The Gorilla changing room- Making decisions out of choices

“WAIT, WAIT, What?”
Bob hasn’t been handling stress to well lately. His last word broke into a near falsetto and the tick above his eye was threatening to register on the Richter scale.
Monica didn’t seem the least phased by the outburst. I think it would have taken a good 9.0 to shake the plastic smile from her face. “Marketing thinks Pantone Snorkel Blue 19-4049 is not the right shade for the logo on the case. We want to look at Dark Blue 19-4035 instead.”
Okay, so I have to admit Bob was probably justifiably upset. Me, I was having an odd sense of déjà vu.
“Excuse me, Monica, but didn’t we go over the logo color about three weeks ago and all agree on Snorkel Blue?” I asked, trying to give poor Bob time for his blood pressure to get back down under 200.
Monica gave a casual wave with her absolutely pristine fingernails. “Well, yes, but marketing wasn’t sure then so we didn’t say anything.”
If Monica kept talking in the third person I might just snap myself. “Okay, we are starting mass production in a day. I’m not even sure we can change the color. Wally?” I turned to look at the head of our hardware team.

Wally looked at me with a pained expression that didn’t need words. If they had words, they’d probably been something like “I’ve had our manufacturer change the blasted logo color seven times, how many more do you want to change it?”
Monica gave a dismissive wave to Wally. “Marketing feels certain that the color has to change, can’t you just speed up the shipping process to cover?”
Bob leaned forward, smoke veritably curling from his ears. “We already chose the color, five times. If you can’t be bothered to attend the meetings because you are to busy getting your forehead botoxed…”
Hogarth sidled up to me, his hot breath on my neck the first clue I had to his nearness. Thing is I wasn’t surprised. The meeting was going just so many different ways of wrong that I knew he was bound to show up sooner or later. I guess you could say I was starting to learn and understand his presence. His appearances were no longer absolute surprises of non-sequiturs.  I could almost hear the lesson he was about to give.
“So does this make you Bill Murray?” he asked.
Blink… Huh? Blink… Blink… That was not the lesson I was expecting.
I turned away from Bob’s latest fusillade at Monica and stared at Hogarth. His brilliant white smile was in counterpoint to his bushy black eyebrow raised at me in question. Sometimes I think he truly takes pleasure in confounding me to speechlessness. “Hogarth, what on earth are you talking about?”
Groundhog day of course. You know, the film with Bill Murray reliving the same day over and over until he gets things right?”
“Hogarth, it’s not February, I’m not Bill Murray and what the hell does this have to do with the meeting.”
“Well didn’t you already decide on the color of the logo five times?”
“No, it’s been seven…” Hogarth just looked at me.  “Oh, hell.”
There is a malaise sweeping business, from San Francisco to Sydney and Johannesburg to Edinburgh the same problem is rearing up to prevent companies from succeeding, from moving forward, from getting anything done, from not killing each other in meetings of death, from doing the right things, the right way. What is this frightening cancer? What is this thing that is able to crush your projects and leave the teams wondering what was the license plate of the bus they were just thrown under?
We can’t make decisions… To be clear, we are very good at picking choices. We are wonderful at nodding heads and saying “yes” but we are absolutely abysmal at making and committing to decisions. When it comes to putting the rubber to the road, we are found to be lacking even the tires needed to hit the road.
Wait a minute. You just said we are very good at making choices, what’s the problem?
A choice is not a decision: A choice is picking someone to ask to prom night. A decision is saying “I do” to marry your spouse. When you go to Baskin and Robbins (A US based Ice Cream store) there are thirty-one choices of ice cream, but there is only one decision as to what you’ll get on that single scoop. A decision is a stake in the ground with clear accountability tied to it.
Accountability… There’s that scary word again. Don’t run away, it won’t bite. Accountability is easy. It can be fulfilled with Mark Horstman’s single law of project management., “Who, Does What, By When.”
You see, what so often happens is that everyone is sitting in the room and a plan is developed. People nod their heads, and maybe the guy who was really opposed decides now is not the time to object. But then there is no follow up. Sure it might have gotten documented in the meeting minutes, but no one was assigned ownership. No date was set. No specific plan was set. How do we know if it is done? How do we know if what was agreed is what is being done? How do you measure the “acceptance criteria?”
If a choice was made, you don’t. If a decision was documented then you have.
Hey now! Don’t run scared just because I used the “D” word. Documentation does not need to mean a twenty page requirements document. Documentation just needs to be “Who,” “What,” “When.” The only hard part is the what and if you define what by the acceptance criteria it can be pretty darn easy.
You have the power! Stop the déjà vu cycle! Don’t go through another Groundhog day again. Don’t let a meeting end without “Who,” What,” and “When” being written down and agreed to.
Change isn’t a bad thing. But changing because you didn’t agree the first time is a waste.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla?
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Gorilla Documentation- Why did we do this?

I sat back in my chair, trying to determine at what point I had lost all control of the meeting. I mean as a project manager it is pretty important to be in control, so it is doubly so to know at what point you absolutely and without a doubt lost control.

I think it was the moment the Exec asked “Why the hell is unicorn blue?!” (Okay it’s not a unicorn and it wasn’t blue, but for the sake of this blog it’s a unicorn and it’s now blue). This was promptly followed by a verbal scramble and near physical scramble. The QA guy looked at the engineering guy, who looked at the product manager, who did the fish out of water routine for a moment. He then launched into a halting rendition on how the unicorn priorities had changed based on competitive market differentiation (Our chief competitor already had a white unicorn and all), but when questioned on details (you know, cost of change, can we charge more, how this would change our market mix, etc) he fumbled with his computer trying to look up the data. At this point I vainly stepped into the fray to meekly say “We reviewed this a couple of months ago and you agreed.” To which the Exec replied, “I don’t remember that. I wanted it white, change it back.”

No, I guess when I really lost control was when the engineering guy helpfully piped up that it would be a four week slip to change back to white. Yes, that’s where I lost control.

“You know…” drawled Hogarth from the corner. I turned my head to look at the hulky form of my gorilla. He was sipping on a banana daiquiri without a care in the world. “If you had a Change Control process in place…” he left his sentence unfinished. Not that he really needed to finish it, I was all too aware of the unspoken end of this statement.

Yes, I’d run smack dab into the “We already decided this” gorilla. I tend to call him Deja, as in “Haven’t we done this already?”

Change Control is an often forgotten process. Whether you call them Engineering Change Requests, Project Change Requests, replace Request with Order or something else, the process of documenting changes to the project, after the project has been kicked off is often left at the side of the curb of the project management super store.

It can start innocently and well meaning enough, “Oh, we just had the Plan of Record, we’ll just update that”, or “The schedule slip can’t be changed, no point in going through a PCO review”, and the best one “It’s just a little change.”

It’s a slippery slope, do you let process paralyze you, slow you down, impede needed change? Or do you dive forward, intent on the end goal and not know exactly what you have when you get there.

How about neither? It’s a fine line. Agile’s Scrum demonstrates that change is a good thing, you don’t want to have a product that isn’t what you need when it is finally done. On the opposite side, if you have no clear idea of what the product is, how do you sell it? Even better, how are the poor souls in Customer Support supposed to support it?

I always approach this with a simple concept. I tell my team two key things. First, “Change isn’t bad. This isn’t about putting a roadblock up to stop change, it’s about making sure everyone knows what is happening and what they need to do. The second thing is, “Six months from now, when the CEO asks why the hell it’s pink, we can show her why and the reasoning why.”

I even use the PCO form to document the undeniable. Our primary source of Widget Goo burned down and the product will be four weeks late as a result. It’s not like anyone is going to reject the schedule change PCO for that, right? Right? So I go and fill out the PCO form, document it was a forced approval and file it with the rest.

PCOs are like a breadcrumb trail. They take you from the final product, all the way back to the project contract and show you how you got from a White Unicorn, to a Green Ogre.

And another big this about change control, change isn’t a bad thin…

“Ah, ah…” Hogarth piped up. “That’s a whole other gorilla.”

He’s right, change is good is a topic for another day. F
On the front lines,
Joel BC
Veteran, the Project Manager wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.

[Non-legal mumbo jumbo: As a reminder, all these tales are either based on a wide amalgam of events over my career or completely made up tales to convey a certain point. None of these blogs represents a specific instance or specific people.]