Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 25;   June 19, 2002: Seeing Through the Fog

Seeing Through the Fog

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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?

Mort now understood why Ginny had wanted to meet off-site. "I'm worried," she was saying, "Dave always seems to be overloaded. Even back in March, when things were going smoothly on both our projects. So I thought I'd check with you."

"Hmm. I've been getting the same story," Mort replied. "He keeps saying that work on other projects is making him miss his dates."

Mountain fogMort and Ginny then talked with Sid, the lead on Dave's third project team. Sid told them that he'd heard the same thing from Dave, too. Once all three of them — Mort, Ginny, and Sid — pooled their information, they knew they needed help from HR. That way they could possibly save all three projects, and the career of a bright but troubled employee.

By working together, and being open with each other, Mort, Ginny, and Sid combined what they knew. The information each one had wasn't enough in itself to tell any one of them what to do, but combined, they were able to choose an effective management intervention. By fusing together all they knew, they could see the real problem through the fog.

To see through the fog that hides the rocks, you sometimes need information from outside your project. Here are a few tips for seeing through the fog.

To see through the
fog, you sometimes need
information from
outside it
Share what you know with other project managers
Compare issues lists from several projects, looking for patterns and commonalities. Compare schedules to look ahead for contention for people or resources. Talk to other customers of suppliers or subcontractors, both within your organization and outside it if you can.
Learn from history
If you suspect a problem might be looming, interview past project managers who've worked with the people or subcontractor that might be at issue.
Use cluster analysis
Search defect reports and schedule slips to find clusters of problems. When you find a cluster around a single component, consider restarting that component from scratch, possibly with a different team. Look carefully at other components that were built the same way, possibly on other projects.
Be uniformly skeptical
Components that were built by people who are well regarded sometimes escape early rigorous testing because of favorable bias. Examine all test plans for bias and make sure that all components are treated equally skeptically.

Projects are usually in one of four states: not yet begun, finished, in crisis, and about to be in crisis. The only transition that happens unexpectedly is from about-to-be-in-crisis to crisis. By learning to see through the fog, you can make that transition a little more gracefully, and a lot less often. Go to top Top  Next issue: Think in Living Color  Next Issue

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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

Shackleton, Scott and Wilson, of the British Antarctic Expedition 1902The Injured Teammate: 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.
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?
The breech plug of one of the nine 16-inch guns of the U.S.S. MissouriMore 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.
Astronauts Musgrave and Hoffman install corrective optics during the Hubble Telescope's Service Mission 1How 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.
British mathematician Christopher Zeeman in 2009Missing the Obvious: II
With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen?

See also Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An abandoned railwayComing August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
A dog playing catch with a discAnd on August 28: Playing at Work
Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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: Lessons in Leadership
On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership 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. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. 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 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!
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
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
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!