Your project management tools and solutions should fix the problem you are trying to fix. Too many solutions are just patches on the system and come from being an expert in applying patches rather than solving the underlying problem. You can get out of this rut, if you recognize it and are willing to make some tough choices.
The phone rang. I could see that it was a toll free number. Probably a political call or some sales offer I figured. I picked up the phone and said “this is Bruce Benson.” There was a slight pause, then a voice: “We are truly sorry, a representative will be right with you.” I was called and automatically put on hold!
Someone figured this was a good solution. If the automatic dialing got a person before a representative was ready, just tell the person — the potential customer — that they are put on hold. I bet it was considered a technical achievement to put this apology in when the customer answered before the representative could pick up the phone. At no time did the robot caller tell me who was calling or why. Instead, the robot apologized profusely and repeatedly as only a robot caller can do.
What was the problem? The dialer got ahead of the available salesperson (I assume this was a sales call, but I didn’t wait beyond hearing 1.5 apologies). The solution? Make an anonymous apology. Did it keep me on the phone? No. At best they could have used that time to start their sales pitch. That didn’t happen either.
Sometimes we simply pick the wrong solution. Often in these cases we may become experts in the wrong solution. I recall the story of Lee Iaccoca trying to produce the first convertible car any US manufacturer had made in years. His managers and engineers laid out how long it would take to design and manufacture this new car. Reportedly, after listening long enough, Iaccoca’s patience ran out. He told them to just take an existing car and cut the top off!
Setting aside if this produced a quality automobile or not, it highlights how we get stuck in a rut and can’t see another way out. We are very good at working in a rut, even if the rut always results in something that does not work as well as we want. Just like the robot call I got.
When we keep getting the same results, not the results we want, this is a wake up call to try and do something different. In general “something different” should probably scare the wits out of you and possibly your team. If it is not scary, if it does not make you wonder if you are going to keep your job, then it may not be different enough.
I was relatively deep in debt as a young man. I could not pay off my credit cards each month. I had a continuing balance that often went up as fast as it ever went down even as I made payments. I understood the details of the minimum payment, the calculation of interest, the deadlines for payment, and the daily average calculation used for interest computations. I would play a game where I would send in a payment that would result in an exact outstanding balance such as $12,345.67. I knew the algorithms so well that I could produce digits in any order in the resulting balance for next month. I was an expert. But I was an expert at the wrong thing. I was an expert at what the credit card companies wanted me to know, but not in what I needed to know to get out of debt.
Luckily I realized soon enough that if I could afford to pay interest on a credit card then I could afford to pay cash instead of using a credit card. This was one advantage to becoming an expert in the wrong thing. That expertise made me realize the futility of what I was doing. I chopped up my credit cards and learned, really fast, to pay attention to how much cash I had, when I got paid next, what bills I had to pay and how much I needed and when I needed it each month. I became an expert on my needs and income. This was much more useful than knowing credit card agreements inside and out. I never went into consumer debt again (excluding automobiles and houses, all of which I paid off in about a third of the time allotted – for more on this story and on financial management in general see Quicken is a Great Project Management Tool).
I kicked myself out of my comfort zone, my rut, by making a hard change. This is also similar to the notion in The Toyota Way where one gets rid of buffers so that the problems the buffers are meant to cover are exposed (see Project Management Tools Honesty Buffers). This way the underlying problem must be fixed and can’t be avoided. In both these examples the key event was yanking away the safe approach (which while safe, may still be challenging and difficult to do) and exposing the real problems that needed to be dealt with.
In the case of the robot caller, the real problem was to figure out a way for a representative to be on the call as soon as a person answered the phone. Putting in the automatic apology just delayed dealing with the real problem, at least for the moment. It certainly didn’t encourage me to stay on the phone.
Good solutions often require you or your team to be pulled out of your comfort zone. Too many solutions, even while innovative and unique, can simply be the wrong solution and just become another temporary patch on the system. If your past track record of solutions just don’t seem to be making enough of a difference, consider those approaches that put you and your team well outside your comfort zones. These are often the real solutions you are looking for.
What ruts in your project would you like to eliminate?