Monday, August 15, 2011

Start Thrashing

"Travelanche" by
Chiot's Run via Flicker 
Exam Cram by zslibrary via Flickr

Everyone thrashes. The question is when do you thrash?

You've had this vacation planned for months. Your travel reservations were made well in advance. Yet despite your careful planning and preparations, you still find yourself up to 3am the night before you leave taking care of last minute details. You're thrashing.

You've known that this exam was coming for the entire semester. You received the study guide three weeks in advance. It's the night before the exam. It's 3am. You're thrashing.

Three months ago your team was asked to write a report for your company. It was a long and challenging process. Next week the report is due and everyone on the team is starting to get nervous. Some of them are arguing that entire sections need to be re-written. You're thrashing.

The concept of thrashing was introduced to me by Seth Godin in his book Linchpin:
Any project worth doing involves invention, inspiration, and at least a little bit of making stuff up. Traditionally, we start with an inkling, adding more and more detail as we approach the ship date. And the closer we get to shipping, the more thrashing occurs. Thrashing is the apparently productive brainstorming and tweaking we do for a project as it develops. Thrashing might mean changing the user interface or rewriting an introductory paragraph. Sometimes thrashing is merely a tweak; other times it involves major surgery.
Thrashing is essential. The question is: when to thrash? (Linchpin, pg. 104)
 Thrashing and Shipping are two concepts that are closely connected (Make sure you read my other post on shipping). The closer a project gets to the ship date, the more nervous and involved people become. Your immediate supervisor realizes that when your project/report/widget goes live, it's going to reflect on him. As the due date for your group project approaches, the members of your group who haven't contributed realize that their grade is in this as well.

The late contributions of others can be detrimental to a project. At the 11th hour, major changes can harm the cohesiveness of the project. Despite this fact, the contributors frequently demand that their changes be implemented.

The wise and experienced leader will create an environment which encourages early thrashing. Call an all hands meeting as soon as the project/initiative/task is launched. Invite everyone who will have a stake in the project or whose reputation could be impacted by the project. Make them come.

If they don't come to that first meeting, they forfeit the right to comment/modify/change the project at the last minute. If you want to give input, it has to be given early, not late.

The challenge will come as your ship date approaches. Despite thrashing early, you and your team will still be tempted to make major modifications, changes, and additions at the last minute. It's the nature of the human mind to doubt the quality of something immediately before it is publicly displayed. Resist these urges and be confident in your early planning.

The concept of thrashing early makes complete sense to me. After reading Linchpin I thought back the last project that I was involved in and it perfectly fit Godin's description of thrashing late. At the last minute we made enormous changes to our plans which completely threw off our schedule and put us over budget. We should have thrashed early.

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