A few months ago I revisited Conway’s law, a famous adage that says a system’s design structure mirrors its designing organization’s structure. I found that this wording, while prevalent and generally correct, is incomplete; read on for the resulting expanded viewpoint and some applications.
As Disney takes Star Wars mania to new levels, I find it increasingly difficult to remain the odd guy who’s never seen a movie or knows much about the series. In truth, it’s impossible to fully evade this cultural phenomenon, and indeed one of my favorite project/task management techniques comes from a timeless phrase by master Yoda:
Do, or do not; there is no try.
I’m a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Michael Linenberger’s Manage Your Now methods. Crisply stating the next action for an open loop is a simple but powerful way to ensure progress. And taking a page from Yoda, I’ve made it a point to never use “try” when I’m writing down a next action or committing to something in general.
Whenever I’m tempted to write “try” in an email or task note, I pause and ask myself, “what would it take to delete’try’ here?” Am I thinking I can get more done today than I actually can? Do I need to enlist support from someone else before I can commit to this? Do I have to train or read more on a particular topic before I can act on it?
I must emphasize this is not about verbalization – it’s just a useful way to uncover hidden dependencies or break down tasks that stems from a particular way of wording them. I have nothing against the word “try”, or the concept of trying itself; exploring, experimenting, and setting stretch goals are all good things, in the right context. More often than not, though, when planning work I’ve found “try” is more of a crutch or oversimplification that you’d do well to remove as early as possible. If you say “I’ll try to get this done by Friday”, I’m not advocating you blindly remove ‘try to’ – it came to your mind for a reason! Take the chance to deep dive that reason and come up with a better commitment, even if it’s later or ends up requiring more work than you thought (which you’ll want to know as early as possible anyway).
By paying close attention to the subtle clues your word choices hide, you can improve your planning and management skills. And while it means next to nothing to me, you know what my parting line has to be here, so: may the force be with you!