Projects Can Feel Like Turning the Queen Mary 2?

Consider the Queen Mary 2: an ocean liner so vast (QM2 is 147 feet longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall (984 ft.), so heavy (Approximately 151,400 gross tons) and so imposing (QM2’s whistle is audible for 10 miles) that it is difficult to see how it could ever be turned.

New initiatives and change at the company level, a department level, a project level and often even at a personal level can  feel like the QM2 – immovable, vast, heavy and imposing. But just as with the QM2 it takes but a small rudder – a trimtab to – move the entire vessel in a new direction. A trimtab is a small movable piece on the main rudder of a ship. When this trimtab is moved it creates such a countervailing force that the very size and weight of the structure itself is used to make the turn.

In the same way a small but significant trimtab action, or idea or process ( a Small Win) can turn an entire culture where its very weight can be transformed into momentum for change.

The key is to identify the trimtab (Small Win) and move it. To focus attention and effort on this smallish point and thereby move what was immovable.

Size does matter and its small that makes a difference in moving and leading large scale change.

Consider these small wins and the trimtab effect:

  1. A discussion of blogging and the value of wordpress happens one afternoon between two colleagues

—a pilot of its use is set up with a couple of managers to use with members of their departments

—-The CEO begins to blog

——-a company-wide implementation through intranet install is launched

———-multiple uses of blogging are beginning around company as means of information and process sharing

2.  A new LMS (learning management system) is used as a proof of concept for its effectiveness by a PM in developing the project team

—-Two other PMs to begin using the LMS with their teams

——These PMs begin discussing the use of the LMS with their Functional Managers

——–A Functional Manager agrees to try the LMS for the department

———–the success is seen by others

————–Word spreads from one Functional Manager to another

——————A VP begins using the platform with the Executive Team

——————–Company-wide implementation is initiated

Trimtabs are often small wins. Karl E. Weick speaks about the charatieristcs of a small win.

“A small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance. By itself, one small win may seem unimportant. A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals. Small wins are controllable opportunities that produce visible results.

Small wins often originate as solutions that single out and define as problems those specific, limited conditions for which they can serve as the complete remedy. I emphasize the importance of limits for both the solution and the problem to distinguish the solutions of small wins from the larger, more open-ended solutions that define problems more diffusely (e.g., “burn the system down”).

Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. When a solution is put in place, the next solvable problem often becomes more visible. This occurs because new allies bring new solutions with them and old opponents change their habits. Additional resources also flow toward winners, which means that slightly larger wins can be attempted.” (Weick, 1984)

As a Project Manager moving a project or process within a project can feel daunting.  Especially in cases where you may be working in a week matrix or functional organization. Remembering the trimtab effect of small wins can give strategic advantage and allow you to lead by Empowering, Preparing, Inspiring and Connecting in small ways that produce a great effect.. Leading in this way,  we can see the wake of the course change that these small trimtab wins have effected.

Trimtab leadership is Anticipatory Leadership that understands the difference between chronos and kairos time.  More on Anticipatory Leadership and Time in my next post.

About JKMarlatt


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  1. […] my last post we discussed the power of small wins in effecting significant and systemic change.  Small wins and trimtabs.  Timtabs can turn the QM2 but you have to strategically plan and have the right time to make the […]

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