I confess to stealing part of this blog title from Commander Chris Hadfield’s great book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. In it he talks about how when you are thousands of miles in space you don’t have time to practice handling potential crises. So you train for them while you are still on earth until it is so automatic, you don’t even realize they are skills anymore – they are just second nature. Backcountry travellers will recognize this too – you can’t have a system failure when you are on a glacier. You need to sweat the small stuff in advance.
In busy organizations we often fail to sweat the small stuff thinking, either – this won’t happen, or if it does, we will be able to improvise. Two areas where failure to sweat the small stuff can have big impacts are project management and change management.
I can’t tell you the number of reasons that I have heard why project management practice is a waste of time: it takes too long, it anticipates risks that never happen, it is too persnickety for a simple road rehabilitation or roof replacement. The same is true of change management. We don’t anticipate how even small change can create friction or we assign it to specialists and only bring them in when things are starting to go pear shaped.
Both project management skills (scoping, budgeting, scheduling and planning) and change management skills (facilitation, active listening, staff engagement) should be basic for any manager or team leader. They should be “drilled” just as much as we drill Word and Excel. It should be automatic that we create a timeline for any proposed project before jumping into it. It should be automatic that we pause in team meetings to check in on whether there are any anxieties about proposed changes to processes big and small. We shouldn’t even notice that we do it, it should be that automatic.