Friday, March 26, 2004


Big Hat and No Cattle? 

My friend Frank Patrick posted a very useful piece on project management yesterday, worthy of your reading.  He summarizes a recent book he read Waltzing With Bears: Managing Risk on Software Projects.  Frank quotes one passage of note for those of us involved in change management.   

The worst organizations penalize unappealing forecasts but not unappealing results. When the project fails, they reason, "Hey, the guy missed the date, but at least he gave it a good try." This problem feeds upon itself: People understand that promising big is more important than delivering, and everybody learns to act accordingly. If you work for this kind of organization, you might as well go with the flow and keep your risk assessments to yourself. 


It is so much easier to talk big than to deliver big.  And how many times do we kid ourselves that writing a plan is equivalent to achieving it?  

So how to overcome this?  I go back to one of the basics of project tasks, about which we discussed in our Gutter Project series: Making Reliable Promises.   

And one of the central practices of Reliable Promises is stating clearly the “conditions of satisfaction”.  Here, the customer states, clearly, what needs to happen for him/her to be fully satisfied.   

For example, I asked my colleague Stan for some logistics data on eight different buildings earlier this week.  When I stated my conditions of satisfaction, I listed for him five pieces of data on each of the eight jobs and that I wanted it by noon Friday.  He looked at his schedule, said he could block time for it and proceeded.  On Thursday afternoon, he brought in the data.  It looked great…except he only had four of the five data points done.  I said “Good. I like the four.  And I’ll really be happy when I get the fifth as well.  Remember?”  Oh yeah, he said and off he went.  He’ll have it for me by noon today.   

In Texas, someone who talks a lot but does not deliver is referred to as having “a big hat but no cattle.”  Do your best to deliver some result today.

I hope this is helpful.

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