Hammering Out Solutions Through Structured Projects
To understand a complex problem, simple tools can help. For instance, try reducing the problem to its simplest parts. By understanding the parts and how they interact, one can then construct a solution. Our daily lives can be filled with problems, both at home and at work. In general, most work undertaken attempts to solve problems or find better ways of meeting pre-determined goals. One easy way to achieve a goal is to structure the solution in the form of a project.
When one thinks of completing projects, IT implementations, consultant deliverables, or timelines often come to mind. However, any complex task can and should be treated as a project in order to achieve job satisfaction. By formulating a clear beginning and end for tasks, one will readily know the level of completion at any given point.
A Carpenter at Work
An analogy is defined as “a similarity in some respects between things that are otherwise dissimilar.” Project management can be likened to the analogy of a carpenter involved in completing a construction project. Similar strategies used by carpenters can help professionals structure tasks into a project and perform the necessary steps needed for successful completion.
Most skilled professions involve a process of planning, following through on the plans, and completion in order to accomplish a task. A carpenter exemplifies these processes by taking a step-by-step approach to achieving goals and assuring satisfaction. For carpenters, project planning might take months or even years, followed by drafting a blueprint to map out steps toward completion.
Each carpentry job generally begins with a careful planning phase in which the carpenter loads a toolbox with all the needed tools and materials to perform the job. A blueprint is created to guide workflow. If planning and preparation are done correctly, and if the blueprint is followed precisely, the finished product will be of true quality. Therefore, carpentry processes resemble procedures that can be followed for any project. To accomplish a project, carpenters perform a number of very orderly, planned, and sequential steps. However, enough room is left for corrections and deviations, if necessary. Throughout the entire process, all
planning is done with the end goal in mind. No matter how mired down in detail a project may get, the carpenter never loses sight of the finished product.
Problems can arise when one’s vision of the final product is lost (or in some cases is never even found to begin with). With this lack of vision, an individual’s course often begins to wander. Work can become unproductive, backtracking will be frequent, and mistakes may become commonplace. When the overall vision is lost, the individual becomes disinterested with the project, and workflow suffers.
A five-step process can help keep an individual on track to properly complete a project and derive job satisfaction. This process consists of planning, gathering, constructing, detailing, and selling.
Nuts and Bolts
Planning is the first and most critical step in the process. Without proper planning, demoralizing feelings can result, caused by putting a large amount of time and effort into a project, without having anything to show for it—all because the results still look like a jumbled mess. The end result of planning is a blueprint, which serves as the overall outline for a particular project.
However, prior to the blueprint stage, several other points must first be considered. A prime factor regards the environment in which one will work. When building a home, a foremost decision is where to locate that home. This consideration equates to narrowing down the scope of the project to its essential elements. There must be a specific definition around which the appropriate subject matter can be researched.
The next step is to rough sketch the project by creating a very crude outline that leads to the actual blueprint. When an outline of a project is truly complete, it even allows for someone else to step in and hit the ground running. At any moment, the carpenter is able to look at the blueprint and determine the project’s status. Once the blueprint is complete and satisfactory, building materials can be assembled for the project.
When a carpenter gathers the materials needed for a project, he or she must first look to see where the best products are available at the best value. The first step in
collecting materials is to source them. In other words, research the subject matter. Several solutions to a problem can still be considered at this point, although further research will bear out the feasibility of each.
When deciding which materials to use, a carpenter should choose the best value. Likewise, one selects the best background materials that justify the proposed solution. Verify that all gathered materials correspond to the topics that are to be covered, according to the outline. When the carpenter is satisfied that all materials are on hand, construction work can begin. All the background work for completing the project has now been accomplished.
Building on Basics
Construction processes are generally marked by three key phases: preparation, building, and a rough walk-through. Within the actual construction phase, a concept becomes reality, and solutions are implemented. Construction ideally begins with quality preparation. A carpenter places the blueprint or outline on one side of a desk, and a stack of research materials on the other side. Then, relevant information is matched to each and every topic and subtopic on the outline. Similarly, a contractor building a house makes sure that materials include the right amount of sheet rock for each and every wall in the house.
When carpenters see that all materials match up appropriately to the master-planned blueprint, they can proceed to the building phase—the procedure of transforming thoughts and plans into reality. After materials are sorted in the order that looks best, project implementation begins. An individual will move through the blueprint or outline just as a carpenter will move from walls and floors to doors and windows. One need not finish every final aspect of the project, since there will soon be time for trimming and detailing.
After the arduous task of building has been completed, a rough walkthrough should be performed for a step-by-step, room-by-room evaluation. The project should look comindividualplete, in rough form. However, many finishing touches may be required before the job is completed. One guideline is to trim away any unnecessary items that do not contribute to the overall focus of the project. One should assess the entire “project” to verify that it comes across as intended.
Nailing Down Details
The final phase of the project focuses on interior design, by which necessary details will be added before conducting the final walk-through. Just like selecting carpeting and paint in a newly constructed house, an individual should go back through the project and look at the details. He or she should always be willing to accept feedback from others involved in the project.
Solving and addressing an issue are important, but the actual delivery is a key factor in having an idea accepted or rejected. An individual should stay true to the overall goal. In addition, customer satisfaction is essential. For a purchasing agent, this customer could be city council. For a consultant, the client reigns supreme. When all the crowning touches are in place, the project is now ready for the final walk-through.
The temptation exists to follow the rule, “build it and they will come.” However, the greatest product in the world might be developed, but if it is not marketed and sold properly, the product may fall by the wayside. Once a project is completed, one will have to market the success of the idea or the viability of the solution.
Selling a product involves three main processes: packaging, marketing, and closing. Packaging means making the end project appealing. Just as a newly built home will be landscaped to attract potential buyers, the final project must be presented properly to receive needed acceptance and buy-in.
Once the packaging has been decided, the finished product needs to be marketed correctly. The burden rests squarely on the shoulders of the
presenting the product, and sales skills are required. For instance, instead a slipping a report into the boss’s IN box, an individual might present the report in person to market the finished product and inspire feedback.
In reviewing basic rules of “Sales 101,” an individual should:
1. Make the prospect realize that there is a problem;
2. Get the prospect to share what negative impacts result from this problem;
3. Let the prospect visualize how much better things would be if the problem was fixed;
4. Present the product as the solution to the problem.
The last step involves closing the deal by making the sale. In this phase, conclusions drawn and the strength of the project itself step up to solve the original underlying problem. When there is agreement that the project meets intended goals, the sale has been made. To prevent buyer’s remorse, the project builder should stay in the loop to reaffirm that the project is actually serving its purpose.
The carpenter approach can be employed in many areas of life. The concept focuses on working hard, being honest, and remaining on course. If all the planning and preparation are done properly, the end result can be excellent.
The way of the carpenter offers added fringe benefits, such as selfesteem, pride, and emotional energy. In turn, much satisfaction and reward come from this age-old profession—a profession that has lessons to teach for ages to come.
Editor’s Note: Bob Wooten is Coordinator of Program Development for the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) Cooperative Purchasing Program. He may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]