Thursday, December 8, 2011

Think like a beginner

"Think like a beginner!"

That's the big take away from an interview with Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff. And, what exactly, does that mean, and what does it mean for project management?

Benioff was pontificating on why some established organizations can't get on the page of destructive innovation, and why they can't seem to get past a one-trick success. His take: they don't think like beginners... they don't think like they did when everything was a blank story board and they had no legacy to preseve and no install base to keep relevant.

Example: According to Benioff, failure to think like a beginner explains, in part, why Microsoft missed the mobile market. According to Benioff, who was a Apple guy when Jobs was there doing the Mac, the genius of Jobs was his ability to constantly think like he was starting over. Thus, Apple came in and destructively innovated the mobile market, unlike MS, in spite of both having a large legacy install base of personal computers and PC applications.

And, this is not first time Apple was willing to throw away the legacy, in spite of customer angst. Apple was the first to throw away the "A" drive at time when people had hundreds, if not thousands of records on 1Mb floppies. Instant obsolescence of the installed base. Apple's reply to customers: "get over it!"

So, what about projects? In most cases the project manager is not the product manager, not even the product owner. (Owner vs manager: I'm making a distinction between an inward looking manager and a outward looking manager, the latter having the larger portfolio (scope)). The project manager pretty much builds what the product owner wants, especially if the agile mindset is followed.  There isn't any doubt that Apple project manager's developed what Jobs wanted.

So, is there a place for the project manager to indulge in "destructive innovation"? Yes and no is the indefinite answer. To restate the obvious: anyone can have a good idea. But of course, not everyone takes--or can take--responsibility for consequences. That's where project management comes in: the PM is accustomed to accountability. If there's a good idea--requiring everyone to think like a beginner--there's no beginning if someone does not step up to the opportunity. Someone has to be the risk manager--and guess what, there's no doubt who that is: PM every time.

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