We all know Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) as the author of the great works of literature “Alice in Wonderland” published in 1865 and “Through the Looking Glass” following “Alice” six years later. These works are part of the fantasy genre and it has been said that Lewis Carroll was “on” hallucinogens while writing these wonderful works of art. Certainly, some of the narrative paints the picture of hallucinogenic responses to artificial stimulants, but perhaps it was simply a foreboding of the drug culture that would evolve a century later. This notion is further supported by Jefferson Airplane’s recording of “White Rabbit” in 1967 using a multitude of references to the “Alice in Wonderland” text.
Since “Alice in Wonderland” ranks in the top four of all-time novels sales, one can safely say that many of us have read “Alice” and probably did this during our younger years. As is often the case, when we revisit the literature of our youth in adulthood, those classics often seem to take on a different meaning and / or we tend to interpret the literature using a different lens. For this blogger, such is the case with “Alice in Wonderland.”
netlogx, LLC has provided premier Project Management and Project Management Office (PMO) services to our clients for over two decades. Clients vote with their dollars and netlogx has been honored by customers who have renewed netlogx services for multiple years beyond the original agreement. These extensions are the direct result of netlogx providing outstanding services and support and doing so in an “on time / within budget” manner. Many of the netlogx Project Management and PMO principles and tenets that have made netlogx and thus our clients successful can be found in Lewis Carroll’s works. The purpose of this blog is to demonstrate a bit of irony and humor to an otherwise very serious subject – successful Project Management.
The title of Chapter 1 of “Alice in Wonderland” is Down the Rabbit Hole. How often have we used this phrase to describe wanderings from the purpose of the project? Fast forward about 150 years from Lewis Carroll to Stephen Covey… Stephen Covey tells us that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” netlogx embraces these two themes and uses its considerable expertise to ensure that projects are kept on track and that the team remains on point and does not wander far from the mainstream objective(s), thus avoiding going down rabbit holes. We keep the end in mind and keep tasks on track to meet the project goals and hit the mark in terms of the end-result. As the King in “Alice” said, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end, then stop.”
Perhaps the best-known and most frequently used quote for Alice refers to a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
While project end-results are typically identified and defined, frequently clients are not quite certain which path to take to achieve the desired results and at times are also not certain what constitutes success or “doneness.” netlogx staff are trained and effective at analyzing the client’s objectives and goals and then developing an effective and efficient pathway to achieve the desired results, practical and pragmatic. While there are generally multiple paths and plans that would cause the project to be successful, there is always a best way. In those situations where the customer is not certain which path to take, netlogx can determine the most appropriate approach and then manage that path to a successful conclusion while also ensuring that there is “done” at the end of the pathway. netlogx can answer the Cheshire Cat’s question of “where do you want to go?” by working with the clients to clearly define the approach and method.
Project and Program Management are not purely scientific, but rather soft skills are needed as well, which include negotiating, collaboration, thinking outside the box, and developing alternative (sometimes unconventional) approaches to problem solving to list just a few. Keys to success with any project management endeavor includes being patient, persistent, and being unafraid of using one’s imagination to solve problems and identify possible risks. Two netlogx catch phrases are:
- We do hard things well
- We make the seemingly impossible projects, possible
We can again refer to “Alice in Wonderland” citing a conversation between Alice and the Queen of Hearts.
Alice: “There’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Of course, having confidence in oneself and the team is an underrated characteristic. Projects, while often daunting, are never impossible. netlogx approaches project management and oversight with confidence, creativity, teamwork, and a solutioning approach applying critical thinking to mitigate risks and solve problems. We frequently believe in six impossible things before breakfast each day during the life of a project!
Project success is built on hard work. As a colleague of mine once stated so simply “Systems are hard.” Project trajectories are characterized by critical paths, changes, peak and valley work efforts, changing resource alignments, and heroic efforts to meet deadlines and stay on the required path. Alice may have been a project manager in her “real life” and she definitely shared thoughts consistent with what we as project managers often experience. And as project managers we are required to wear many different hats during the course of the engagement.
Alice: “How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”
The White Rabbit is also responsible for citing an observation that at times seems to be a reality for us all when working furiously on projects or the day to day task oriented activities: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get”, which was supported by the Queen of Hearts: “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
While projects do indeed have peaks and valleys and often require work efforts at a frenetic pace, the trained and experienced netlogx staff has been recognized by our clients as being masterful at managing projects through periods of high velocity work, ensuring that tasks are addressed prior to crises occurring, and ensuring that work efforts produce results. Unfortunately, rework is a common project occurrence which contributes to the feeling of the “hurrier I go, the behinder I get” phenomena due to team members needing to repeat tasks and work when there is rework or external entity defects. Rework minimization and defect elimination are sub goals of netlogx projects.
netlogx is proud to employ and offer certified staff in Project Management (PMP) and Six Sigma (Green Belts, Black Belts, and Master Black Belts) as well as Project and Program Managers and project team members. While applying the proper disciplines of the Project Management Institute (PMI) Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), netlogx staff supplement the methodology with Six Sigma principles and lateral thinking to help achieve success and accurately track and report project progress and status. netlogx utilizes a unique approach to tracking and reporting that far exceeds traditional stop light reporting. Our clients have told us that they appreciate the unconventional tracking of projects and the use of unique tools such as the Six Sigma House of Quality, and the fact based statistical quantification of progress, status, and results. Trending, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), scatter plots, Ishakawa diagrams, Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA), and upper and lower control limit (UCL, LCL) analysis are just a few of the other Six Sigma tools used that are not typically employed in project management but that netlogx has found to be highly useful as confirmed by our clients.
Mad Hatter: “Have I gone mad?”
Alice: “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
“I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.” – The Cheshire Cat
Those of us who have been involved in projects have heard and perhaps used a Project Management principle: “How do you get six months behind on a project?…one day at a time.” The intent of this often-used salient point is to stress the importance of task and time management. A degree of micro management is necessary in any project particularly as it relates to the critical path tasks. netlogx qualified and experienced staff understand and manage to timelines that allow micro tasks to be completed on time and for key milestones to be met. Meeting project deadlines and staying within project budgets are two mandates that netlogx takes very seriously and the aforementioned tools and techniques employed are used to help achieve these objectives. In the midst of high profile, high priority projects, time seems to pass disproportionately fast often yielding that feeling of “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get”. Lewis Carroll again offers a wonderful quote that aptly describes how project managers often view time frames and time lapses.
Alice: “How long is forever?”
White Rabbit: “Sometimes, just one second.”
Hopefully this blog has served to illustrate a few parallels between project management perils as alluded to by Lewis Carroll in his works, and Project Management methods and practices employed by netlogx, LLC to effectively address project needs of all sizes and types required by our customers. In addition to the metaphorical references mentioned in the previous paragraphs, there are also at least two Lewis Carroll situations project managers endeavor to avoid.
Mad Hatter: “You’re not the same as you were before, you were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.”
And most importantly we want to avoid this.
“Off with their heads!” The Queen of Hearts