Simple but not Easy

“The one thing”

One thing I have learned has been more valuable to me than any other insight in life. And I learned it as a result of a simple question at a pub, a fair few years back now.

Old Friends – Great Teachers

I had been out of corporate life for a couple of years and I chanced upon an old contact – someone I’d worked with some years earlier. At the time, I had been a senior manager in a large consulting firm and he had been an internal change consultant at one of our clients. I’d enjoyed his company and learned a lot from him, even though we hadn’t spent a lot of time working together.

So I was delighted to meet up with him for a drink and a chance to catch up on five or so years in which we’d each changed direction – he perhaps more than I. Towards the end of the evening, he asked one of those questions that are easy to ask…  and often to easy to answer, glibly.  But a good answer was going to be much more difficult.

The Question …

The question he asked was: “so, what have you learned about managing change, since we last worked together?” On the face of it, an easy question – I’d read lots and done lots of interesting and sometimes challenging things. I was proud of some of my achievements and had learned a lot from them. I’d also made a couple of mistakes. Neither was serious but each had taught me something important. I was struggling to decide what to focus on and to come up with an answer that I thought would impress.

In fact, I also felt that each thing I’d learned was little more than a nugget. What was the big picture? The mother load? As I sat feeling uncomfortable with the silence (now there’s a lesson for a future blog), I confronted the realisation that it was all about one thing, and that one thing felt worryingly basic. It still does.

… the Answer

Yet his penetrating gaze told me that, above all, I had to be honest with him. “It’s about the basics” I said. “Focus on the basics, do them well, and do them relentlessly” was my answer.

He smiled. And I relaxed. I knew that I had got it.

So is this the “one thing” I referred to in my opening sentence? Yes and no. Without a doubt, it is always important to remember this and I will certainly come back to it in future blog posts; I will talk about the importance of finding the basics and applying this principle in project management. For this post, though, there is one thing that follows from it.

“The one thing”

That one thing is this: the basics are simple. It is simple to speak to your stakeholders; to review your risk register, to chase up progress, to monitor the quality of deliverables, to give sincere praise to a team member, to do each of the hundred things a project or change manager needs to do to keep on track and ensure a successful transition.

But simple is not the same as easy. It is not easy to do them all; to do them all well; and to do them all relentlessly. Yet that is what we have to do, to succeed.

A Plea to Transform Project and Change Performance

So a plea: let’s keep project and change management simple. Let’s not overdo the clever theories and the sophisticated tools. That way we have a chance to really do the basics as well as they need to be done. That alone can transform project performance and make organisational change really effective.

The “so what?”

Focus on the basics, do them well, and do them relentlessly


3 thoughts on “Simple but not Easy

  1. jocwjocw

    Spot on Mike.

    It is easy to get distracted, easy to get sucked i to others’ issues, easy to agree to delay, to add to the scope, easy to think others are better, worse, with you or against you. Easy to think you can do enything and that anything that goes wrong is somebody else;s fault (or problem) or that it always (and only) to happens to you.

    It is simpler and harder to listen courteously and patiently, to integrate their needs and help them integrate other’s needs. It requires a clear mind and cool confidence, patience, persistence and lots and lots of practice!

  2. Pingback: Find the Key: What are the Basics? « Shift Happens!

  3. Pingback: Creating Change: Lessons from a Business Innovator « Shift Happens!

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