2013: I’m standing in the copying room, waiting anxiously for the copying machine to warm up and print a working plan. While waiting, all the sounds in my head went silent and I was finally feeling proud! After fourteen weeks of summarizing a huge amount of project relevant information, negotiating timelines, aligning between different projects, finding the best resources to do the work and finally transferring the plan into Microsoft MS Project, the working plan will finally be ready and available in hard copy! I can even pin it to my backboard, share it with all the relevant departments and all the uncertainty that is holding back my teams will soon be gone!
My journey started heading a centralized department within a medical device development organization. During that I was facing project timeline complexity, which resulted in corresponding resource challenges. Also, different projects have different complexity levels and an ongoing timeline rescheduling which needed thorough planning, follow up resources and capacities for the department. More and more information was needed to arrange the required work-packages and with this the department was only becoming an even more centralized organization, involving me in all the decisions. It was obvious that a clear documented workload plan is needed to assign transparent tasks and roles. The amount of discussions and decisions that required my personal engagement was no longer manageable, leading to a significant queue in my inbox, poorly challenged decisions and, above all, exhausting daily arguments with project leads. The more I worked, the harder I failed.
2013: The printer is in action: will this working plan allow every one to live happily ever after?
About 30 seconds left before a 3-meter long MS project printout in a size 10 Arial font – sorted by projects and activities – will be completely printed out. My phone rings: it´s one of the project leads requesting a change in the plan. My eyes stare at the busy large format printer while the very thought of the necessity to either reprint or do pencil corrections makes me feel queasy just the second the printer finishes his job. Four hours and just 3 calls later, my plan needed significant revision. Two days later it was simply rubbish!
This was the first time I completely questioned the theory, that even with quite easily planned tasks (since most of the relevant steps were clear and done several times), it is just a question of discipline to conform with the plan. I also had to recognize that in some cases it took more time to groom the plan than doing the actual work!
„Do the planning, but throw out the plans.“ – Mary Poppendieck
It was hard to realize that continuing with what I was doing would lead to nothing but a collective burnout of my whole department – and me, of-course. With this awareness of the current situation, I resorted to different methods for organizing work, leading teams and operating in multi-complex environment. Within my journey I found some unfamiliar practices that are used within the software development for organizing work structures in teams – the scrum framework. First, I thought that it might be a madcap idea to put some effort in a system that was invented by and for leading quirky IT nerds doing their work. But the deeper I dived into the topic, the more I realized that it was not just a simple management tool – it was about enabling an innovative and collaborative work environment, empowering people and creating value.
Human brains are destined for trying, creating, failing and then starting all over and recreating again. Our creations of technologies, systems, communication platforms or entertainments are developing in an exponentially increasing complexity in order to cope with our creative brains demanding innovation. If we want to lead or be part of any organization or culture, we need flexibility and corresponding collaborative organizational structures and systems. I hope with this block we can help you to find some inspiration and ideas to make your own experiences!
Enjoy your journey while #EMPOWERING.TEAMs