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You Got My Scope All Sticky

This summer, I've made a point to catch up on reading (and re-reading) books I view as critical to enhancing and honing my skills as a project manager. I've talked before about how I like to read two or more books simultaneously and play the authors' thoughts off of each other like an imaginary debate/discussion. Another one of my literary consumption quirks is that I love to read books about 5-10 years after their release.

Let's face it: when a book is released, there's a lot of hype. As an author, I've learned firsthand how much work it takes to publicize a book. The more people who are talking about it, the better. But... how well does it stand up to time? In our constantly-evolving world of fickle attention-grabbers, is it still relevant a few years after release?

200203 Lauren Chocolate FaceI'm just starting into Chip and Dan Heath's book, Decisive, but before doing so, I opted to go back and reread Made to Stick. "Reread" may be too strong a term, as I'll admit I only scanned it at a high level when I bought a copy in 2008. This time, I really dug in, contemplated passages, took notes, and spent some time on it. Moreover, I thought about how it applied to my role as a project manager.

For those who haven't read it, the book is predicated on the acronym SUCCESs (the last 's' being irrelevant, but even they admit the acronym is contrived). According to the brothers Heath, for an idea to stick, it must be:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories (yes, we'll also forgive them for the lack of parallelism on this last bullet)

Still, in looking back on my career as a project manager and using it as a backdrop to the reading, I found the most successful projects I've managed started with scopes (i.e., what we're going to do) containing the elements above). Of these, the most critical have been simple and concrete. Can I as a project manager effectively convey the scope as a Twitter-worthy sound-bite (within 140 characters). I've always appreciated the Henry David Thoreau quote: "An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail." Instead of trying to do a dozen or so things half-way, pick two or three give them the focus they deserve.

If a project manager can help stakeholders at all levels TRULY UNDERSTAND what is happening in clear terms, s/he gets a lot further. I've often used Pepsi's informal mission statement from the early 1990's: Kill Coke. Very simple and concrete. The Heaths tell the story of Jeff Hawkins, project manager for the Palm Pilot. He carried a block of wood the size of his final product to all of his meetings in order to keep the team focused and to avoid feature creep (i.e., scope creep).

A sticky scope is a good thing, and put the effort into it up front. It will be a great investment to keep your project on track through planning and execution.

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