Yeah, I know, I already got that side
Focusing on the solution to the problem ≠ Focusing on the problem
Two guys are getting together to go someonewhere. One is driving. The other guy meets the driver at his car, where the driver is doggedly using a metal coat hanger inserted into the door on the driver’s side. The second guy asks, what’s up? The driver explains he locked his keys in the car, so he’s trying to get the doors unlocked by jiggering the locks with the hanger. The second guy hangs out on the passenger’s side, and after awhile, out of boredom, tries the door. It opens. “Hey, the door’s open!” The driver guy, still totally focused on the hanger in the door on his side, says, “Yeah, I know, I already got that side.”
That little joke was funny when I first read it.
Case #1 I spent several minutes one morning trying to get my Outlook Tasks list to pop up properly with a reminder to complete part of my morning routine (checking that backups ran the night before). I did this after I (a) had already checked backups and (b) verified that I would be reminded about backups the next day.
Case #2 I’m writing documentation on obsolete systems replaced by software totally different, because… documentation is good? Sure, but we’re short a person, so spending that time getting the new software debugged might be more useful. Yes, when we have oodles of resources, obsolete documentation might be a good just-in-case thing, but maybe “SYSTEM 2.3.2 replaced with SYSTEM 3.0 on 16 Nov 2015, see Charles for details” would be enough for the time being? But the project plan says that old systems will be documented.
Case #3 In middle school and high school, I earned money mowing neighborhood lawns. Hot weather and cold. After school and on weekends. Early spring through late fall. The week before I went to college I cut my last lawn for the last time. After that, I never lived in a place with a lawn that I owned or was responsible for, because I really, really hated mowing the lawn. So when my wife and I were looking for a place to move in after we got married, we only looked at town homes, because I really hate mowing the lawn. But then our realtor found a house, and it was great, and the price was doable, and I had to explain that I really hate mowing the lawn, so it was a non-starter because I could never live in a place with a lawn.
Sometimes we are so focused on the door lock we forget we just need to get the car to start.
In my old Navy project management training, we were taught something called “Milestone Zero,” which can be summed up as, What problem are we trying to solve?
Case #1 What problem are we trying to solve? Make sure the backups went okay. I was trying to get Outlook to remind me of a task I had already completed, purely for the satisfaction (apparently) of checking the item done. The original problem, however, is solved.
Case #2 What problem are we trying to solve? Get the software updated as quickly and efficiently as possible. Who wrote the project plan? Ah, that would be me. Wait… there, the project plan now says old systems will be documented as resources allow. Fixed.
Case #3 What problem are we trying to solve? Find a nice house we can afford and will enjoy living in. The realtor mentions that there are nice people who will happily let us pay them to mow our yard. Ah. That would be people like me, when I was a kid. Okay, we’ll take the house. (Great house, btw; still here almost 16 years later.)
It is freaking terrifying how often I’ve seen people embark on projects without defining the problem first. They are so caught up in the wonderful solution (Networked computers in all the remote offices! Automatic notifications to customers! AJAX replacing all the static webpages!) they miss whether the problem matches the new solution. The solution is right, damnit! We just know that it is!
Put it on a sticky note and stick it to your monitor. Write it on a 3x5 card and tack it to the wall of your cubicle. Write it in big letters on the whiteboard in your office, draw a box around it, and add “DO NOT ERASE.” Put it on your smartphone’s wallpaper. What problem are we trying to solve?