- Coming September 28: Favor Symmetric Virtual Meetings
- Virtual meetings are notorious for generating more frustration than useful output. One cause of the difficulties is asymmetry in the way we connect to virtual meetings. Available here and by RSS on September 28.
- And on October 5: How We Waste Time: Part 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 a little catalog of ways we waste time. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
Other topical archives:
July 27, 2016
- The Risks of Too Many Projects: Part II
- Although taking on too many projects risks defocusing the organization, the problems just begin there. Here are three more ways over-commitment causes organizations to waste resources or lose opportunities.
July 20, 2016
- The Risks of Too Many Projects: Part I
- Some organizations try to run too many development projects at once. Whether developing new offerings, or working to improve the organization itself, taking on too many projects can defocus the organization and depress performance.
May 18, 2016
- Ego Depletion and Priority Setting
- Setting priorities for tasks is tricky when we find the tasks unappealing, because we have limited energy for self-control. Here are some strategies for limiting these effects on priority setting.
May 4, 2016
- Just-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
- Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops." Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops efficiently.
April 6, 2016
- Irrational Deadlines
- Some deadlines are so unrealistic that from the outset we know we'll never meet them. Yet we keep setting (and accepting) irrational deadlines. Why does this happen?
November 18, 2015
- Wishful Interpretation: Part II
- Wishful "thinking," as we call it, can arise in different ways. One source is the pattern of choices we make when we interpret what we see, what we hear, or any other information we receive. Here's Part II of an inventory of ways our preferences and wishes affect how we interpret the world.
November 11, 2015
- Wishful Interpretation: Part I
- Wishful thinking comes from more than mere imagination. It can enter when we interpret our own observations or what others tell us. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways our wishes affect how we interpret the world.
November 4, 2015
- Wishful Thinking and Perception: Part II
- Continuing our exploration of causes of wishful thinking and what we can do about it, here's Part II of a little catalog of ways our preferences and wishes affect our perceptions.
October 28, 2015
- Wishful Thinking and Perception: Part I
- How we see the world defines our experience of it, because our perception is our reality. But how we see the world isn't necessarily how the world is.
October 21, 2015
- Managing Wishful Thinking Risk
- When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking. Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking.
July 29, 2015
- Down in the Weeds: Part II
- To be �down in the weeds,� in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here�s Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.
July 22, 2015
- Down in the Weeds: Part I
- When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can we do about it?
January 14, 2015
- Avoid Having to Reframe Failure
- Yet again, we missed our goal — we were late, we were over budget, or we lost to the competition. But how can we get something good out of it?
December 17, 2014
- On the Risk of Undetected Issues: Part II
- When things go wrong and remain undetected, trouble looms. We continue our efforts, increasing investment on a path that possibly leads nowhere. Worse, time — that irreplaceable asset — passes. How can we improve our ability to detect undetected issues?
December 10, 2014
- On the Risk of Undetected Issues: Part I
- In complex projects, things might have gone wrong long before we notice them. Noticing them as early as possible — and addressing them — is almost always advantageous. How can we reduce the incidence of undetected issues?
December 3, 2014
- Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: Part III
- Project risk management strategies are numerous, but these ten strategies are among the most common. Here are the last three of the ten strategies in this little catalog.
November 26, 2014
- Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: Part II
- Managing risk entails coping with unwanted events that might or might not happen, and which can be costly if they do happen. Here's Part II of our exploration of coping strategies for unwanted events.
November 19, 2014
- Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: Part I
- Risk management usually entails coping with losses if they do occur. Here's Part I of a concise summary of the options for managing risk.
September 24, 2014
- Symbolic Self-Completion and Projects
- The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.
September 17, 2014
- False Summits: Part 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.
September 10, 2014
- False Summits: Part I
- Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.
September 3, 2014
- Team Risks
- Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are some risks worth mitigating.
August 27, 2014
- Deep Trouble and Getting Deeper
- Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're pretty sure there's no way out.
July 30, 2014
- Unnecessary Boring Work: Part II
- Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
July 23, 2014
- Unnecessary Boring Work: Part I
- Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.
April 23, 2014
- Design Errors and Group Biases
- Design errors can cause unwanted outcomes, but they can also lead to welcome surprises. The causes of many design errors are fundamental attributes of the way groups function. Here is Part II of our exploration.
April 16, 2014
- Design Errors and Groupthink
- Design errors cause losses, lost opportunities, accidents, and injuries. Not all design errors are one-offs, because their causes can be fundamental. Here's a first installment of an exploration of some fundamental causes of design errors.
March 26, 2014
- Why Scope Expands: Part II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often? One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
March 19, 2014
- Why Scope Expands: Part I
- Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction, has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?
March 12, 2014
- Scope Creep and Confirmation Bias
- As we've seen, some cognitive biases can contribute to the incidence of scope creep in projects and other efforts. Confirmation bias, which causes us to prefer evidence that bolsters our preconceptions, is one of these.
February 26, 2014
- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion of control" — might provide explanations.
February 19, 2014
- Scope Creep and the Planning Fallacy
- Much is known about scope creep, but it nevertheless occurs with such alarming frequency that in some organizations, it's a certainty. Perhaps what keeps us from controlling it better is that its causes can't be addressed with management methodology. Its causes might be, in part, psychological.
December 25, 2013
- Projects as Proxy Targets: Part II
- Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins, some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.
December 18, 2013
- Projects as Proxy Targets: Part I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
September 4, 2013
- The Retrospective Funding Problem
- If your organization regularly conducts project retrospectives, you're among the very fortunate. Many organizations don't. But even among those that do, retrospectives are often underfunded, conducted by amateurs, or too short. Often, key people "couldn't make it." We can do better than this. What's stopping us?
February 27, 2013
- More Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix
- The Eisenhower Matrix is useful for distinguishing which tasks deserve attention and in what order. It helps us by removing perceptual distortion about what matters most. But it can't help as much with some kinds of perceptual distortion.
November 7, 2012
- Managing Non-Content Risks: Part II
- When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand — content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those that relate to organizational politics.
October 31, 2012
- Managing Non-Content Risks: Part I
- When project teams and their sponsors manage risk, they usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets things done.
July 18, 2012
- Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
- We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
May 30, 2012
- 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.
May 9, 2012
- Nonlinear Work: When Superposition Fails
- Much of the work we do is confounding, because we consistently underestimate the effort involved, the resources required, and the time required to get it done. The failure of superposition can be one reason why we get it wrong.
December 14, 2011
- When Change Is Hard: Part II
- When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance." But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
May 25, 2011
- Mitigating Risk Resistance Risk
- Project managers are responsible for managing risks, but they're often stymied by insufficient resources. Here's a proposal for making risk management more effective at an organizational scale.
May 11, 2011
- Guidelines for Sharing "Resources"
- Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
March 16, 2011
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: Part II
- Personnel-sensitive risks are risks that are difficult to discuss openly. Open discussion could infringe on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
March 2, 2011
- Publish an Internal Newsletter
- If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.
February 23, 2011
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: Part I
- Some risks and the plans for managing them are personnel-sensitive in the sense that disclosure can harm the enterprise or its people. Since most risk management plans are available to a broad internal audience, personnel-sensitive risks cannot be managed in the customary way. Why not?
November 24, 2010
- Beyond Our Control
- When bad things happen, despite our plans and our best efforts, we sometimes feel responsible. We failed. We could have done more. But is that really true? Aren't some things beyond our control?
November 17, 2010
- Durable Agreements
- People at work often make agreements in which they commit to cooperate — to share resources, to assist each other, or not to harm each other. Some agreements work. Some don't. What makes agreements durable?
November 10, 2010
- How to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
- Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some tactics for guessing.
November 3, 2010
- How to Make Good Guesses: Strategy
- Making good guesses — guessing right — is often regarded as a talent that cannot be taught. Like most things, it probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make conjectures. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that.
October 13, 2010
- The Politics of the Critical Path: Part II
- The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience the unique politics of the critical path.
September 22, 2010
- The Politics of the Critical Path: Part 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 environment.
July 7, 2010
- Seven Ways to Get Nowhere
- Ever have the feeling that you're getting nowhere? You have the sense of movement, but you're making no real progress towards the goal. How does this happen? What can you do about it?
June 2, 2010
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: Part II
- Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
May 26, 2010
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: Part I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges do they face, and what can we do about them?
April 28, 2010
- Project Improvisation and Risk Management
- When reality trips up our project plans, we improvise or we replan. When we do, we create new risks and render our old risk plans obsolete. Here are some suggestions for managing risks when we improvise.
April 14, 2010
- Project Improvisation as Group Process
- When project plans contact reality, things tend to get, um, a bit confused. We can sometimes see the trouble coming in time to replan thoughtfully — if we're nearly clairvoyant. Usually, we have to improvise. How a group improvises tells us much about the group.
April 7, 2010
- Project Improvisation Fundamentals
- Project plans are useful — to a point. Every plan I've ever seen eventually has problems when it contacts reality. At that point, we replan or improvise. But improvisation is an art form. Here's Part I of a set of tips for mastering project improvisation.
March 24, 2010
- Risk Management Risk: Part II
- Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. Here are some guidelines for reducing risk management risk arising from risk interactions and change.
March 17, 2010
- Risk Management Risk: Part I
- Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. It's often overlooked, and therefore often unmitigated. We can reduce this risk by applying some simple procedures.
February 17, 2010
- 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.
January 6, 2010
- Backtracking in Incremental Problem Solving
- Incremental problem solving is fashionable these days. Whether called evolutionary, incremental, or iterative, the approach entails unique risks. Managing those risks sometimes requires counterintuitive action.
June 24, 2009
- Long-Loop Conversations: Clearing the Fog
- In virtual or global teams, conversations can be long, painful affairs. Settling issues and clearing misunderstandings can take weeks instead of days, or days instead of hours. Here are some techniques that ease the way to mutual agreement and understanding.
June 10, 2009
- Long-Loop Conversations: Asking Questions
- In virtual or global teams, where remote collaboration is the rule, waiting for the answer to a simple question can take a day or more. And when the response finally arrives, it's often just another question. Here are some suggestions for framing questions that are clear enough to get answers quickly.
May 27, 2009
- Teamwork Myths: Formation
- Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths. In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
December 10, 2008
- The Injured Teammate: Part II
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is suddenly very ill or has been severely injured. How do you handle it? Here are some suggestions for breaking the news to the team.
December 3, 2008
- The Injured Teammate: Part I
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is very ill or has been severely injured. How do you handle it? How do you break the news? What does the team need? What do you need?
May 28, 2008
- Managing Risk Revision
- Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen. But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.
April 23, 2008
- The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager
- The hands-on project manager manages the project and performs some of the work, too. There are lots of excellent hands-on project managers, but the job is inherently risky, and it's loaded with potential conflicts of interest.
April 9, 2008
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
April 2, 2008
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part II
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
March 26, 2008
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part I
- Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
March 19, 2008
- TINOs: Teams in Name Only
- Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
January 30, 2008
- The True Costs of Cost-Cutting
- The metaphor "trimming the fat" rests on the belief that some parts of the organization are expendable, and we can remove them with little impact on the remainder. Ah, if only things actually worked that way...
May 17, 2006
- My Right Foot
- There's nothing like an injury or illness to teach you some life lessons. Here are some things I learned recently when I temporarily lost some of my independence.
March 22, 2006
- Dubious Dealings
- Negotiating contracts with outsourcing suppliers can present ethical dilemmas, even when we try to be as fair as possible. The negotiation itself can present conflicts of interest. What are those conflicts?
February 15, 2006
- Nepotism, Patronage, Vendettas, and Workplace Espionage
- Normally, you terminate or reassign team members who actually inhibit progress. Here are some helpful insights and tactics to use when termination or reassignment is impossible.
January 11, 2006
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: Part IV
- Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Understanding these last three of the nine fallacies of project management helps reduce risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
December 28, 2005
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: Part III
- Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
December 14, 2005
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: Part II
- Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
November 30, 2005
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: Part I
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we "know" just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
May 25, 2005
- An Agenda for Agendas
- Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed" agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?
May 11, 2005
- Nine Positive Indicators of Negative Progress
- Project status reports rarely acknowledge negative progress until after it becomes undeniable. But projects do sometimes move backwards, outside of our awareness. What are the warning signs that negative progress might be underway?
April 13, 2005
- Shining Some Light on "Going Dark"
- If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes a top priority problem. What can you do?
March 30, 2005
- See No Evil
- When teams share information among themselves, they have their best opportunity to reach peak performance. And when some information is withheld within an elite group, the team faces unique risks.
January 12, 2005
- Emergency Problem Solving
- In emergencies, group problem solving is unusually challenging, especially if lives, careers, or companies depend on finding a solution immediately. Here are some tips for members of teams that are solving problems in emergencies.
November 3, 2004
- Status Risk and Risk Status
- One often-neglected project risk is the risk of inaccurately reported status. That shouldn't be surprising, because we often fail to report the status of the project's risks, as well. What can we do to better manage status risk and risk status?
October 27, 2004
- Bois Sec!
- When your current approach isn't working, you can scrap whatever you're doing and start again — if you have enough time and money. There's a less radical solution, and if it works, it's usually both cheaper and faster.
September 8, 2004
- Flanking Maneuvers
- Historically, military logistics practice has provided a steady stream of innovations to many fields, including project management. But project managers can learn even more if we investigate battlefield tactics.
August 11, 2004
- Films Not About Project Teams: Part II
- Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
July 28, 2004
- Films Not About Project Teams: Part I
- Here's part one of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
June 16, 2004
- Team Thrills
- Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
April 21, 2004
- Scheduling as Risk Management
- When we schedule a complex project, we balance logical order, resource constraints, and even politics. Here are some techniques for using scheduling to manage risk and reduce costs.
April 7, 2004
- Who Would You Take With You to Mars?
- What makes a great team? What traits do you value in teammates? Project teams can learn a lot from the latest thinking about designing teams for extended space exploration.
February 18, 2004
- Resuming Projects: Team Morale
- Sometimes we cancel a project because of budgetary constraints. We reallocate its resources and scatter its people, and we tell ourselves that the project is on hold. But resuming is often riskier, more difficult and more expensive than we hoped. Here are some reasons why.
August 6, 2003
- Finger Puzzles and "Common Sense"
- Working on complex projects, we often face a choice between "just do it" and "wait, let's think this through first." Choosing to just do it can seem to be the shortest path to the goal, but it rarely is. It's an example of a Finger Puzzle.
May 7, 2003
- The Weaver's Pathway
- When projects near completion, we sometimes have difficulty letting go. We want what we've made to be perfect, sometimes beyond the real needs of customers. Comfort with imperfection can help us meet budget and schedule targets.
January 8, 2003
- Toxic Projects
- A toxic project is one that harms its organization, its people or its customers. We often think of toxic projects as projects that fail, but even a "successful" project can hurt people or damage the organization — sometimes irreparably.
November 6, 2002
- Dispersity Adversity
- Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face. Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.
September 4, 2002
- Some Causes of Scope Creep
- When we suddenly realize that our project's scope has expanded far beyond its initial boundaries — when we have that how-did-we-ever-get-here feeling — we're experiencing the downside of scope creep. Preventing scope creep starts with understanding how it happens.
June 19, 2002
- Seeing Through the Fog
- When projects founder, we're often shocked — we thought everything was moving along smoothly. Sometimes, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that we had — or could have had — enough information to determine that trouble was ahead. Somehow it was obscured by fog. How can we get better at seeing through the fog?
January 23, 2002
- Start a Project Nursery
- In a Project Nursery, professionals from across the entire organization collaborate to conceive of new projects. When all organizational elements help decide which projects to investigate, the menu they develop best suits organizational needs and capabilities.
December 19, 2001
- Are You Changing Tactics or Moving the Goal Posts?
- When we make a mid-course correction in a project, we're usually responding to a newly uncovered difficulty that requires a change in tactics. Sometimes, we can't resist the temptation to change the goals of the project at the same time. And that can be a big mistake.
August 22, 2001
- Declaring Condition Red
- High-performance teams have customary ways of working together that suit them, their organizations, and their work. But when emergencies happen, operating in business-as-usual mode damages teams — and the relationships between their people — permanently. To avoid this, train for emergencies.
June 13, 2001
- Geese Don't Land on Twigs
- Since companies sometimes tackle projects that they have no hope of completing successfully, your project might be completely wrong for your company. How can you tell whether your project is a fit for your company?
May 2, 2001
- Make a Project Family Album
- Like a traditional family album, a project family album has pictures of people, places, and events. It builds connections, helps tie the team together, and it can be as much fun to look through as it is to create.
April 25, 2001
- Restarting Projects
- When a project gets off track, we sometimes cancel it. But since canceling projects takes a lot of courage, we look for ways to save them if we can. Often, things do turn out OK, and at other times they don't. There's a third choice, between pressing on with a project and canceling it. We can restart.
March 21, 2001
- The Cheapest Way to Run a Project Is with Enough Resources
- Cost reduction is so common that nearly every project plan today should include budget and schedule for several rounds of reductions. Whenever we cut costs, we risk cutting too much, so it pays to ask, "If we do cut too much, what are the consequences?"
February 14, 2001
- Quantum Management
- When we plan projects, we estimate the duration and cost of something we've never done before. Since projects are inherently risky, our chances of estimating correctly are small. Quantum Management tells us how to think about cost and schedule in new ways.
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