Victus Spiritus


When to go out of book

20 Apr 2011

Risk Reduction from Day 1

Regardless of your specific team role, there is a familiar pattern to breaking ground on a new program. Each time you create or join a fresh project it's common to go through a ramp up phase which may last minutes or a few weeks depending on project maturity, complexity, and schedule.

During the learning phase it's customary to understand the project goal(s), what's already been accomplished, and what other sharp folks have done to address similar tasks (research). Then based on loose to well defined requirements, a good enough approach is executed and examined. For a given task successive satisfaction tests are applied by the individual, team and leadership until one of several conditions are met:

  1. the task is judged complete
  2. the task is handed over to someone else who can better execute
  3. the task is determined to be too challenging, impractical, or ineffectual and is cancelled
  4. the plug is pulled, and the project is cancelled

What are the outcomes of the above options? The first results in moderate success, the second occurs when leadership overestimates individual strength in a particular area, the third happens when a team is learning and isn't afraid to change direction, and the final option is all too likely in large organizations where lower priority projects are killed off regularly.

Recipes vs Improvisation

The above case is generic, by the book, and is absolutely horse shit if you are building anything novel. The risk reduction strategy is a recipe for minimizing failure, not for succeeding brilliantly. There is no cookbook for creativity.

If you're the type of person that relishes in well defined objectives and organized execution, you'll embrace and adhere to strict recipes which result in predictable results of limited productivity. If you prefer stomaching huge risk and the unknown just for the chance at bringing a brilliant solution to life, then you'll lean far more heavily towards improvisation. Real projects lie in the region between polar extremes, requiring adept skill to keep in harmony or purposefully out of balance.