One of the key ingredients of successful projects is effective leadership, and one of the primary tools of a good leader is the vision, that definition of where we want to get to and how we will know when we get there.The problem is that the vision can be too limited in its scope, too “broad brush” in its analysis and quite simply not viable because people haven’t thought through the consequences.
One of the most valuable skills in the armoury of the successful project leaders is the impact assessment – “what will happen if we do this?” This is used heavily in change management and risk management, so should be finely honed in most project teams (!)
Impact assessing the vision can be very tough, but failure to do so can snatch failure from the jaws of victory.
When the Government decided in the 80s to force brewers to sell tied houses, so increasing the number of free houses and the demand for real ales, they were rather startled to find that the legislation had a completely contrary effect – half the brewers stopped brewing to run much larger chains of tied houses (bought from the other brewers) and bought all their beer from the few remaining big breweries. It has taken 30 years to recover from that piece of woolly thinking.
Barnes Wallis, a kind and gentle engineering genius, is reported to have been inconsolable when he found that 56 aircrew were missing in action having dropped his bouncing bombs in the famous Dambusters raid in 1943. His reaction to the 2000+ civilian deaths, including nearly 800 Ukrainian women workers in a labour camp near the Moehne dam, isn’t recorded.
When the modern state of Israel was born, no one seems to have thought through what would happen to the people already living there, and as a long-term consequence there seems no end to the slaughter of the innocents. The UK government has often had a policy of not negotiating with “Terrorists”, but one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. In Ireland, there has twice been a cessation of hostilities between the UK and terrorists/freedom fighters – both times it has meant the UK government having the courage to set aside its policy of demonising “the other side” and doing what must be done – talk to the people most passionate about the wrongs they feel have been done to them. The first time led to a peace with what is now the Republic of Ireland, the second (“Good Friday agreement”) seems to have brought a degree of peace back to the North.
When setting out on a great project, it really helps to think through the vision, because if you don’t, you have to be utterly pragmatic in dealing with the consequences, to achieve a lasting solution.