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16 July 2007

A Handy Heuristic

I was reading an article on problem solving and came across an idea I believe came from Charles Handy. It could well be labelled as a Handy heuristic. Especially for us project workers. It goes like this;

There are two types of problems;

When things are done wrong, and

When things are not done right.


See the difference? I'll give a McDonald's analogy (as it seems to be the flavour of the month.)

1. You order a Big Mac and the burger arrives but is overcooked and inedible. The thing was done wrong. The burger was cooked incorrectly.

2. You order a Big Mac and the staff have made a local modification that makes it the best Big Mac you have ever had. You are very happy with the burger. BUT next time your burger doesn't live up to expectations and so you are disappointed. The thing was not done right. It was cooked well, but not according to guidelines.

Project management implications
In the project context this idea has a number of implications. If you have some ideas or examples I’d be glad to hear them. Here is an example around setting scope and designing solutions.

Doing the wrong thing
An example of this is when a project team defines the wrong scope or picks the wrong solution so that the business problem is not solved.

A lot of corporate projects have made this mistake in recent years and there is more than one company out there that is full of disappointed execs and stakeholders after a series of underwhelming projects that have had budget over-runs and functions de-scoped.

Doing the thing wrong
A typical example of this type of problem is where a project is running full steam ahead, but the scope has not yet been defined. Eventually this sort of project is bound to run into trouble. Projects need to know what heir problem is before they solve it.

Another common example is when a solution is picked when requirements are not fully understood. Think about projects where the project manager is told to solve business problem X with IT system Y.


Reference: Handy C 1999 The New Alchemists, Random House, London