PM Articles > Kimberly Wiefling > iWant a GPS for My Project Team!

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iWant a GPS for My Project Team!

By Kimberly Wiefling

For the past 8 years I've been flying around Planet Earth just about every month to help Japanese companies globalize. After a million frequent flyer miles, I got tired of making a lot of money only to have nowhere to spend it except at an airport duty free shop. So lately I've been working more in my hometown in the Silicon Valley, California, a global center of innovation, entrepreneurship, and just plain wild creativity. Rather than flying across an ocean to get to my clients, I hop into my car and drive. Oddly enough, I've found that it's sometimes easier to fly from San Francisco to Tokyo than to commute to a location in my hometown. Why? Because there are a dozen possible ways to get where I'm going and no clear optimum. There are hordes of other travelers crammed onto the same highways and no real certainty of whether the trip will take one hour or two. And conditions change in an instant, as inattentive drivers text their way into car wrecks that create sudden traffic snarls. Thank goodness for my phone's GPS!

Welcome to My iPhone Map App!

A decade ago -- before there was a map app -- when I was driving around lost I would call my husband and ask "Are you near a computer? Can you map this for me and tell me how to get to my destination?" He would dutifully locate my space-time coordinates and plot my trajectory toward my target with the patience of a 100-year-old giant tortoise. Now that I have a smart phone with a GPS I don't need my husband (not for navigation anyway). My travel from home to clients is significantly easier, and my stress level -- and his irritation level -- is significantly lower.

Image Ref: Google Maps,

My recent GPS-guided experiences have got me thinking about how incredibly helpful it would be to have some kind of all-knowing, all-seeing GPS for my projects. For example, when a new product development program is launched, wouldn't it be nice if several alternate routes to the proposed final product were neatly displayed, along with the estimated duration of each path and all potential obstacles clearly identified? Then we could easily weigh our options and choose the optimal route to a successful on-time, on-budget product launch. And it would also be quite handy if our "Project GPS" would alert us when a more optimal project strategy suddenly becomes available, as the Google Maps app does while I'm driving. Imagine if we could immediately be alerted when our critical path could be dramatically shortened just by making a few adjustments to our project journey!

If Only I Had My Waze!

Even more exciting, what if each of our project team members could be looking out for potential barriers, risks, and obstacles to success, and instantly update the rest of our team on those issues on a shared map to success? Like the Waze app, we'd all instantly get an alert of the emerging challenges on this team roadmap so that the entire team could be on the lookout for ways to mitigate the impending risk or surmount the soon-to-be-encountered challenge.

While our projects might not be impacted by the kinds of events that Waze contributors report -- like traffic jams or speed traps -- we'd certainly benefit from advance warning about issues that might impact our projects, such as:

  • Competitors planning to release a new similar product ahead of our launch date
  • New technologies that make our product irrelevant
  • Changes to regulatory agency policies that impact our market demand
  • Shifting exchange rates that change the price and cost of our product
  • Long lead time parts that might impact our delivery dates
  • The impending absence of a critical team member
  • A change in our company's priorities, which might spell doom for our project

Wouldn't it be priceless if our project plan instantly displayed a giant skull and crossbones in the PERT chart when we were headed for certain disaster? Or if a giant gray cloud obscured the next milestone when the forces of doom and gloom threatened our success? EXCITING!!!

The Road Goes Uphill Both Ways.

Unfortunately the path of many real-world projects looks more like this chaotic route through Jerusalem that I found online. While we might know where we want to end up, we can't see a clear path to getting there, and we're destined to retrace our steps many times before reaching the final destination. Although there may be plenty of warning signs about the problems our project is likely to face, we're too busy focusing on today's crises to avert tomorrow's disasters. Sometimes we even knowingly proceed down an obviously disastrous route because we're just too darned busy checking email to clearly think through sensible alternatives.

Is there any hope that one day we might work on a project that enjoys the guidance of an all-knowing, all-seeing guide analogous to the GPS we carry in our smartphones? I'm sure it will happen someday, but for now we've got to find a way to make our projects work through the magic of excellent communication, extraordinary teamwork, process discipline, and the relentless pursuit of the seemingly impossible.

But I continue to dream of an iProject GPS! Ultimately I won't be satisfied with a mere navigational aid. Great project managers already know how to get their teams to anticipate the inevitable, share the unenviable, and avoid the unthinkable. No sirree buddy! Once my appetite for prescience is wetted I'm going to want much, MUCH more - maybe a mood meter that monitors my colleagues and signals me the best time to ask them about a conflict-ridden issue, or x-ray vision to see through walls to figure out who's meeting with my boss, or a proximity sensor that warns me when an asshole is nearby. After all, there are many other enhancements available from the all-knowing, all-seeing GPS tools currently available. GPS technology has been put to incredibly useful purposes by the BBC, such as tracking the movements of cats about their neighborhood. Who knows what we project managers might create with an even more powerful tool at our disposal!

Column 15-09-15 kwiefling 5 Image Ref: BBC show "The Secret Life of a Cat",

What are YOUR ideas for amazingly useful iProject App features? Let's dream BIG, project people! And someone please drop a pin on your map so we remember where we're parked.

- Kimberly

Kimberly Wiefling, founder of Wiefling Consulting and co-founder of Silicon Valley Alliances, is the author of Scrappy Project Management (published in English and Japanese), and the executive editor of the "Scrappy Guides" series. Kimberly helps managers become leaders and groups of people become true teams that can achieve what seems impossible -- and would be for any individual acting alone. "Impossible" just means we haven't figured out how to do it yet!

©Copyright 2001-2015 Wiefling Consulting. All Rights Reserved.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Bravo Kimberly! This is a wild and fantastic idea. As I was reading, I thought about the need for each project team member in this idea world having the responsibility of communicating issues and concerns in the all knowing ap. While icons and software might make the communication more streamlined, people still have to have the accountability to gain and share the insights. Unlike traffic, projects seem to carry with them inherent politics surrounding the flow of information. An ap will be powerful tool, yet it will still be garbage in, garbage out, until the people involved have the courage and insight to share their ideas, and insights with the entire team.

Out on the ragged leading edge of generativity/innovation, whether it's looking for progress i n solving technical, organizational, or contextual challenges, or various combinations of all three, consider including in the app a way to register, mix-and-match, and view from different angles all the puzzle pieces that occur in the search for a path thru the maze.

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! I'm truly honored by your support.

Well, being in Tel-Aviv & Jerusalem just last week I can relate. That said, I have a distributed team I work with and I travel ~75% of the time, too. In lieu of not having an 'iProject Waze' I have them daily send me a brief text with an emoticon reflecting how the day/project is going. This obviously is low tech, low cost but it does help me know daily when I need assist/engage during the day before I get the nightly status. For now this approach has to serve as my 'poor man's app' (ha-ha). Thanks for your artical Kimberly.

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