ll save!
… not that I’m opinionated on this!
Michael B Bender