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Learning to Trash
This is what I am doing now.
Last night, after I published my blog, I went for a long walk. I took Bear with me and walked for about an hour.
I spent the first half of the walk with no headphones, simply trying to quiet my mind. Once we looped back around to the house and back to the lake, I put my headphones back in and played an episode of Akimbo.
This episode was exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe it can help you like it helped me.
Understanding Assembly Lines and The Critical Path
Assembly lines are more than industrialism. The concept helps to understand the critical path. I’ll give you an easy example.
If I am building a house, there is an order of operations that I need to follow. I can’t build a house without a foundation, and I can’t build a foundation without pouring concrete, and I can’t pour concrete without digging a whole.
So a one day delay in digging the hole results in at least a one day delay in the completion of the project. These aspects of the assembly line are on the critical path, because you can’t move onto the next job without first completely the critical job before it.
Which brings us to the non critical path.
While people are digging the whole, someone else could be buying nails, ordering the materials for the roof, or even putting together the floorboards that will be glued to the cement, assuming there is room.
Delays in any project come from delays in work that is on the critical path. If there is a one day delay in ordering materials that are needed two weeks from now, that doesn’t delay the entire project. So ordering materials for the future is not part of the critical path.
The Reason the Critical Path Matters
Other than the obvious reasons of order of operations, the critical path matters for reasons that are more subtle.
As projects get bigger, more departments are created. For instance, when building a house, it’s usually the case that the people pouring the cement belong to a different company than the people putting the roof on.
So logistically, all the areas for delay happen while the work switches from one department (or vender, or engineer, or company) to another. So, if you have to hit a deadline, its vital that the critical path is determined BEFORE the work gets started. This way, everyone not on the critical path can get out of the way.
But that’s not usually what happens. What usually happens is that people in conference rooms change the order of operations mid project. For instance, it’s not far fetched to see how the interior designer would change the style of the windows, right after a few windows were already put in. But putting the windows in are part of the critical path, because you can’t drywall the house or put the siding on until the windows are installed and sealed.
Now, imagine examples of this happening in every industry. This is …
the person changing the color of the handbook on page 8, after the order has already been placed
the lead engineer changing the code after the MVP has been launched
the web designer changing a page template after the content has been published
In most cases (although not all), people make these changes because they want to end up with a better outcome. But as organizations get bigger, these small changes create massive inefficiencies because they disrupt the critical path.
Seth Godin refers to these changes as THRASHING. It’s the back and forth, push and pull of indecision that can only be figured out by doing and iterating.
So here’s the kicker.
You need to trash, but you need to do all your thrashing AT THE BEGINNING, and not at the end.
Thrash Early and Thrash Often
Thrash before there are consequences for thrashing. Thrash while you are early in the project and before you have given the project an official green light.
If you want to see people who are good at thrashing, look at the toy industry.
Toys are a billion dollar industry (especially in the 90s when kids actually played with toys - hungry hungry hippos anyone?).
Yet, the thing about toys is that they can only be made once.
So all the thrashing must happen before the order is placed, because once the order is placed, it then enters the critical path, where there is no deviation. So the toy designers, developers, marketers, accountants, and executives must do all the messy work at the beginning of the project.
Because once they send the order to the manufactures, it’s too late. There is no option to make the pink power ranger a little bit less pink.
The same is true with your work, and mine.
This is Me Thrashing
Okay, now let’s get back to my favorite subject: me.
What is happening to me now is that I am thrashing. Since my entire creative “assembly line” has been disrupted, I’m not exactly sure what my critical path is. TimStodz.com has an entirely new agenda, and frankly, I’m not quite sure what that agenda is.
What am I creating? Who am I creating it for? When am I creating it for them?
The answer is that I don’t know.
What I do know is that however uncomfortable this period of thrashing is, it’s much worse to do my thrashing at the end, after I have identified the critical path.
Once I decide on my outcome, then the thrashing stops, then it’s all execution.
In summary, the podcast made me realize that everything is happening exactly the way it should. It’s supposed to be messy. More importantly, it’s much better to be messy in the beginning.
The order of operations is clear.