It's late summer in the Gatineau Valley in Quebec. I'm with five friends, and we're on our way to the Cabonga Reservoir to fish. In the morning after an overnight stop in the forest of a provincial park, a light rain is falling. At this time of year in Quebec, any rain is cold and uncomfortable, so we're trying to fix flapjacks for breakfast. We're failing.
It has been a wet month, and we haven't found any dry wood. Despite many attempts, we can manage only a smoky little fire that's nowhere near hot enough for flapjacks.
We hear a vehicle crunching along the gravel road approaching our campsite, and soon a government pickup truck pulls up and stops in the empty campsite across from us. Three men hop out and one waves hello, calling to us in French. We wave back. Smiling, he comes over for a visit. He quickly figures out that we don't understand his French, and just as quickly, he figures out that we don't know what we're doing.
He points to our hatchet lying on a stone and says, "OK?" One of us replies, "Oui." He speaks about as much English as we do French.
With the hatchet, he begins splintering a large log lying beside our dysfunctional fire. He piles the splinters onto the fire, and they immediately explode into flame. He exclaims, "Bois sec! Bois sec!"
Making small adjustments
to what you're already
doing is often the answerOne of us remembers enough French to translate: "Dry wood! Dry wood!" We thank him and in mime we offer him breakfast, but he waves us off, and goes back across the road to rejoin his work mates.
Soon we're full of coffee and flapjacks.
When things aren't working, how do you find an approach that does work? Making small adjustments to what you're already doing is often the answer. But even when the adjustments do look small in retrospect, discovering them in the moment can require great imagination and insight. Here are some tips for finding small adjustments that have big impact.
- Assume that whatever you have to change will be small
- You're more likely to find an ingenious small adjustment if you're actually looking for one.
- Rewrite the problem description
- Write down a description of the problem. Then rewrite it so that it uses none of the same words, except prepositions, articles and the various forms of is.
- Get fresh eyes
- Find some people who haven't been working on the current approach. They're more likely to ask the right questions. Brief them and let them question everything.
- Explain it to some kids
- Children not only have fresh eyes, they have fresh brains. They can understand way more than you might think. To engage them, tell them you're stuck and ask for their help.
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More articles on Project Management:
- 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?
- 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.
- Why Scope Expands: I
- Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction,
has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?
- Yet More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- Part III of our catalog of obstacles encountered in retrospectives, when we try to uncover why we succeeded
— or failed.
- Internal Audits Without Pain
- If adhering to established procedures is part of your job, you probably experience occasional audits.
You can manage the pain of the experience by regarding audit preparation as part of the job. Because
it is. Here are some tips for navigating audits.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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