Imagine a frog and then imagine a pan of boiling hot water. Now imagine that some crooked mind lifts the frog and puts it in the pan of boiling hot water. What do you think will happen? Yes, the frog will jump straight out of the pan within a faction of a second (if the lid of the pan is not closed).
Now imagine the same frog and a pan with room temperature water. Now imagine an even more crooked mind leaving the frog in that pan and putting that pan on a burner with a slow flame underneath it. What do you think will happen now? Yes, in this case the frog will not jump out but will feel at home in water.
Now, over time, the water in the pan will get warmer. What do you think frog will do? It will feel even more at home; feel happy at the warm water giving it a gentle massage to its skin & legs.
Now the crooked mind increases the flame and slowly the water starts getting warmer & warmer and then hot. What do you think the frog will do? As the water gets warmer, it will feel happier but it will not be able to realize when the water has become too uncomfortable for its own good. As the flame gets bigger underneath & water gets boiling hot, the frog will have lost all the energy in its legs to jump out. Its mind will tell to bail out but there won’t be any energy left in the frog and it will continue to be in the pan and face a slow death…
So, what has this got to do with project management & project managers?
Well, analyze carefully and you will realize that there is not much difference between a frog & the most project managers. There is also not much difference between the pan (with water) & the project environment. Most project managers, if asked to take over a project in between, would know how ‘hot or cold’ it is and then take appropriate action. This is just like the frog being put in hot water and it taking immediate action.
However, what most project managers don’t realize the 2nd scenario they land up in — where they start with water at room temperature & the water gets warmer at first and with the flame getting bigger over time the temperature under the collar gets soaring. At the start of the project, just like the water in the pan at room temperature, things look perfectly in control for the PM – a small team, key members staffed, not much confusion.
Things remain fine for some more time (till the water is warmer) but somewhere down the line things just implode and before the PM realizes things have gone out of hand (water is too hot, in the pan, for the frog to take any action). There are quality issues, builds are failing, customer is dis-satisfied, the team is unhappy & clueless, senior management is watching with eagle eyes, your family life is ruined and while driving to office you wonder how things came to be where they are today…
You wonder how & when that excellent Tech-Lead became a bottleneck & the go-to person for even small things – such as from where to setup the development environment or which version of IDE to be used with what plugins — you wonder why the leads are spending more time in answering routine questions & forwarding emails rather than doing their actual work. You wonder why the testing team doesn’t have access to the latest requirements in order to prepare the test cases. You wonder why the same question is being asked and answered a gzillion times. You wonder why customer wants you to resend the status update report of last month. You wonder when this project will end..!!!!
The fact is that we don’t realize or observe or are blind to the small changes happening around us and the long term impact of these small changes. Many downstream issues are caused by our inability to react to significant changes that occur gradually. And in today’s era, nobody pays attention to anything ‘small’ unless it is on fire or priority#1. Everybody loves a hero – a person who turns around a losing situation into a winning one (organizations reward people who get troubled projects back on track but not necessarily those who avoid trouble and go unnoticed.) Because changes (from room temperature to warm to hot to boiling hot) happen so slowly that they go unnoticed and you are then left to wonder where and when things went wrong.
The irony is that it is not just first time PM’s who fall for this. Experienced PM’s also fall into this over & over again and then blame the ‘system’. Great PM’s foresee & preempt the ‘upcoming changes’ and plan accordingly. They plan like good chess players – several moves in advance and multiple scenarios. They manage the environment of the project accordingly to prevent the effects of ‘global warming’ within the project. Such PM’s ensure satisfied customers, happy people and predictable outcomes.
So, how can PM’s foresee & preempt the ‘upcoming small changes’ and prepare well? What can they do? That’s for another post 🙂