A Superpower That Can Save The Day

Same But Different

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If there’s one superpower to develop, it’s to learn how to assess a project and get a good feel for when it will launch.

When you want to know how long a project will take, ask this simple question: ‘What must the project team learn before the project can launch?” By starting with this single question, you will start the discussion that will lead you to an understanding of what hasn’t been done before and where the uncertainty is hiding. And if there’s one thing that can accelerate a project, it’s defining where the uncertainty is hiding. And knowing this doubly powerful, like a pure two-for-one, because if you know where uncertainty is, by definition, you know where it isn’t. Where the uncertainty isn’t, you can do what you did last time, and because you’ve done it before, you know how long it will take. No new tools, no new methods, no new analyses, no new machines, no new skillsets, no new anything. And for the remaining elements of the project, well, that’s where the uncertainty is hiding and that’s where you will focus on the learning needed to secure the launch.

But it can be difficult to understand the specific learning that must be done for a project to launch. One trick I like to use is the Same-But-Different method. It goes like this. Identify a project that launched (Project A) that’s most similar to the one that will launch next (Project B) and perform a subtraction of sorts. Declare that Project B (the one you want to launch) is the same as Project A (the one you already launched) but different in specific ways and then define those differences as clearly and tightly as possible. And where it’s different, that’s where the learning energy must be concentrated.

Same-But-Different sounds simplistic and trivial, but it isn’t. More than anything, it’s powerful. For the elements that are the same, you do what you did last time, which is freeing. And for the small subset if things that are different, you dig in!

Same-But-Different drives deep clarity and extreme focus, which result in blistering progress and blinding effectiveness.

And for some reason unknown to me, asking a team to define the novel elements of a project is at least fifty times more difficult than asking them how Project B is different than Project A. So, it feels good to the team when they can use Same-But-Different to quickly easily define what’s different and then point directly to the uncertainty. And once the team knows where the uncertainty is hiding, it’s no longer hiding.

And if there’s one thing a project team likes, it’s knowing where the uncertainty is hiding.

Image credit: Unsplash

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