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Successful Project Management Is As Easy As Safely Flying A PlaneIt’s been a decade since passengers have died in the crash of an airliner carrying more than 100 people, and there hasn’t been a deadly crash of a plane with more than 10 seats since … 2009.  Its a dramatic turnaround.  From July 1994 to January 1997, an airliner crashed at least once every three months, killing a total of 805 people.  … The federal government intervened, but not with sweeping laws or regulations.  Instead, a series of seemingly mundane, incremental changes, many recommended by the industry itself and put in place at little cost, have gradually made the skies safer.  … “[T]he things that had the biggest impact were base hits.”  Bloomberg Businessweek, Jan 30-Feb 5, 2012 Yes, Flying is a Pain. But It’s Safer Than Ever.

It is great to find that innovation or produce that product that changes the whole industry (e.g. iPad).  I’ve been fortunate to have been associated with businesses that have had these kind of successes (e.g., Motorola). But what keeps us going — allowing us to survive — between these home runs, is getting the job done and improving things incrementally every day.

A few percentage points improvement in productivity each year, for example, compounds into significant improvements that can readily keep us a step ahead of our competition (e.g., Toyota). Continuous small gradual improvements might not be as exciting as saving lives or creating the next killer product, but it keeps us in the game with the opportunity to hit one out of the ball park — at least on occasion.

Are your projects trying to change the world all at once or are some of them making continuous incremental improvements?

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2 thoughts on “Successful Project Management Is As Easy As Safely Flying A Plane

  1. Mike,

    We used the same kind of analogy in the Air Force: trying to make changes to an aircraft while it was already in flight — just about impossible and highly unsafe.

    I didn’t know Al, but I’ve known many people who sound like him. We would throw them into some of the worst planned projects and ask them to “make it work” for us. Rarely were they able to “save” the effort but the got high marks for trying and were rewarded by … throwing them into the next impossible task.

    The problem was that management would say things like “well, if it does not go well we can just put him [the Al’s of the world] on it!” So instead of making the hard decisions and changes, the solution was always “Al” and hence we saw proverbial plane wreck after plane wreck. (But we then went on to smarter projects where we didn’t need an Al to try and rescue it.)

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Bruce

  2. Mike Clayton says:

    Your vision of Proj Mgmt as similar to flying an airplane safely reminded me of a comment once made by famous Motorola “troubleshooter” Al Dulac, which I attempt to quote accurately, if not precisely.

    “This project is like flying a 747, upside down, fifty feet off the ground, no room to turn it over, and its running out of gas” – close approx.

    He was referring to the Motorola watch business startup project, as I remember. But was memorable expression of the situation at that time, when he was thrust into it. Al always got the tough assignments. But he took them on with vigor, intelligence, and humor.

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