Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 24;   June 13, 2001: Geese Don't Land on Twigs

Geese Don't Land on Twigs

by

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?

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?

Canada Geese like to land on water, though sometimes they will land on ice, snow, or grass, if necessary. They never even try to land on twigs, as sparrows do. They're too big for that, and webbed feet aren't much good for gripping twigs. Canada Geese do some things well, and others less well. Somehow they know what works for them and what doesn't. They stick with what they do well. For goose or gander, a twig landing might be the last dumb move it makes.

Unlike geese, companies sometimes tackle projects that they have no hope of completing successfully. So there's always a chance that your project is wrong for your company. How can you tell if your company is a goose trying to land on a twig? Here are five factors that can keep a project from being the last dumb move your company makes.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese. Photo by Glen Smart, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Organizational experience
Flocks of geese know their territory pretty well. They know from experience where to find food and shelter. Make sure that your project is like something your company has done before. If it's a radical departure, keep it small.
Staff experience
Goslings spend their first summer of life learning from their elders how to be geese. They train hard until they know what they need to survive. Use your experienced people as mentors. Have them show the others, and use every project as an opportunity to transfer skills and to practice. If you don't have enough experienced people, hire more.
Failure shouldn't threaten the enterprise
If a goose did try to land on a twig, it couldn't hold on. It would fall, and it might break a wing or leg. Geese don't try to land on twigs. If you don't successfully complete your project, failure shouldn't threaten the existence of the enterprise. A bet-the-ranch proposition is a bad bet.
When it's time to migrate, migrate
Geese stay in a place as long as it meets their needs. When it gets too cold or too hard to find food, they move on. Even though a project is compatible with what your company has done before, it can still be a mistake if the marketplace has moved on and left the company behind.
Stretch projects should be compatible
Unlike geese,companies
sometimes tackle projects
that they have no hope
of completing successfully
Geese are large, in part, because they eat leaves and grass and have to process lots of food. If a goose wanted to land on twigs, it would have to be small, which would require a change of diet and lots of evolution. "Stretch" projects can help adapt a company to changing markets. But choose stretch projects wisely. A project that's inherently incompatible with what the company already does well isn't a "stretch" project — it's a "break" project.

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

For more about Canada Geese, visit the Web site of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Horicon National Wildlife Refuge or the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrennBVjHBiFdkJBOuXZner@ChacIzQyVmaWqxEKvlXqoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

Icelandic currentsRestarting 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.
Mess line, noon, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: 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.
The Shining Flycatcher, native of Northern Australia and Southwest Pacific islandsBacktracking 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.
A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempi), ashore, probably to lay eggsSeven 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?
Ammi Visnaga, a nile weed that has medicinal valueDown in the Weeds: 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.

See also Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Puppies waiting intently for a shot at the treatComing June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
A VoiceStation 500 speakerphone by PolycomAnd on July 4: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process. Available here and by RSS on July 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenSbpOSpDgoKhpdIqfner@ChacAJJdVMmCqUajTVhnoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.