Catsuits and Parachutes

From the The Lazy Project Manager Blog
Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’. In the last 4 years he has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’. His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance. More information can be found at – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

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January 10, 2018 05:26 AM

I need your Presentation Experience

The following is an extract from my new book ‘How to get Fired at the C-Level: Why mismanaging change is the biggest risk of all’ in association with my friends at Tailwind Project Solutions – previous extracts followed a series of 5 Challenges that I think every organisation should consider, and consider very carefully – and now we will look at the 5 tests of control:

Challenge 4, if you remember, was all about investing in good analysis and in good reporting so that the precious portfolio of change is well looked after and cared for, in a kind of management by exception sort of way.

This book is not the book to advise you on what portfolio reporting or dashboard solution to choose and it is not about how you should go about implementing such a solution (I did suggest one specific dashboard view you might ask for from any supplier and/or solution though so make sure you lock that one down).

But I would like to offer some general advice and it is in the area of scale or being ‘fit for purpose’.

There is a great presentation by Tom Peters where he talks about some organisations that get so big that they forget about some of the basic, simple, everyday stuff.[1]

He produces a tiny shampoo bottle that he has taken from a hotel bathroom and he asks, rhetorically, ‘who was the average user of this bottle?’ The answer being that most likely this was going to be used by a middle-aged business traveller who more than likely wore reading glasses. He then asked, still rhetorically, ‘where was this likely to be used?’ And the answer this time was of course it would be used when the middle aged business traveller, who most likely wore reading glasses, was taking a shower. He paused for effect and summed up; this product was most likely to be used by this guy in a shower without his reading glasses in in steamy environment with water running and when he wanted to decipher between the two almost identical bottles of shower gel and shampoo. Result: frustration and improper use of products.

A definition of ‘fit for purpose’ is ‘something that is fit for purpose is good enough to do the job it was designed to do’, but you could argue that the shampoo bottle, standing next to the shower gel bottle, and sometimes also next to a ‘body lotion’ bottle, is fit for purpose. The trouble is you need to distinguish the shampoo bottle first to then use it and for it to truly become ‘fit for purpose’.

When it comes to reporting then this very much applies. Your portfolio reporting process and solution needs to be a good ‘fit’ for the purpose you wish to put it to, practical, usable, understandable, with the right data in it.

Yes, you can have the all-singing, all-dancing, let’s take this barn and put on a show with fireworks and banners approach and good luck to you – you might need it but almost certainly not. This is the ‘parachute approach’ making the solution so copious and all-covering that there is no danger in being exposed in any way - but guess what? You can’t move in it, well not very fast anyway, and it isn’t particularly suitable for most needs (unless you are actually jumping out of a plane of course but this is actually a metaphor so not relevant), and most of the material is wasted.

The alternative approach is to make it as minimal as possible, only the bare data available, lean and focused, tight as can be - this is the ‘cat-suit approach’ which does the job, precisely and nothing more – this is a good looking solution for sure and this may well work, but probably not, someone will want something extra (and justify that they need it) and suddenly you are making alterations, without any spare material to make that even remotely possible without causing an embarrassing rip.

The sensible approach is, of course, somewhere between the ‘parachute approach’ and the ‘cat-suit approach’ – perhaps the ‘It’s Friday dress down day in the office comfortable jeans with stretch denim approach’ or something like that.

Make it fit for purpose just don’t take the whole ‘fit for purpose’ too far:

In a circus, the Bearded Lady and the World's Strongest Man fell in love, and decided to start a family. Soon the Bearded Lady fell pregnant[2].

A few weeks before she was due to give birth the Bearded Lady and the Circus Ring-Master were talking.

‘How's it going?’ the Ring-Master asked, ‘Are you well?’

‘Yes thanks, we are very excited’ said the Bearded Lady ‘We have so many plans for the baby and we want to be supportive parents’.

‘That's great’ said the Ring-Master ‘Do you want a boy or a girl?’

‘Oh, we really don't mind as long as it's healthy’ said the Bearded Lady ‘Oh and it fits into the cannon…’

TAKE THE TEST: The action for you now is to look at your reporting and ensure that it is right for your needs, the executive team’s needs, and the business needs. Can you access the data you need to make the right decisions? Is that data accurate and timely? Does it truly represent the change underway inside your organisation?

If not then best do something about that fast or you will be making ill-informed decisions, or worse no decisions at all.

Tailwind Project Solutions was formed in 2014 to provide a bespoke approach to project leadership development.  Owned by Director & CEO Alex Marson, the organisation works with large FTSE 250 clients including some of the biggest companies in the world in the Asset Management, Professional Services, Software, Automotive, Finance and Pharmaceutical industry.  The company has a team of world-class experts who provide a bespoke approach to the challenges that our clients have, and the company was formed because of a gap in the market for expertise which truly gets to the heart of the issues clients are facing – providing a robust, expert solution to change the way that companies run their projects.

At the time, the market was becoming flooded with training companies, providing a ‘sheep dip’ approach to project management, and the consensus was that This didn’t solve the real challenges that businesses and individuals are experiencing in this ever-increasing complex world of project management.  The vision was to hand-pick and work with the very best consultants, trainers and coaches worldwide so that Tailwind could make a difference to their clients, to sit down with them, understand their pain points, what makes them tick, and what is driving their need for support.

These challenges being raised time and time again are in the project leadership space, from communication issues, not understanding stakeholder requirements or having the confidence to “push back”, lack of sponsorship support, working across different cultures, languages, levels of capability and complexity. We expect more from our project managers – we expect them to inspire, lead teams and be more confident.

Tailwind’s experience is vast, from providing interim resources in the project and programme management space, supporting the recruitment process, experiential workshops, coaching – from project managers through to executives, providing keynote speakers, implementing PPM Academies, PM Healthchecks and Leadership development.  The approach is created often uniquely – to solve the real challenges of each of their individual clients.


[1] Originally published in ‘Project Branding: Using Marketing to Win the Hearts and Minds of Stakeholders’ (RMC Publications, Inc. 2014) – author Peter Taylor

[2] Originally published in ‘Project Branding: Using Marketing to Win the Hearts and Minds of Stakeholders’ (RMC Publications, Inc. 2014) – author Peter Taylor

Posted on: December 06, 2017 01:39 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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They still haven't fixed those identical bottles of shampoo and shower gel.

Fit for purpose can be difficult when requirements are volatile.

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