AYE 2008 – Moving Projects Forward: The Clinic Method

As I slowly work through my notebook from the Amplifying Your Effectiveness Conference (having blogged about sessions on Unearthing the Data You Need, Remembering Your Resources When Stressed, and Congruent Coaching), I come to Jerry Weinberg’s session of Tuesday afternoon, Moving Projects Forward: The Clinic Method.

As long as projects are staffed and led by people, we can be sure that they will sometimes get stuck, or headed in the wrong direction, or something.  This is true no matter what sort of methodology you follow.  Even if the methodology is perfect, the people following it are not.  They will make mistakes.  They will have blind spots, and not see what it is that they’re not seeing.  Projects will still get in trouble.  (Yes, even Agile projects.)

So, what do you do about this certainty? Jerry suggests The Clinic Method.  What’s this?  It’s a nurses’ station for projects that are sick.  If a project manager or product owner or scrum master or anyone feels that a project is in trouble, it’s a place to go for help.  Get five or six of your best people and have them meet for half a day, once a week.  Choose people who are

  • good problem solvers
  • good communicators
  • good decision makers
  • and who understand the business

Don’t choose everyone by the same criteria–you want diversity on this team.  You can also rotate people through this committee, but on a staggered basis so you don’t change them all at once.  Publicize this meeting so that anyone with a concern can attend and ask for help.

What does this team do when someone brings a problem?  They don’t solve the problem.  They help that person come up with a positive step to move forward.  Remember:

The problem is not the problem.  The coping with the problem is the problem.

So you dig down for the underlying issues.  You triage the issues and pick out what’s a real bottleneck.  And you help the person in need come up with some strategies for a solution, and at least one step they can take immediately.  That step may be a small as gathering some necessary information that they don’t have, and bringing that information back the next week.

We played roles and gave this a try.  I was fortunate to have an opportunity to play both a person with a problem, and a person on the clinic team.  Being on the clinic is not easy.  You have to think hard, and bring all your experience to bear to generate insights.  And you have to listen and understand what others are saying (or not saying), both those who bring problems to you, and those who sit on the clinic with you.  Remember, this is not just a job for anyone, but for some of your best people.  It doesn’t even have to be an officially sanctioned body of the organization–in most organizations of size, your best people can make this happen on their own.

And if no one comes with a problem?  Go looking for them.  They’re out there.

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