Thrash Now (and Ship Early)

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

Just about every complicated project is a form of a relay race. Within those projects, we cannot start our part until the person before us finish his task or at least get close enough that we can get started with our task. The Gantt chart is the tool we can use to manage our relay races.

The critical path in Gantt charts highlights the steps in the project that make up the absolute shortest path for project completion. Deviation from the critical path will slow down the entire project. Another word, we cannot make up for the delay from the tasks on the critical path because they are irreducibly minimum.  Our job as the producers, people who create the work that is going to change the culture, is to organize our work efficiently along that minimum path. When we veer from that path every time, we are going to cost everybody time and money.

Great project managers help people understand where the critical path was. That way, we could honor it by organizing around it and making our work more efficient. Too often, we get hung up on trying to invent stuff for the project when the critical path is more important than our invention. It is easy to invent a lot of useless chatters and activities (or thrashing) as the project gains momentum and importance. When a project gets more importance, it means that there is real money on the table and a lot of people are paying attention. When the number of people who are impacting the critical path goes up, thrashing or making a change to our project in the latter stages will get very expensive.

The alternative is the thrash at the beginning because, when we thrash at the beginning, it is cheap. If someone claims to have authority in your organization, they need to be in the meeting at the beginning. If they are there at the beginning, they can have input and influence. They can also take responsibility as matters come up. As the project advances, more and more people must get out of the way. If we can thrash early, we could make great work and produce like a professional. What it means to produce like a professional is to honor the relay race.

There is another question of when. When we want to bring an idea or a change in the world, the question of “when” matters. That is because the ratchet of technology keeps changing the rules. Changes in technology keep creating a new when.  The way we must interact with the technology ratchet is to launch whatever culture change we seek a little too soon. Successful venture capitalists also understand this art, and the art is to be just a little too soon.

If we want to change the culture, it is the best that the majority of the people think we are too soon. If everyone thinks an idea is too soon, we write it down for later consideration. If everyone thinks an idea is a good one, we are probably already too late. If two-thirds of the people think we are too soon, we might be onto something a little too early but probably is just right.