It Takes the Best to Make the Best

Nov 12, 2010 No Comments by

Today I’ll continue walking through a list of six project management rules that I started a couple days ago. These maxims are based on a collection of “rules for baking” which I discovered in my batter-&-splatter-stained copy of the 1933 General Foods Cookbook called “All About Home Baking“.

Wednesday’s rule was “Be Orderly“. PM’s can benefit from following a clear process to plan and execute a project just as chefs can benefit from following a clear recipe.

Thursday’s was “Use Good Tools“. I described 3 critical tools you will need to establish baselines and track the schedule, budget and risks related to your change initiative.

Today I’ll show how the kitchen advice to “Choose Good Ingredients” and “Measure Accurately” can be applied just as readily to managing the implementation of a big change as baking a 3-layer cake.

A novice baker will not be able to turn out this Red Velvet Wonder without a good recipe and some diligent follow-through.

3. Choose Good Ingredients. The cookbook’s author insists:

“…you can’t do first-rate baking with second-rate materials.”

and

“…clear up once and for all the baking troubles which result from the use of inferior or inappropriate materials…”

I suggest that the most important ingredients to project work are your people.  So these strong words about ingredients apply to how you staff your projects. Look for the best of ingredients.  How can you tell you have the “right stuff” to get started?

  • Ensure the people who staff your project are qualified to perform their role. Plan for skill-building to fill gaps if the project involves new technology or new processes that they have limited experience with.
  • Make sure to secure the appropriate involvement from the business process owners who will be most impacted by your project.  Get direct sign-off from the key players as you go along or you will risk back-tracking and undoing decisions.
  • For more on this topic, see my earlier post on building a change team.

4. Measure Accurately.  The best ingredients in the world will not ensure a great result unless they are used in the right amounts and proportions.  The same is true for project ingredients.

  • Just as a great baker must monitor to keep the oven temperature constant and avoid introducing unwarranted changes to the baking environment by opening the oven door just to look at things… a good project manager should maintain a healthy and open working environment for their team.  Keep the most important issues out on the table and don’t allow unanswered questions to undermine trust between team members.
  • Once or twice during the oven time, bakers will use a toothpick to check how well-done their cake is. What’s the metric that matters? “It’s not done until the toothpick comes out clean.” Check it in the middle, since the edges will produce a false sense of baking progress.  As you manage your change project, consider what clear indicators of progress you will take and make sure the entire team is aware that the results will be measured.  Make these metrics of progress a part of the regular status reporting we discussed in yesterday’s post.

Help your project team maintain a steady pace while accomplishing their work by

…the Critical Path is the one that matters most to your final success! Avoid basing your understanding of project status on wishful thinking!

measuring progress at regular intervals without being overbearing. Just as a “watched pot never boils”, avoid bothering our team too much with administrative reporting.  Project Managers should measure all activities, but focus on the critical path – not just the work items that you understand best! Only checking these “easy to measure” items could give you a false sense of progress.

Also, use clear criteria to determine if an activity is complete and stick to a few simple metrics of performance so you don’t slow the team’s “real work” down with too much project management “busy work”.

Tomorrow I will close this series by touching on the final 2 baking rules on the list of 6:

  • Mix Carefully… and my favorite:
  • Know Your Pans and Ovens and How to Cool Your Cakes.

-Steve

Question for Chatter:

  1. Can a complex topic like project management really benefit from such a simplistic view or have I over-simplified it here?
  2. I’ve used baking to help explain project management. What other disciplines have you applied to explain the basics of your profession?

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!
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