Saturday, June 23, 2012

Leonardo and DONE

I've been reading a really fascinating book about Leonardo da Vinci: "Da Vinci's Ghost: genius, obsession, and how Leonardo created the world in his own image"

In Chapter 4, we learn this:
"Leonardo had trouble with deadlines". Over a three year period from 1478 to 1481, while living in Milan as a painter-artist, he received several commissions for significant works.... and did not get to DONE on any of them!

It appears he kept the down payment, but failed to collect the check that goes with DONE.

In fact, when it came to selecting the 1481 team to decorate the (new) Sistine Chapel, he got left off, allegedly because of his reputation for not getting his consternation.

So, why wasn't Leonardo disposed to good project management?  One of his supporters, who was also his critic, said this:

Alas! This man will do nothing at all, since he is thinking of the end before he has made a beginning. ... In his imagination, he frequently formed enterprises so difficult and so subtle that they could not be realized and worthily executed by human hands. His conceptions were varied to infinity

In other words, when came to the WBS, Da Vinci got trapped in the paralysis of analysis. He often began an engagement with a round of experimentation and investigation, sort of a 15th century version of Boehm's Spiral Method.

But we also see a measure of emergence and progressive elaboration in his inability to control scope or contain his imagination

In fact, containing (or constraining) imagination is the challenge in all "thought projects" (Thought projects: those which have intangible requirements, or requirements about intangibles) that have scope with no tangible boundaries and are simply what you can imagine.

I guess the good news is that Leonardo was able to get his game together and left the world with an incredible legacy. I think that's good news for all of us, even the agilists among us!


  1. quite interesting. Leonardo Da Vinci is one of my all-time favorite genius and I did not know he is a serial and serious procrastinator.

    Now I ask the Robert Gates question:
    now then what

    I estimate 70% of my family are serial procrastinator: typically they have 100 projects and they have trouble starting and completing things.

    Question: How do you deal with serial and serious procrastinator in (a) a project and (b) in a family?

    Paul Chan

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    1. Paul: procrastinators always put the schedule slack at the beginning rather that at the end. Thus, they are always faced with heroics to finish on time, or finish at all.

      The first thing comes to mind is: remove all the slack in the first place, since they are not going to use it. They, accept that they will be late, and plan accordingly.

      A second thought is: why can't we change the underlying behavior or sense of value? This goes deep into personal psyche, so I don't think many of us are equipped to do that

      A third thought is: treat the symptoms with penalties and incentives. This may work; you have to know each person individually to know which of these, or a mix of these, will work.

    2. John

      You are right about the slack and the last-minute heroics. Unfortunately, at work, the procrastinators know I am the last one and usually will work overtime and overdrive to complete their work for them. Typical Friday at 2 pm they submit their work and leave punctually at 3 pm. I will end up working another 3 to 4 hours to mop up and supplement their work.

      No, I am in no authority to impose penalties or incentives.

      My only recourse is to avoid associating with them

      Paul Chan


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