Project Practitioners > Shift Their Mind Paradigm

Shift Their Mind Paradigm

By Margaret de Haan

I’ve decided that I have become too much of a creature of habit, and so I have decided to start ignoring most of what I know works.  I know, it sounds bizarre, doesn’t it?  I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and observing lately, and I’ve come across some interesting perspectives that my brain has spun together.  The result looks like something that could have significant value in changing the current process paradigm.  Ultimately, if we keep performing things in the same way, based on the scientific method of investigation and learning, how do we deviate away from basic logic into creative problem solving?  If all we are trying to do is balance time, scope and cost without really looking at a larger definition of success we will never truly “think outside the box” and exceed expectations.  I mean, if we always know what we are striving for, will we ever accidentally exceed it?  I’m not talking about coming in under budget by 10% or delivering a week early, I mean discovering something really great by accident.  Let’s face it, a lot of really interesting things have been discovered that way.

OK, I hear you, that’s our job after all, and time, scope and cost are what we’re supposed to manage, but are we really just responsible for that?  Can’t we try to think outside of that whenever possible to add some creativity and possibly deliver something even better?  What I’m supposing isn’t really to throw all structure and methodology out the window, but to try to revise our perspectives on what we define as success and not to limit our, and our works, value.   Instead of being too limiting, too linear, try being a bit of a “wizard” and imagine you are living in OZ!  If we could surpass expectations and provide even a better solution than what the stakeholders can imagine, what would it look like?  This would mean that we would really have to understand the business’ needs, and anticipate needs that they haven’t even thought of yet.  Way back when, it was labeled “value add”, those things that customers would be willing to pay for that you give them without additional cost.  Is there a way that the Project Management team can anticipate a “better” solution than the people providing the requirements?  I think that it’s possible with a different mindset and a truly collaborative team.  I’ve actually conducted meetings in the past – brainstorming sessions really – where I stated just that. “If we were in OZ, and I was the Wizard, what would the perfect solution look like”?  The functions and ideas that came out of those meetings were awesome in breadth, and gave us an opportunity to provide something that exceeded the original requirements, adding additional value without additional work.

For the past few years I have been working for a company that has had the same legacy ERP system for over a decade, one which the current IT management has been trying to reduce the reliance on by purchasing and implementing a solid middleware platform.   The idea for this “rant” came up when I realized how stuck most people are with what they know.  Rather than verge into the great unknown and define their need, when discussing future state and functionality I mostly get information from the users on what they want, how they want it and where they want it in terms of the current system.  “Just add this field to this screen”, “add that metric into the validation process” and the like are things I routinely hear, which made me realize that the “needs” were being limited by not only the current system, but by the individual providing the informations understanding of the current system.   I mean that makes sense when you think about it - if someone has worked with a typewriter their entire life and have never seen or have any knowledge of a word processor, all of their “wants” are limited by their knowledge of what they think is possible.  In this case only those things that they believe are possible based on their understanding of that machine.   It wouldn’t include functionality that they believe is outside of the capacity of that machine as their knowledge is so narrow.  I mean, how can someone using a typewriter even fathom selecting a group of words and deleting them without them even existing on paper yet?

So the way that I have started to try to broaden the possibilities is by sometimes getting extreme and ridiculous.  Trying to assist others in “thinking outside their box” takes time, and usually requires asking a lot of questions.  When they revert back to defining a solution based on the current system, I remind them that we are still in OZ, and that “really, if you could have anything, that’s all you’d want?”  I’m starting to make headway, and I can already see the mindset spreading.  So the next time you start a design session for anything, shake it up and don’t accept the first answer.  Rattle the cage of the status quo and see what come out of it.  I believe you will be surprised and excited about the results.

Margaret de Haan - MBA, CSM, PMP

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