I am back in Santiago, having barely survived the long flights, excess food & drink in Business Class, and the two hours getting through Chile Immigration & Customs. Seems like twelve planes arrived at the same time; I have never seen an airport anywhere as crowded and slow. This is part of the life of a mining consultant: lots of glamour at the expense of extreme patience in line to see surly passport inspectors and those who believe you are smuggling packets of peanuts.
Hence to the offices of a large, international consulting company. The meetings are obviously confidential, so I cannot write about those. However, in general, I can comment on a number of impressions that praise some and admire others. Here they are—-all prompted by today’s events. So they are fresh, uninhibited, and maybe askew.
I am passionate about schedules in consulting. I can make MicroSoft Project sing. I revel in the process: define tasks; set durations; and establish task links. Then see what happens and modify until you have something real. Then manage to the schedule.
Yet I know and work with project managers who simply do not schedule or manage to schedule. Their project management style is visceral, by feel, judgement-based, and ad hoc. They neither ask for nor look at printed schedules. When you watch them manage and decide, it is almost as though there is a mental picture of the future of the project in their heads. They let events swirl around the picture. The relevant touches the picture in bright colors and is incorporated. The irrelevant drifts off in a cloud of mist lifted by a warm morning sun.
It is the sharpness of their judgement, based on this growing mental picture, that impresses. It is the soundness of their decisions that makes them stand out from the rest of us. For while we are still seeking to discern lines and connections on MicroSoft Project, they have already set a course for the future of the project. When you step back and analyse it, it is so obviously correct that you wonder why you did not think of it first.
Then there is the innocent; they look innocent at least. Simple words on a PowerPoint presentation elicit deep questions that go straight to the heart of issues & problems. With a quiet, firm insistence, they ask those questions that do not occur to me. They probe details that I slough off. And their line of enquiry leads to exposure of limits, constraints, difficulties, that I did not think of.
Then there is the youth of such great promise. He makes the presentation. He has spent days on it: identifying the details; listing the facts; collating the sprawling; tying up loose ends. He has a complete mental picture and a complete set of PowerPoint slides. But he is interrupted by all at every turn. Nobody is patient, but demands answers now; when?; where?; how?; how much?
His skill is in smiling and making all the questioners feel their question is special, important, and seminal. And then having answered, he flicks to the next slide and expounds on his answer. You sit in awe as he does this. You cogitate on how much he has yet to learn, and how much he will inevitably achieve. If only I could be there to see it and savour it, for it will be a story of greatness. I cannot, so all I can do is blog about it and hope others will look for and see this and praise it decades hence.
Being 65, the person I most watch & admire is the old man. Years of engineering & consulting, projects galore, mistakes & triumphs, failures & success, all are his. And thus his judgement is sound. He is so smooth in nudging and advancing the young engineers: so skilled in touching on the focus issues and avoiding the embarrassing project slowness and misdirection. He is so perfect in managing the client: all the while making them aware they are in charge, must make the key decisions, while his consulting company meets schedules, adheres to budgets, produces value-added deliverables, and keeps process under control.
He is accommodating, and totally free of ego and ambition. He knows that he knows and can produce. He just needs time, money, data, analyses, and results. He knows the ambitious schedules are bogus; the demanded report spurious; the analyses unnecessary; but all are pre-requisites of a documented decision-making process. His patience in doing the unneeded because that is the way the system works is an art born of years of doing and succeeding.
Looming over all this is the rambunctious red-head. He challenges, throws down the gauntlet, refuses to accept the wisdom of the group, goes outside the box, and asks the hard questions that must be asked but which group-think avoids. His brilliance quickly leads him to accept the correct, reject the fallacious, and demand thorough analyses and justification for chosen courses of action.
if this sounds like a recipe for disaster, you have not been lucky enough to be part of such a brilliant, imaginative, productive team. We laughed often; joked a great deal; slyly winked; agreed; compromised; changed our minds; and set a productive course forward. It is magic. Or maybe it is just team-think and group-action at its best. Committees can produce if they have the right people and dissenters able to opine.