Project Reality Checks—Keeping Perspective or Heading in the Wrong Direction

At the beginning of a vacation trip, there is always something exhilarating about getting on a clear Interstate knowing that you are finally on the way. When that first highway sign marking direction appears, a doubt can creep in—is this the right direction?

A new project at work has a similar feel. There is always energy and excitement in the early phases. People have ideas, good energy, and build on each others ideas. There is some support from management and project direction is beginning to take shape. People are anxious to move down the path and get things done at a good pace.

The difference between the vacation trip and the work project is that there are no road signs to remind people to check the direction. People have to build their own markers. This step is often not taken, with the risk that, over time, the project can go off track as conditions change.

One approach is to have selected individual, who are so inclined, to explicitly take the responsibility to check the perspective in a more dispassionate way and probe the larger project group with their doubts as needed. This probing can be done by Listening for Consequences during the discussion or considering the project through nagging background questions.

Examples:

What flaws in the basic assumptions have come to light since the project started?
New information always becomes available. The check is to determine if this has an affect on the work.

What is known, but not being discussed?
There are sometimes concerns that people would just prefer to avoid. The direction is to address them before they become major problems.

What is being missed here? What is being overlooked?
These questions are the most challenging and creative of all. It takes some insight and effort to bring to light things that have not yet been on the table for discussion.

What other ways can this work be done?
Once people have momentum, it becomes more difficult to consider a course correction. This question raises this possibility

Does this level of detailed effort matter to the project?
Sooner or later, work creeps in that really has little effect on the goals. This question forces consideration of this possibility

There is a tendency to make perspective checking a group responsibility. Often this approach simply doesn’t work. Generally, the group should be pushing forward. Otherwise, there will be a tendency to just planning and fretting and frozen into paralysis. Also, by diffusing the activity, no one is responsible for the analysis. Finally, many individuals do not have the temperament to change mental directions so quickly and hence it is inefficient to ask them to do this.

It’s really not much more effort, but occasionally asking a few nagging questions are effective to keep the project going in the best direction.

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