In a perfect world every project would be meticulously conceived, planned and executed with "military precision". I always find huge irony in the phrase "military precision" as just about every battle ever has gone horribly wrong in some way and very few have ever been completed without some loss of life. Anyway, our perfect world projects should all be clearly advertised in advance, clearly specified and allow for huge contingency etc etc etc...
But not one of us lives in the perfect world, no matter how hard we strive to make it so. Perfect worlds don't have unexpected incidents, unplanned absence, change in direction, lack of budgets or over stretched resources. So accepting that we live in an imperfect world what do we do? You have an idea, a clear need and a will to get it out there as soon as possible. Yet the imperfect world conspires against you at every turn.
How do you achieve a compressed delivery in an imperfect world? We do this all the time within Nautoguide using something we call the "adventure protocol". It's based on five key principles we apply to such projects. But first we must find some special people.
Seek out the adventurers
The imperfect world has always been tamed by the Adventurers, those prepared to step out into the unknown and see what they can find. In fact this world was made for them as they are uncomfortable with routine and crave a life full of challenge and excitement. Adventurers are always willing to explore, give them a taste of what you want them to find and they'll beat down every obstacle in their path to achieve it.
Walter Raleigh was told to find new lands and create a larger empire, he did a pretty good job of that.
Marie Curie overcame a childhood littered with deprivation to adventure into an unexplored field of science subsequently changing all of our lives for the better
And let's not forget Forrest Edward Mars, "Mars. Who?" I hear you say? Well without his adventuring into chocolate we'd be deprived of the Malteser one of our key coping mechanisms for the imperfect world.
So to get your idea out there quickly you're going to need a bunch of adventurers. You may have them already and if so you'll know how to deal with them. But if not, read on and I'll tell you how I think you should select them, as picking the wrong crowd can lead to the discovery of something a lot less pleasant than you had initially envisaged.
Check them for buy in
You don't want these adventurers wandering off all over the place exploring areas willy nilly. Queen Elizabeth would have been pretty hacked off if Raleigh had returned with a map of the Isle of Wight. She wanted new empires and that's what he set out to find. You need your adventurers to buy in to your particular task in hand. This is surprisingly easy to sniff out. Look at their approach in business, do they tell you how it should be done before you've even met? Do they tell you that their software is the only and best approach to the problem without even asking you what you're after? Do they ask the right questions? Are they teaming with ideas that match your objective?
You need a buy in. You need a team that immerse themselves in your specific problem, are light on the caveats but most importantly display a genuine enthusiasm for getting the job done. This is often diluted when the "do-ers" are hidden behind account or project managers. Realistically you need a good look into the horses mouth.
Start delivering from the off
One of the problems Queen Elizabeth had was a huge wait before having sight of Walter's work. In his case she had to allow 7 years for him to toddle off, establish a foothold and report back home. Not exactly agile in today's terms. Not ideal for the Queen either as she has to hang about for quite a while before the first progress report.
In our world we often only have weeks to establish a foothold. This means we need to be sure that we're heading in the right direction from day one. And the only way to do this is to provide early sight of the end product. We call this "delivering from the off". Quite frankly if you're on an extremely tight timescale and you can't get something up for review in a day or two then the end product is very unlikely to happen.
Get the hard things done first
This sounds so obvious but all too often agile projects come a cropper at the last hurdle when a tricky task dismantles the plan and sends the team into disarray. A good adventurer will know this and help you identify the things that are hard and put the project at most risk. A better adventurer will attack these with a relish from the outset, determined to take the shortest path to success by the most direct route. This diminishes risk as the project progresses rather than deferring it in the name of "early success"
Practise open, honest, rapid communication
Yeah, you knew this was coming. We've heard it time and time again that the success of many projects, initiatives, businesses and processes have been hindered by poor communication. This is even more critical when you're using adventurers to help you deliver. You need to be able to talk to them in real time, share these communications with others and carry them out in an environment with as few constraints or taboos as possible.
This means opening up to each others discussion channels, this builds empathy and understanding if carried out well. It also means giving and receiving honest feedback. If you don't like it, tell your adventurers now and don't be afraid to say so. A good adventurer will take that on board. Also be prepared for them to tell you that your idea may not be the best way to traverse the particular problem. Listen to them and digest as they're out there fighting through the foliage on your behalf.
Sounds hard? We do this with Slack, a fantastic tool for rapid intra-team communication and a way of quickly sharing opinion,comment, ideas and issues.
Finally, share issue and defect management
This one is hard. Your adventurers have returned with something that's nearly there but isn't quite what you are after. It's tempting to send them back out there with an instruction to not come back until it is fixed. But on a tight timescale this can be difficult to co-ordinate, prioritize and communicate. A good adventurer will help you out here. They'll give you direct access to their issue management system or process and won't hide a thing. You'll see the tasks they're dealing with and see the discussions they are having within. You'll understand and empathize and as a result help them prioritize. Sometimes issues seem easy but the impact goes deeper. Shared issue viewing and management allows the "team" to see the full picture and make decisions accordingly.
Of course there are many other attributes that aid a rapid delivery. Experience, prior knowledge, open technology and flexibility also being key. But the core principles above have seen us deliver many seemingly impossible projects in an imperfect world.
London Activity Map
Last week we delivered the London Activity Map working with the communications team from the Greater London Authority. We're very proud of this project aimed at engaging teenagers in the activities around them with a view to reducing anti-social behaviour as a result.
The map includes activity management, moderation, data import/export and many other features. But more importantly was designed and implemented to a live environment, in TWO WEEKS.
Two weeks is a seemingly impossible challenge when the project crosses organisations. Yet we delivered this by using the "adventurer protocol" and the GLA achieved it by finding the right adventurers in the first place.