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It Is The Idea, Not The Money That Brings SuccessKimberley Motley, an American litigator practicing in Afghanistan and elsewhere, shows how a country’s own laws can bring both justice and “justness”: using the law for its intended purpose, to protect. How I defend the rule of law, Kimberley Motley, TED Talk, October 2014.

In my twenty year career in the Air Force and over ten years in the corporate world, I helped many organizations move from late and buggy project delivery to on time with good quality.  In no case did I ever ask for more money for a project to succeed.

I didn’t ask for more money because the problems rarely had to do with money.  It usually had to do with poor ideas that were in turn executed just as poorly.  The typical kind of poor idea was the classic “if you tell me you need a year to get it done, I’ll give you nine months to do it!”  Another typical poor management practice was to recognize and promote those people who made the most noise, pointed the most fingers, treated their employees harshly and sucked up the most to more senior management. Yes, it does really happen.

What I loved about Kimberley Motley’s TED talk was that it was centered on a few key ideas.  Those ideas, such as using the existing laws to help her clients, when understood and executed well had exceptional results. She emphasized how understanding what already existed and how it was suppose to work and then using that then made a huge difference in getting “justness” to her clients.

I’m a great advocate of going beyond the rules and regulations.  Too many rules are old and outdated and are no longer relevant, yet we continue to use them.  However, I’m also a great advocate of first understanding how the current system works and how it is intended to work.  It is amazing the gems one will find when we finally understand how things are set up, even if not currently used.

Compare with The One Perfect Project Management Methodology

I tell the story of my time in NATO where after I finished up and was moving on, I got some great feedback. I knew we had done well, moved things forward, but the surprise to many people was that I, with no previous experience in the heavily bureaucratic and political NATO, could get so much done.  Much more, I was told, than even experience NATO veterans could often pull off.

I realized that what I had done was to first  understand the rules, regulations and culture of the organization.  Once I had that I tried to leverage what already existed to get things done.  I still often pushed the envelope on what was considered acceptable approaches.  But the core reason I could get things done and was even allowed to do more was because I knew, understood and applied the acceptable and expected NATO approaches.  Often I applied it in what were new and novel ways, but in many cases I simply did what the system was set up to do, but what many people would not have the patience and persistence to complete (e.g., heavily bureaucratic with phenomenal paperwork).

The point to all this, and also found in Ms. Motley’s TED talk, was that first understanding the existing system was essential.  She found that there were laws, some never used, that existed and were designed to protect clients such as she had.  She made use of those laws and was successful.  I suspect she was successful in large part because she made every attempt to understand and adhere to the law and thus respect the law.  In a country such as Afghanistan, where she practiced, this showing of respect by an American lawyer probably earned her the trust and respect, in turn, from the Afghanistan jurists.

The key point I wanted to highlight was she was successful not by getting lots of government money and people, but instead by understanding and applying effective ideas.  This was my same experience in government and even in industry.  What made the difference was a new approach, a new idea which often was nothing more than an older idea dusted off and reused.  The failed approaches, which often preceded our successful efforts and had been going on for years, were usually centered on how much money and people were needed.  When things failed, and they did regularly, the conclusion was almost always that we needed more money and more resources.  I never once saw a struggling project turn successful by an infusion of more money. Never.

One of my diagnostics when working with a customer or even listening to any proposal for doing something different, is are they talking about the idea or about the money.  When the bottom line is “we just need more money”  then I have grave doubts that the effort has sufficient good ideas to be successful.

See more at Why Your Project Does Not Need More People, More Time And More Money

When instead, we find an effort (e.g., pocket of excellence) just accomplishing good things with the resources they have, then we know we have something that has a good probability of being more successful with a reasonable infusion of support.  Yes, a lot of my projects did get more money, but that just enhanced the size of the success. It was never that we needed it to be successful where past efforts had failed.

See also Don’t Squash Your Pockets Of Excellence

Can you make a difference using just your ideas and existing resources or do you believe you need money to make any significant improvement?

Thank you for sharing!

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