David Allen is a productivity expert, he has a great series of books, the most popular being “Getting Things Done”. Allen defines a project as anything that involves more than one action. So other than the simplest things you do in your business, virtually everything is a project. Managing projects has always frustrated me – how do you best manage a group of people to come together and get something done in an effective way that delivers the results you want?
One of the best ideas or methodologies I’ve learned about project management comes from the technology startup world – it’s called the minimum viable product or MVP. The premise of the MVP is to get live (launch) as quickly as possible so real learning can begin. You look for the fastest, most efficient path to launching your project vs. the comprehensive approach to projects; make an exhaustive list of everything you might need to do and then get busy. I believe we should be using the MVP methodology in almost everything we do. Projects don’t fail because people didn’t try or weren’t busy, projects fail because people were busy doing the wrong things, which is a total morale killer.
We don’t have time or money to waste. We need to find the most efficient path to success, do only what is absolutely necessary – use brutal prioritization, launch, and then iterate from there once you know what’s most important. Too many technology projects are focused on the wrong things, much of this focus is determined in a conference room using theoretical ideas about what might happen vs. getting live and using real data to inform your decisions about what’s most important. I like to say, you don’t know what’s really important until you’ve had a transaction go through your entire software platform (a path I like to call “order entry to invoice”). Once you witness that live path – your priorities will be crystal clear – they literally pop out at you!
How can you use the MVP approach in your print business? Introduce the concept to your team; make sure everyone understands it first. This is not about putting out sloppy or unfinished work, it’s about first and foremost admitting you don’t know everything required to make new projects succeed and your approach to mitigating this lack of knowledge is to launch early so you can learn directly from data and user experience.
What’s the resistance to this methodology? We want to be thorough. We want to complete things; we want to feel in control. So when I say this to Print MIS people, they say that’s impossible you have to configure all the modules because they are all connected. Or when I say this to web-to-print people, they say, why would you configure a single paper stock, while you’re in the area just configure them all it saves time. Both of these statements have merit, but they are based on the “comprehensive bias”, you’ll be configuring/iterating for weeks or months before you test any of your assumptions. You could potentially have completed the configuration of your seventy-five paper stocks in your web-to-print solution only to realize it’s not necessary to have more than three in there. You don’t get that time back. Just because you can enter data into a software system, doesn’t mean you should. Value your time as if it’s worth $1,000/hour – that will help you prioritize. Be warned; activity, especially activity you’ve just mastered can be calming for people who are afraid of change. Don’t underestimate “fear of launching” as the main driver behind long implementations.
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