When you encounter a problem that seems hauntingly familiar, you are not dealing with an ordinary thorn in your side. You are facing a recurring problem. You know the kind of problem I’m talking about . . . the one that, even while you are “solving it”, you have a funny feeling you’ll be seeing it again. Like when you are confronting someone on the team about their repeated lateness on key deliverables, or smoothing over ruffled feathers between people on your team who loath each other. Sure as Christmas, you’re never done with it, dealing with it is just deferred for a while.
As project managers we see this most vividly in the retrospectives at the end of a project where the usual cast of characters is paraded around as “lessons learned”. Problems that crop up repeatedly require special attention if you want to be truly rid of them rather than just deferring. When you find yourself shoveling the same pile of dirt time and again, it’s usually because of one of three reasons:
1. You have been treating a symptom instead of the disease. Sure, maybe it’s faster in the short term, but over multiple quick fixes you end up spending way more time than a proper fix. One example is failing to delegate in order to same time ’cause you can do it faster.
2. Your solutions are actually making the problem worse. (See “Fixes that Fail” and “Shifting the Burden” archetypes in Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline – The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization”)
3. You are the problem. I wondered why, no matter where I work, I always run into the same kinds of assholes. Well, finally I figured it out.
Of course there are other explanations for stubborn problems like these, and they deserve a lot more attention, so check out Peter Senge’s book, which plumbs the depths of how to overcome our talent as a species for recreating the same problems over and over again. Don’t slap a band aid on a spurting aorta! It’s bound to bleed you to death eventually. Give recurring problems special attention today or you will be giving them lots more of it in the future.
Now, time to clean up the pine needles dropping all around the living room and get the house back to normal! Maybe I should buy a fake tree and solve THAT problem once and for all. Enjoy the season!
- Kimberly Wiefling, Author of Scrappy Project Management, regularly one of the top 100 project management books in English in the USA, Japan, Germany, France, sometimes Canada, but usually NOT in the UK, for some reason. Help me solve this problem (except by dropping “scrappy” or using proper English) and I’ll send you a free book.