Goldilocks was Director of Reporting for Acme Widgets. She needed to get a dashboard built to analyze their sales of anvils to Coyotes, who chase Roadrunners (naturally). So she went to the Project-Managing Bears she knew, each of whom had their own consulting firm.
First Goldilocks went to Mama Bear. Mama Bear said, “Sure, no problem! Let me work on the plan.” And four weeks later Mama Bear came back with a beautiful 1,000-line Gantt chart and an 18-month estimate. Goldilocks said “That’s all very nice, Mama Bear, but this market is moving quickly. We can’t wait 18 months to understand our data.”
Next Goldilocks went to Papa Bear, who immediately started coding. “Come back next Monday,” said Papa Bear. “I should be done by then.” Goldilocks felt excited, but nervous. Could Papa Bear really deliver something that quickly? And when Goldilocks came back the next Monday, sure enough there were beautiful screens. “Oh, how lovely!” she exclaimed, but then she took a closer look. The numbers made no sense. And pretty soon the screens began to crash. “I’ll get that fixed,” said Papa Bear nervously. “It’s just a small bug.” Goldilocks left, disappointed.
Goldilocks pondered her predicament. All she wanted was to know how many anvils Acme was moving every month to those Roadrunner-chasing Coyotes. Seemed simple enough. But five weeks had passed already and she had nothing to show for it.
And just as Goldilocks was about to give up entirely along came her old college pal, Baby Bear. She explained her reporting needs to Baby Bear who said “No problem. Let me put a quick task list together, and we can review tomorrow.” “Yeah, right,” said Goldilocks. “Fool me once….”
But Baby Bear wasn’t deterred. “How about I come by your office tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll see you at 2:00pm.” Goldilocks rolled her eyes, but sure enough at 2:00pm the next day Baby Bear arrived. And in his hot little paw he held a simple, 40-line task list in Excel. “I’ve thought about the various things we need to do,” Baby Bear explained “Should take a few weeks. We just need to be organized, but not overthink the problem.”
“That’s all well and good, Baby Bear,” said Goldilocks, “but I’m nervous. Can I really wait another month to know whether you’re making progress?” Baby Bear said that she certainly shouldn’t wait a month to see results. Each week they’d meet and review progress to date and give her as much real stuff to look at as possible, always adjusting the task list to make sure that they were staying on track. Without any other options, Goldilocks agreed.
Every week Goldilocks and Baby Bear went through the work and adjusted the task list, and every week she saw progress. And at the end of the month she had her dashboard.
The moral of the story: Project Management isn’t brain surgery. But you have to know what you’re doing. We want neither the “too cold” approach of thousands of tasks and not enough work, nor the “too hot” approach of, “Let’s just start coding now.” Rather, we need the “just right”approach—enough structure, consistent progress, and a successful project.