Home » Process Improvement » Being too simple can be a good thing

Yet Abt, on behalf of Carthage College, in Kenosha, Wis., has returns that beat Harvard ’s $37 billion endowment and most others. In the 10 years through the most recent college fiscal year, ended on June 30, 2017, the former beer company executive racked up a 6.2 percent average annual return, according to the school. That performance is better than 90 percent of his peers, based on data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Harvard’s endowment, the nation’s largest, averaged just 4.4 percent a year in the same period, in part because of heavy losses on investments in timber and farmland. At Carthage, Abt’s approach was more pedestrian: mostly low-cost, market-tracking index funds from Vanguard Group Inc., the same funds used by legions of do-it-yourself individual investors. Why isn’t reliance on indexing more common among those who oversee the nation’s half a trillion dollars in college endowments? “Maybe it’s too simple,” Abt says. Bloomberg Businessweek, May 7, 2018. Beating Goliath.

I heard it all the time. Something like: “we have to tell the projects to do something different, because that is why this oversight committee was created!” In another case a team was formed by the quality department to evaluate how well we were prioritizing fixing the defects we were finding in our product. By the time the team reviewed and argued the existing priority and then assigned a new one, we had often already fixed the defect. When I had pointed this out to the team’s lead, he responded that they still had to make changes in priorities, because that was why management had asked them to form this team.

In another example, we simply showed management the average time it was taking to develop a feature, fix a defect and complete a product. The simple averages were just unbelievable to them. They were unbelievable because they were too simple and they immediately exposed the fact that all the promises we had made would fail based upon these numbers. The fact that we always delivered late and buggy products did not deter them from arguing that the averages could not be right because they suggested we would not deliver on time … which had been always true!

Compare with projects on steroids

Similarly, “Publish or perish” type philosophies (education, media) have motivated a glut of articles that probably didn’t need to happen. A financial advisor, Mark Hurlburt, whose specialty was tracking the success of other financial advisors’ recommendations, admitted that he published monthly not because there was that much new fundamentally but because people wanted to hear from him at least monthly.

On this site, I regularly advocate maybe a dozen related concepts of project management, over and over and over again. This repetition is in part because there is not a lot new. Fundamentals are fundamentals and are often pretty simple. Luckily, the real world continues to provide a lot of good and bad examples of these basic project management concepts. As someone once said: “we need reminding more than we need new learning.”

However, just hearing the same old stuff gets pretty boring, so we inevitably do something to try and distinguish what we are doing from what someone else is doing. This leads to a lot of noise and dubious claims of something “new and better.” Nevertheless, the insight that much of our fundamental knowledge just needs to be followed with vigor (e.g., study hard, exercise regularly, invest broadly, etc.) is not nearly as motivating (especially when it is hard, such as dieting or finding the root cause of a defect) as that allegedly new and sexy idea that someone else is touting.

What well known simple fundamentals should you be concentrating on to ensure your projects are ultimately and consistently successful?

Thank you for sharing!

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