A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?



Thirty One Days In a Time of Corona


A man in a hole

Many good stories start with a man in a hole. This is the hole that I'm in.

I've written about 50 pages of a book - it's here if you want to read it. Book

It's a book about delivering projects. It's got an idea in it that I think is a really good one, and one that I haven't seen anyone else talk about.

What's that idea? It's the idea that there are two kinds of value streams. Exciting huh? I know, you may not think so, but I do.

One kind of value stream is the process by which ideas get funded and the people who have the ideas get status and kudos.

This is the stream I call the "virtuous" value stream. Another way of thinking of this is the "powerpoint to cash" value stream. In this value stream, senior people try to persuade more senior people to give them money. In this value stream, potential costs are understated, and potential benefits are sometimes understated, but actually, often not stated at all. Instead the projects main attraction is its "Shiny-ness".

There are some concepts here that I should probably need to do some more reading about. This is where Albert Hirschmann's notion of "The hiding hand" comes from. Collectively we go through a phase where ignore all the petty problems that might be involved in actually realising a project. We look the other way. Hirschmann's phrase is a reference to Adam Smith's "Guiding hand" - the way that markets are guided towards finding a price. This is connected to the work of Ignacio Matt-Blanco and his thinking that the subconscious can only think in terms of "symmetrical" concepts. Always. Forever. All. Simple. Easy.

The irony is not lost on me that I am struggling to deliver a project that is about delivering projects. The original "dream", the fata morgan, which was "Wouldn't it be nice to have written a book about project managment, so everybody things I know about project management ('cos that's cool and sexy - right?). That's long behind me. But any kind of destination where I could make this payoff, not financially, obviously it's not going to pay off financially, but any kind of "pull" in terms of interest in what I'm writing or validation in terms of someone, anyone, saying "Yes! That's exactly what I think!" or "Thank you for writing this, this is exactly what we need, please come and work for us at a ridiculous day rate, outside of IR35!"

This is the second kind of value stream, what I'm calling the "Virtuous Value Stream" - although I'm worring that those two things, the "Virtual value stream" and the "Virtuous value stream" sound kind of similar. You see the virtuous value stream is the one that actually delivers value. If it's software it actually gets used by people to do something that they want to do. If it's a book, it actually gets read by people who find it interesting, or actually, you never know, find it helpful in managing their projects.

But there are some majorly tricky things about the virtuous value stream.

Firstly, initially, the chances are that the virtuous value stream doesn't work. The idea of a value stream is that you start with some raw material, and by adding something to that raw material, you add value. This is the idea of a value stream that comes from car manufacture. Actually when it comes to sofware and writing books, what you're starting with is something that you just make up. Think of a cake - when we start with the virtuous value stream, we only have ingredients, like flour, eggs, butter, sugar. We can't sell them like that, we have to do a bunch of things with them before they are actually edible (yes, I know you can eat cake mix, but it makes you sick).

Secondly, I know I just used cakes as a metaphor. But for new projects, for new software projects and maybe for books like this, cakes aren't a good metaphor. For cakes, the virtuous value stream is well understood. Get ingredients, combine ingredients, bake. Cool. Decorate. Give to people who like cake. With software, my big revelation is that there isn't a value stream. Not a recognised one anyway. If it's a new piece of software that does something new, what needs to happen is VALUE STREAM IRRIGATION.

All of the things that need to be done to the software to make it valuable - they're not known. How this software will work with its users to make their lives utterly blissful, we don't understand. When you're baking a cake you're following an existing value stream. When you're trying to find the fit for a new piece of software, you're potentially BUILDING an entirely new value stream.

Thirdly, starting to actually implment the idea that was put together in the "Virtuous value stream" - the shiny idea where costs were soft-pedalled and benefits were only talked about in smooth, shiny, simple ways. Yeah. Actually starting to build the thing is really, really threatening to the idea of the thing.

Here are my rules for the thirty-one days.

  1. You can write about anything that you want, it can be reviews of the "yard of business books" that you've been reading, it can be thoughts about the book that you're struggling with, it can be new sections for the book that you're struggling with.

  2. A thousand words a day - that's the goal, but don't not publish anything just because you don't have a thousand words.

  3. Publish it everywhere, OK medium, OK facebook, OK twitter (even), OK your own website. Because figuring out what the right forum is seems to be part of the problem.

  4. Meta, meta, meta, yes, be self-referential, yes, be meta, because it's worrying about not doing things that is somehow stopping you.

  5. Don't worry if your lists of dos and don'ts isn't a prime number.

  6. If the only way to get the thousand words is to ramble into a camera and then get it transcribed - thats also fine.

  7. And it's still not a problem if your list of rules isn't a prime number.