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Bendable Concrete

We often talk about life in blacks and whites, but life is lived in grays. Take the opposites “rigid” and “flexible”. The most rigid, unforgiving thing I can think of is concrete, and now there is “bendable concrete”*! Project leaders trying to enforce The Plan may see a black and white choice between order and chaos. What’s really needed is an agile shade of gray. 

Balancing project structure and flexibility is a fine art. Too little structure gives us the Wild West, unmet commitments, and a team limited to what can be achieved by the fittest survivor.  Too much structure smothers the initiative needed to overcome the unknowns limiting The Plan at the start of any project. Everyone knows this, but getting the right balance is so difficult that most of the time most projects find themselves some distance from the sweet spot. 

An organization’s projects are more successful when they

  • Are realistic about uncertainties - The software industry got much better when they gave up pretending they knew precise specifications and implementation costs at the start of a project.    
  • Tailor information infrastructure - There are great methodologies out there for maintaining knowledge bases and tracking projects. Unfortunately, as successful organizations scale up they often forget how to be lean and mean when that is needed  
  • Foster transparency with stakeholders - It takes guts to air problems in front of a customer, but we need them to participate in the inevitable journey of discovery associated with any project, and to look for best return on investment, not perfection. 

Of course, an organization is more than the sum of its projects.  Keeping multiple perspectives, like structure and flexibility, acquires new dimensions at the enterprise level. This will be the topic of our next post. 


5 Comments to Bendable Concrete:

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Gerardo Braedon on Sunday, December 9, 2012 2:27 AM
Interesting presentation of concrete! The say about the original color in what we actually live are quite impressive. Thanks Tom for a pleasant description of bendable concrete.
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Tom Robertson on Sunday, December 9, 2012 9:02 AM
Thanks for your comment Gerardo! Yes, I think it is interesting that black and white stories can help us live a colorful life, but only if we don't take the stories too literally! on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 7:13 PM
werful human ability to cooperate is focused and enabled by agile structure, the team becomes greater than the sum of its parts (Hive Mind, Bendable Concrete, Being Rational About Irration
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Brisbane cut concrete on Monday, March 18, 2019 1:39 AM
You’re certainly a great writer. Your post provided me with many helpful pieces of information.
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Danald Wilkins on Saturday, December 21, 2019 3:17 AM
Thanks for sharing such a great article. Google
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