Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Godzilla Principle and the Most Dangerous Word

We'll take another break from Cognitive Biases, with three short pieces on project management.

The Godzilla Principle

In Japanese monster movies, there’s frequently a scene in which the monster du jour (Godzilla, Mothra, Gamora, etc.) is still a cute little baby monster. People say, “Oh, what a cute little monster!” Obviously, there’s no urgency, so they ignore it.

They wait until the monster is full grown and busily stomping downtown Tokyo, and then they’re running through the streets shouting “What are we going to do?”

By the time Godzilla is rampaging through downtown Tokyo, most of the good options are long since gone. The project management answer is to stomp the baby monster while it’s still little.

Options for solving a problem tend to reduce over time. Effective risk management and risk response planning are a lot more powerful than even the most creative on-the-job problem solving.

Are you doing enough to find and kill those pesky baby monsters on your projects before they grow up?

The Most Dangerous Word

The most dangerous word in project management is “Yes”—said before you know what it is you’re saying “yes” to. Once you say yes, you’ve bought the whole package, and your negotiating leverage with your customers, internal and external, loses a lot of potential power.

Of course, saying “No” might not be a good idea either. Enthusiasm and a positive attitude are important qualities. But you can be enthusiastic and positive and still ask probing questions. “Let me see if I understand what you’re asking for.”

Here’s a tip about working with customers: they need to hear their words in your mouth before they believe you’ve listened to them. First tell them what they said, and then start your probing. You’ll get less push back that way.

Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Chose

With the debut of the World Wide Web, some people predicted the death of retail in two years — five tops. After all the hype dissipated, we saw that purchasing patterns weren’t that much different. Twenty years later, however, as we routinely buy our holiday gifts online and have rare items shipped to us from all over the world, we can see that some types of retail establishments are indeed dying. In other words, don’t expect the world to change in a year, but be prepared for it to be unrecognizable in 20.

The first calculator I ever saw belonged to Arthur C. Clarke. When I was in college, I got to be his driver for a couple of days. Between appointments, we talked for a while and he pulled out a Hewlett-Packard calculator, for which he had paid $700 in 1971. It had four functions and no memory.

“Do you see this?” He paused dramatically. “It means that the slide rule is obsolete!

My reaction was, “This is cool, but I will never own one in my life. I will never have enough need to pay $700 for a calculator. I have a slide rule and that’s all I’ll ever need.” And that’s how most of the world felt, except for a handful of hard-core engineers.

Ten years later, banks were giving calculators away when you opened a checking account.

Short term and long term outcomes are very different.

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