Nelson didn't know what more he could say. "I understand that there's still a lot that needs to be done, but I'd like to know what would happen if we declared victory and moved on to the next version."
Kathy spoke for the designers. "Hard to predict," she said. "Our original concept is seriously flawed. Many customers will be very unhappy with what we have."
Nelson was now exasperated. "How unhappy? In what way unhappy? What would be the effect of delay on market share?"
"I wouldn't know," replied Kathy, "but it's probably not good."
If you've ever put two or three years of your life into a project — a new product, a new law, a roadway, a book or a film — you've probably asked, "Is it good enough?" And maybe you've answered, "Not yet."
Some of our need for delay is real, and some could be the attachment we form to the product of our creativity. How can we learn to distinguish attachment from a real need for more work?
American Indians of the Southwestern U.S. are renowned for their arts, and especially for their textiles — blankets and rugs of incomparable design and multiple symmetries.
How do we know
when our work
is good enough?When Navajo designs have borders, they typically include a "Weaver's Pathway," sometimes called the "Spirit Line." It's a small line of contrasting color that passes from the inner field, penetrating the borders, until it reaches one edge. When non-Navajos notice it, they often see it as a flaw, because it violates all the symmetries of the pattern.
Noël Bennett, a longtime student of Navajo arts, explains the Weaver's Pathway as a means of escape. The artists fear that as they focus their energies on the work, the borders of the rugs (or blankets or pots or baskets) could entrap the artists' spirits, and they might lose their ability to create any more beautiful works.
According to Bennett, Navajo weavers describe this trapped state as "too much weaving," or "closing yourself in." The Weaver's Pathway reminds them that entrapment in the work is a threat to future creativity.
We face a similar risk in the project work that we do. We put much of ourselves into our projects, but we must remember to leave ourselves a way out, lest we become entangled in the work. That way out must violate the pattern of the work. An inelegance, asymmetry, or incompleteness, rather than being a sign of our incompetence, actually gives us a way to move to the next project.
When you next feel the need to make your work perfect, and people around you are asking you to let go, remember the Weaver's Pathway — look at the imperfections, and see them as a way to move on. Top Next Issue
For more about the Navajo view, see Noël Bennett. The Weaver's Pathway: A clarification of the "Spirit Trail" in Navajo weaving. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press, 1974. Order from Amazon.com.
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More articles on Project Management:
- The Politics of Lessons Learned
- Many organizations gather lessons learned — or at least, they believe they do. Mastering the political
subtleties of lessons learned efforts enhances results.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: I
- The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest
completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political
- Nonlinear Work: Internal Interactions
- In this part of our exploration of nonlinear work, we consider the effects of interactions between the
internal elements of an effort, as distinguished from the effects of external changes. Many of the surprises
we encounter in projects arise from internals.
- False Summits: II
- When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end.
The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is
in project work.
- How We Waste Time: I
- Time is the one workplace resource that's evenly distributed. Everyone gets exactly the same share,
but some use it more wisely than others. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways we waste time.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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- Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.