Stronger together

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C is for Collaboration

How are important are the skills necessary to have people work together?

Many of us have strengths and can accomplish a lot on our own. Individually, we can do a lot.

If you bring 10 people individually into a room, present each one with the same problem to solve, you can very likely get 10 different ways to solve that problem. From my experience working with groups, 6 or so of the different solutions will be quite workable, perhaps all 6, or even all 10, will be more or less equally good solutions.

If you gather all 10 people at once and facilitate the meeting with good collaboration skills, you’ll often get an even better solution by combining the talents, knowledge and ideas from all 10 into a group solution.

Ever been in a group when one person expresses an idea, and, even though that idea is not adopted, someone in the group hears it and has an important thought triggered by the first idea? Each new thought or bit of experience added to the mix refines, strengthens and improves the final approach.

If … the group is facilitated in an environment of openess, trust and welcoming of ideas and contribution.

We are stronger together than what we can accomplish on our own.

I’m including a YouTube link to a performance of “Stand By Me”. This was created by a world wide collaboration of street musicians; each performing in their own country, separated by time and distance but creating something stronger; together.

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Either or … All ?

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A is for All.

There is a concept in project management known as the “project triangle”. Imagine that at each point of the triangle you have Good, Fast and Cheap. The notion is that you can have any 2 of the three but never all three.

Good & fast or fast & cheap or … you choose.

This idea has spread quite widely and is common to hear expressed in meetings when new ideas or initiatives are being discussed. I attended a training couse on ITIL Foundations (Information Technology best practices) and saw this idea surface there as well.

Why do we accept this as dogma or unassailable wisdom?

I believe it has to do with how easy it is, or not, to do any better.
Can we do better than choosing “either or”?

I have seen at least two clear cases where we didn’t have to choose.

Case study #1:

I was working as the CIO of a small start up. We wanted to build a customer data mine that would allow us to explore consumer befavior from those people purchasing our product. We figured if we understood the customers that bought a lot of our product, we might better understand the sort of customer to select for targeted marketing with the highest purchase potential.

The problem was, we had very little money, time or staff to throw at this project. We weren’t completely sure what questions we might want to explore from the data mine so our design had to accomodate a lot of flexibility. It also had to be fast. A year’s worth of business was about 1.6 million records to examine for each new search and at the time, computers were not so inexpensive and not nearly so powerful as today. It also had to be easy. We didn’t want to create a search facility that only a database guru or programmer could operate. It had to be used by our marketing VP with just average technical skills like using Microsoft Word or Excel.

We spent a fair amount of time on design and then began to program. Once we got to test, it became clear that we’d achieved none of our objectives. It was slow, complicated and not very flexible. It was so complicated, that we couldn’t even figure out how to test some of the internals to be sure the answers we got were right! It was clear we would never succeed with this design.

We had about 3 months left of a 9 month project budget. What to do?

We threw all the work in the trash can and started over from scratch. Now, we only had 3 months left to finish. This turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise! Why?

Only a truly simple approach could be designed, tested and placed into use in that short time. Our earlier design had used a traditional, “normalized” database design that ended up joining the contents of 5 tables of data. The need for simplicity forced us to take those tables and join then into a de-normalized flat file once per day. That flat file then allowed us to use the very simple query tool that is built right into Excel. We ran some proof of concept speed tests. The approach proved to be lightening fast!

We showed our marketing VP our new approach and he loved it!

By being forced into a really simple approach, we had done it. We had a design that met all of our objectives: fast, cheap, simple, accurate, easy to program, easy to test, easy to maintain and easy to use!

Why wasn’t this our first design?

I’ve come to believe that what is simple, is not so simple to think through. Human beings, in particular technical human beings, seem to delight in the charm of complicated solutions. The simple approach is rarely the first idea to come forth (and this simple approach was resisted by the technical team). Truly simple approaches only emerge if the team is dedicated (or forced by circumstances) to find simplicity.

Case study #2:

At an ITIL training, we discussed the “either or” nature of the classic compromises faced by teams. It occured to me that almost all of us use a facility that is fast, easy and cheap (completely free, in fact) nearly every day; Google searches.

Fast? …yes! Easy? …yes! Cheap? …completely free!

Now, you could argue the cost is hidden from users because advertisers end up footing the bill. What’s wrong with that? In many cases, the un-intrusive Google text ads are actually helpful to users once they decide to find a source for whatever it is for which they have been searching.

Both the Google search service and the flat-file marketing datamine are examples of thinking “outside-the-box”. Neither, were so simple to think of first.

There are times when we can have it all. You might say, a win-win. Win-win thinkers have to be dedicated to acheiving that win-win state. The win-win is not so often the first solution that presents itself.

We don’t have to live in an “either-or” world. It only seems easier to accept that we might.

We’re not all the same

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I is for Individual

If you read many books on management, you might get the idea that all people are the same. The same “techniques” or “tips on management” will apply equally to all people and all teams.

In your life, how many people have you met that were just like you? People that liked the exact same clothes, food, videos, music, artwork, colors, etc. Not so many, yes?

The members of our teams are like that; different. One may have a great strength of building relationships, one strong in analysis and still another blessed with insightful, big vision. Some like specifics and verified, factual, information. Others like “the big picture” without a lot of details.

Not only that, our team members have different days; tired or rested, happy or sad, grumpy or enthused, etc. One of my managers would ask each day, “How’s it going?”; a pleasant, comfortable way to begin a meeting. It might also be a great way to get a little insight into how that team member is feeling; that day.

Each day, each person may have different needs from their manager or fellow team member(s). We’re not all the same and not all the same all the time. To be a really great team member or manager, we need to understand our team members and understand their unique, individual situations.

In order to communicate a message most thoroughly and effectively, our best advertisers and marketers try to “know their audience”. Great managers and team members will benefit from the same approach.

Know your team members; work at it actively.