No, I’m not talking about using Adobe Photoshop® to make your project appear more successful. It strikes me that an important part of project management is converting a project full of colour and nuance to black and white. And I’m not talking monochrome either. This is pure black and white. On an image you achieve that using the Threshold tool and you often have to pre-process the image to get what you want because the tool is so unforgiving and will only give you black or white – nothing inbetween.
To manage a project you have to obtain clarity of status… Done/not done. Ready/not ready. Complete/incomplete. Pass/Fail. Approved/not approved. Fuzziness may be attractively expedient but at some point you will find the project moving ahead when it shouldn’t. You might get away with it but if you don’t, people are going to start asking you awkward questions. The only way to handle fuzziness is to find an acceptable threshold for “good enough” to convert it into yes/no.
For a long time I always felt sorry for people working hard on a task where it’s taking a long time to get from being “almost ready” to “done”. It seemed unfair when tasks were recorded using the 0/100% rule. They weren’t 0% done, they were 95% done and with a little luck would be finished very soon. But then I started seeing things from a customer perspective – incomplete is incomplete. If a deliverable has not been delivered to the customer, the customer has received 0% regardless of how close to 100% the deliverable is.
I was once part of a project team where a go/no-go was allowed to pass because the team was “almost ready” and no-one was brave enough to re-state that as “not ready”. That was a big mistake that took months to recover from. So, that added another binary decision point and I now had a list!
Adding pass/fail for test results to this new list of binary decisions was a no brainer and that led to a growing awareness that careful design of binary decisions brings clarity. The design of each binary test must be careful to avoid inappropriate results but I can see that effort is worthwhile. It puts the project manager in a position of strength. You can say “Yes, because…” or “No, because”. If particular stakeholders are unhappy, they will be forced to argue for a change in threshold that is acceptable to the other stakeholders. Either that or they will have to over-rule the project manager and by doing so will be responsible for the consequences.
So, how do you track these thing? Checklists are the easiest tool. A readiness checklist will have all the criteria listed with a Yes/No box for readiness. If any of the criteria are No, the overall status is also No. I have found that this really focuses attention on the criteria that are status No. It also helps you obtain the assistance of major stakeholders. They might be attention deficient but they can understand that No is bad and will push for whatever is needed to convert that to a Yes.
To summarize, when you see fuzziness take a positive step to convert the issue into black or white by finding a way to define a valid threshold that will make any decision into a simple Yes/No. Ask yourself and the stakeholders what is needed to get over the problem and take a step forward.