Sun, 28 Dec 2014 23:45:22
On Doing Stuff
Something general about projects. I've just reached a milestone with a project that I've been working on - developing a course to teach the BCS Agile Foundation Certificate. Our aim when developing the course was to make everything activity-focused rather than Powerpoint and course-tutor-talking focused. We also wanted to develop the course iteratively. It's a 14-hour course run over two days. So I started with just 2 hours and did a bit more every time I ran it. It took me six months to develop. Six whole fucking months. Some things that I learned on the way:
People aren't used to early versions and using an iterative approach - they expect stuff to be finished. When you ask them for feedback on something that isn't finished, they will complain a lot about it not being finished. Even the people you work with, who've been in on the iterative approach from the beginning will occasionally panic and forget.
People will try and talk things into existence e.g. "Well, while developing this course, can't you develop this other advanced course as well, at the same time." They are blithely ignorant of the fact that trying to do two things at once, or one thing twice as fast almost always ends in disaster.
You'll miss bits - bits that are obvious, that you shouldn't have missed, it'll be embarrassing - but iteration helps with this.
You'll make mistakes schoolboy howlers. It'll be embarrassing - but iteration will help you sort this out.
Everybody, even the most supportive of bosses (which mine was) will be astounded at how much effort it takes and how long it takes and will say things like "Should it really be taking this long. It shouldn't really be taking this long."
If you're running a delegate course for fuck's sake, provide a good-quality, free lunch. Otherwise most of the feedback you get will either be about the lack of a free lunch, or its poor quality.
Some people like Powerpoint and don't like being asked to think for themselves and will say really annoying things in their feedback like "Why not just put this in a Powerpoint presentation so I can read it later."
And this leads me to a more general point about doing things.
Anything that's worth doing is probably quite a bit harder than you think, and quite a lot less straight-forward - but maybe nowhere near as hard, or as not-so-straight-forward as you fear.
Let's say on average most things that are worthwhile are two to ten times harder than you think. This is still very different from impossible. What happens a lot of the time is that you decide to do something and put in the amount of effort you think is required - actually, very often, if I'm (or you're) honest, you put in THE ABSOLUTE MINIMUM OF EFFORT REQUIRED and then when something doesn't work out, you give up, blame the world, say it wasn't meant to be, say that the system is stacked against you, claim that it's impossible. There's actually a weirder corollary to that - that when you talk to people who did actually succeed at doing something (you get this a lot with project managers) rather than just celebrating their success which "only" took 2, 3, 4 or 7 times as much effort as they initially anticipated, they dwell on the extra time that it took and the things that went wrong, and the things that still aren't quite right, and the things they should have thought of before they started, but forget.
So I've got a suggestion for you, if you're thinking of resolving to do anything next year (it's in the air isn't it?) Why not every now and again, adopt a law of "ten then think again." Decide on what the minimum amount of effort is that you think something you want requires and agree with yourself that you will put in at least 10 times that amount before you even think about giving up, blaming the stars, the fates, your poor genes, gender/racial prejudice or your Scouse accent. And before you get to the ten times mark - agree some earlier point that you'll so a something that will allow you to get the dreaded feedback. Want to be a novelist? Write chapter 1 and solicit comments (maybe online rather than asking your friends the literary equivalent of "does my bum look big in this?") If after you think you've put 10 times as much effort in as you initially thought was required, maybe you will want to give up. Maybe you won't. Maybe you'll want to carry on.