Project Practitioners > Develop the Situation Through Action

Develop the Situation Through Action

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


“Expert entrepreneurs limit risk by understanding what they can afford to lose at each step, instead of seeking large all- or- nothing opportunities. They choose goals and actions where there is upside even if the downside ends up happening.” Learn more here.


An agile approach to project management is an up and coming development in the profession. Some companies have thriving agile teams while others continue to drag their feet. Some organizations have a hybrid approach including waterfall and agile to most effectively handle their projects. Whatever your situation may be, the following discussion applies to you as an individual, a leader, your team, or your organization.

I came across this approach of ‘developing the situation through action’ while reading the Peter Sims book Little Bets. Instead of waiting for things to come to you or reveal themselves, you go out and establish the chain of events through action. Like agile management, where your requirements and solutions evolve, this approach allows you to adapt more quickly.

Sims gives four mindset shifts to better implement his, as he calls them, ‘counterinsurgency operations:’


  1. Mistakes will be made.

Believe it or not, no one is perfect. Your parents are not perfect. Your teachers or professors are not perfect. Your boss is not perfect. You are not perfect.

Now that is cleared up, time to admit mistakes have been made, are being made, and will be made. Past, present, and future tense included for all mistakes.

An advantage of this new approach is removing the taboo around mistakes. In school, mistakes lead to bad grades which lead to poor academic performance. The school systems frown upon mistakes. Kids poke fun at students when a ‘dumb’ question is asked. With that environment, questions become non-existent because no one wants to appear behind or look ‘dumb.’

Admitting to mistakes and their existence is a great place to start with any new approach. Rarely does a new implementation go smoothly. There are always bumps in the road.


  1. Take action to discover what to do.

A mistake is made. What do you do next? You act. Start to find out what works and what does not. The agile method encourages cheap, quick failure. A shift in requirements may be necessary. Do you need more resources than before?

The next steps are not necessarily in place. You find these out by putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to move forward. The pattern will not be a straight line. There will be twists and turns, ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys, but you will get from point A to point B. How?

You do not know, but with progress, the picture becomes clearer. Think of it as building a puzzle. In the beginning, you start out with a thousand individual pieces with no clear objective other than finish the puzzle. Then, after an hour, a corner of the puzzle is built. Then, hours later, the border is complete. After a few more hours, a plan starts to form where one section gets completed which opens up another opportunity to advance.

If you were to build the same puzzle over again, the same plan might not work. The puzzle, or problem, determines your next action.


  1. For this approach to be successful, mistakes must be seen as ‘cool.’

This step takes mistake acknowledgment to the next level. Not only are mistakes being made, but they are also cool. Have you ever had a boss encouragement mistakes? Probably not. What if your school work was graded highly on the mistakes you made? How much different would your thinking be?

Let’s classify the mistakes that are cool. These ‘cool’ mistakes are quick, cheap, and fixable. Prototypes, rough drafts, and proof of concepts are examples where mistakes can be made and even encouraged. Finish designs and manufacturing are the opposite. At this point, mistakes should have been recognized and handled.

This idea is similar to brainstorming sessions where any suggestions are reasonable. It is so early in the process that anything is possible. Mistakes on paper can be erased. Bad ideas can be eliminated in due time. For now, anything goes.


  1. Design thinking

Design thinking is using a designer’s toolkit to create innovative solutions. You make decisions based on what future customers want instead of relying on historical data or your instincts instead of evidence.

According to Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, there are four phases of design thinking:

  • Gather Inspiration

This phase establishes what people need. The people being discussed are final users and customers. It does not matter what you need, or your team would like to have. It matters what consumers need. Listening becomes important in this step. Often, customers will tell you what they need without spelling it out for you. It is your job to interpret that message and turn it into a product or service.

  • Generate Ideas

Creating obvious solutions is fine, but strive for breakthrough ideas. Think big, dream big can be a motto in this phase. Sure, X might work, but why not X, Y, and Z? Push beyond the boundaries in place. Think of Uber or Lyft. Taxis were an obvious solution for transportation. The breakthrough idea was on-demand taxi service at your fingertips in which payment is taken care of electronically without ever dealing with the driver.

  • Make Ideas Tangible

This phase is where prototypes, rough drafts, and proof of concepts present themselves. You are taking those breakthrough ideas and creating a product or service. The idea of Uber or Lyft is now a working application on your phone. The idea of buying, selling, and exchanging goods is now eBay. A breakthrough tool is in the hands of customers to see what they like and do not like.

  • Share Your Story

In this phase, you are taking an inanimate object and adding the human touch. You are sharing a story to inspire others towards action. Taxis were fine until Uber and Lyft created a better, more convenient way to get around town. Going to stores and purchasing goods worked alright, but eBay turned that local market into a global affair. People are like electricity, always taking the path of least resistance. If you can tell a story to sell your product or service and link to that human need, you will create success.



Action is an important step towards progress and problem-solving. Knowing is one thing, but putting that knowledge to work is where the magic happens.

Mistakes are not only going to be made but also encouraged. This mindset shift opens the door for creative ideas to run wild. Being cool is synonymous with being right, whether it is the people you hang out with, the decisions you make, or the lifestyle you live. Now, being wrong is cool. Being outlandish and obscure is amazing.

Ultimately, the greatest idea cannot be sold unless there is a need for the product or service. Enter the human element. You need to apply feelings and emotions towards the end users. There needs to be a need or want you fulfill. Without either, your product might be an expensive paperweight, and your service fades off into the ether. Connect with the end user emotionally, and the product or service will sell itself.

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