While project management exhibits repeatable patterns, each collection of human beings is unique. This is why process consultation is a profession instead of just a library: the valuable bit is not the pages of process but assessing a group of people and their situation and knowing which page of which book will help today, and how to present it to them. So I doubt there can ever be a single unified theory of getting things done. Physicists work toward the Big Theory of Everything, the Big TOE. The Project Management Institute produces the Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide, or PMBOK. Perhaps this document will be a Little Theory of Work.
In my career in project management and process consultation, I’ve learned the hard way which ideas tend to work better in which situations for which kinds of people. I’m trying to write down everything I’ve learned—mostly ideas borrowed from smart people, often credited—in the course of helping a few dozen teams get work done. How can we compensate for the universal cognitive bias to ignore our own cognitive biases? How can computers fill in gaps in our brains, and where are their limits? And since everybody’s going to die sooner or later, what should you do with the next hour of your life? I call this effort What Next? Here’s an outline of what a unified theory of using cognitive tools to help people and groups do the right work well in order to live their values might comprise.
- “Well, what do you expect from monkeys wearing pants?”
- “Monkey” sounds better than ape, but we are apes. Apes wearing pants. (or salwar kameez). What does that mean for getting things done?
- Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance. —Kahneman
- Exegesis: We know that we do our thinking and knowing with meat brains in primate bodies. These meat brains work amazingly well, and also have many quirky behaviors, like emotions and fight-or-flight reactions and cognitive biases. Some of these quirks are incompatible with reason, but we struggle to take this into account, because the brains we are using to reason about how brain quirks may affect our reason have quirks that affect our reason. Worse, when we ask our brains if our quirks have affected our reason, our brains tell us no, don’t worry about it, everything is fine. So we have gaps and biases in our thinking that we are blind to, and even if we understand and believe and even remember an explanation about one such bias, we’re still biased to not remember or take into account our biases.
- Krugman’s zombie ideas, ideas that never go away no matter how many times they are disproven. related quote: It is hard to get a man to understand when his paycheck depends on his not understanding.
- And next to zombie ideas we have [listening to win vs listening to learn]
- Permanent Bias
- And ultimately some of us have contradictory worldviews. ultimate differences that can’t be smoothed over. buffy needle episode. Tocqueville vs Gramsci: if we could all understand we want the same things in different ways we would get along fine vs we don’t all want the same things and we can’t all get what we want
- Politics is getting groups of people to do things as groups
- YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED. Hogfather
Meat brains vs computers
- we are in fact meat computers—implications
- human vs computer
- stalinist false memory vs orwellian false memory
- the world’s data is dirty
- we need certainty
- rounding all probabilities to ‘inevitable’ or ‘impossible’
** can’t live in maybe
- physicist example of reading bs in the paper
- NYT as ‘we need a paper of record’ because we need a paper of record, not because it’s good enough to be one
- Brain math in collaboration
- 1 brain + 1 brain < 2 brains
how to spend 1 hour on vision and mission and get your money’s worth
*** vision: the problem your organization exists to tikkun olam (the work is never but nor can you not try quote)
*** mission: What your company does to realize the vision.
** when to stop
** anti-pattern: just-so, where consulting books describe the perfect vision in highsight. “we weren’t really a car company, we were a bringing-families-together company”.
** anti-pattern: vision or mission longer than one sentence, too many clauses
Values. Like too-obvious-to-name quality controls (e.g., the stapler shall not explode at any time), these are the things where, if you can’t do the mission within the values, you must change the mission, or the values, or quit.
Rules of Thumb? Best practices?
- values model
- if you are not a direct contributor, what are you doing to support direct contributors?
- All decisions are, what am I going to do next? That’s the only thing you can control.
- systems that collect data to support decisions should be designed around the reports they provide, and the reports should be designed around the decisions they support.
- map out all data interconnections - which are value-add and which are machine-transfer
- compstat effect; must have a firewall vs performance management
- if you can’t count it, you can’t manage it vs if you can’t count it, but it’s important, you better not ignore it
- risk register as example
- burning up vs burning down
- are we building something, or are we Sisyphus?
- are we done yet?
- where are the gains coming from?
- dashboard for an airplane or dashboard for a picnic?
- Dashboard: top-down, overall status. used for work generation and reprioritizing. includes a second column, “are we doing all we can right now?”, which works from a triage model and can go all-green at any time.
- active decision-making.
- passive decision-making. Brain has an OODA loop running all the time; this relates to the “instruments” part of the dashboard metaphor
- change models
- diverge/converge, w/groan zone
- break out of normal, then fix it
- Immunity to Change theory
James Kozloski, who works as a computer neuroscientist at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Centre, says the brain is constantly looping signals through established pathways - pathways that can be thought of as city street maps for our minds. The brain repeatedly retraces its steps through these pathways, covering three different areas of functionality: sensory (what’s currently happening), behavioural (what we can do about it), and limbic (what it means to us).
Kozloski calls this closed-loop model the “Grand Loop”, and hypothesises that these repeated cycles are the reason the brain needs so much energy, even when we’re not actively solving maths puzzles or trying to juggle.
- estimation, forecasting, predicting
- feedback loop for estimation - fix it at the estimation level
- i.e., get better at breaking work into comparables.
10 replies that are always safe when you weren’t paying attention
- One kind of permament bias is that we keep forgetting that the basics are usually still applicable. AKA, “but this time it’s different” fallacy.
** funny example: 100 tricks to appear smart in meetings
** truth behind it: asking the dumb questions is almost always valuable because our blind spots never go away.
*** What are we trying to accomplish
*** Who hasn’t weighed in yet
*** is this a time for problem-solving or for information-sharing?
*** who doesn’t need to be here? Who is missing?
*** what does the user/person most affected/person paying for it/etc think about this?
*** when do we need to meet again? date/trigger. Who’s going to do that.
*** What decisions have we made in this meeting? What new work have we created, and who’s responsible for it?
*** Are we clear enough on what to do next that we can go and do it now, without needing the same people in this meeting? Visualize what you will do when you walk out/hang up—do you know? do you see any immediate barriers?
10 process management tasks that are always appropriate
- Synchronize two lists
- Test for consensus etc (Schein list of group functions)
- What is Leadership?
- humans are apes. apes are hierarchical. the ape in power is the one with the most allies, not the strongest (n.b. not true for gorillas, right? the father is in charge? probably species specific and much more complicated).
- servant leadership. hierarchical model, apes, synecdoche of manger = department
- sysadmin model: have extra powers because the community (the dcs) delegate them.
- 90% of technical problems are people problems (who deployed this, who approved it, etc)
- leaky abstractions
** orwellian vs stalinist false memory (nerve signals in the wrong place; problem with the sensor vs problem with the thing sensed)
** thermocline of truth
- WL concepts worth keeping:
** Cynefin framework (complex, chaos), a little bit
** listening to learn vs listening to win
** active listening
** non-violent communication, techniques that clarify the needs (when you X, I feel Y is not NVC) ‘you’re doing situation X, and I want to understand what that situation is’;
Best practices for remote
- regular face-to-face
- everybody is equally inconvenienced
- share the burden. inconvenient times … don’t rotate the inconvenience rapidly, since people build their lives around schedule.
- weave the connections together. you will talk to people on your team every day, so it’s less critical that you be co-located.
- what are the specific benefits of co-location? high bandwidth. valuable for: deep mind meld, and superficial but very expensive communication fumbles
- common knowledge exercise
- Scrum dress rehearsal