Monday, October 05, 2009

A failed project in a previous job. And Seth Godin's advice.

"Today, R&D organizational work processes focus on generating the final specification that is handed off downstream to manufacturing. This work generates the equivalent of 5% of the total information created. More importantly, 95% of the effort and knowledge created along the way, critically vital information, ends up being lost unless processes, systems, and databases are in place to capture these critical organizational assets."

- Howard R. Moskowitz

I had the pleasure of presenting what prediction markets are all about to an audience at Palladium's 2009 Business Performance Conference.

One thing I touched on was a project that failed at a previous job. Let's call it Project Fail.

This project had already been going on for a few months with 5-6 people before I came on board. And they brought me on to put to add some finishing touches to help roll it out the door as something presentable to potential clients.

The specifics of the project aren't all that important.

What is important, is that the project was doing something that seemed an awful lot like another project I had friends on 4 years prior to this (Project Forgotten). Project Forgotten was shut down for various reasons, and I had heard of those reasons around the water cooler.

We didn't have social networks after all 9 years ago. This was just talk in a computer lab. We didn't all have our own computers back then either :)

So when I saw what was going on at Project Fail, I immediately saw some of the same things going on that happened on Project Forgotten.

I felt there was a major risk of Project Fail getting shut down.

I brought it up with my boss who had to bring it further up the management ladder to someone who could make the important decisions here.

I explained the evidence that there was a huge risk of this project facing those same legal challenges.

They heard me out.

But didn't take the threat seriously. I think they also felt that the project was far enough along, what could they do now anyways. They had to see it to some completion.

Wouldn't you know, a few days later my boss's boss gets a call from someone further up in the company that got wind of the project. This guy wasn't happy since some of those retail websites were clients of ours, and the competitive use of this data could be a big risk to those client relationships.

Project cancelled.

Seth Godin in the video below talks about the concept of "thrashing" he learned from Steve McConnel's writing and Steve's work at Microsoft. Thrashing is all the conversations and debate and meetings and more meetings that occur when more than one person starts getting involved in a project.

Seth Godin would have said we needed to start "thrashing" more on this project when it was cheap. When the project was just ideas and words on paper.

Thrashing this late in the game of new product development wasn't very useful. If I had had a way to pay attention to all the projects going on in my little group/world at this much larger company, maybe I could have raised this issue before they wasted months of money and time on this project. Maybe they could have steered the project in a direction to make these clients happy. Maybe they would have just killed the project. Before all the waste.

If we had had a social network or a more social project management experience that would have helped a great deal with moving the thrashing earlier in the project.

And I'm even more sure a prediction market would have given us the incentive to pay attention to those projects within our group.

Prediction markets are social networks for metrics.

Things get measured. A culture of metrics starts to form. And people have an incentive to keep paying attention to those metrics.


Seth Godin: Quieting the Lizard Brain from 99% on Vimeo.

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