Airline pilots have been using “to do” lists or checklists for a long time. Taking complex processes and condensing them into a simple checklist was also instrumental in putting a man on the moon. Of course that doesn’t mean that every project plan can be boiled down into a simple list of tasks—some projects may require a fairly complex milestone path or governance process while others do not.
Four-star general, former U.S. Secretary of State, National Security Adviser, Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff counted simplicity as one of his eighteen rules for effective leadership:
“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through an argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everyone can understand.” —Michael Korda
“Effective leaders understand the KISS principle, or Keep It Simple Stupid,” suggests General Collin Powell. “They articulate vivid overarching goals and values, which they use to drive daily behaviors and choices among competing alternatives. Their visions and priorities are lean and compelling, not cluttered or buzzword-laden. Their decisions are crisp and clear, not tentative and ambiguous. They convey an unwavering firmness and consistency in their actions, aligned with the picture of the future they pain. The result? Clarity of purpose, credibility of leadership, and integrity of organization.”
There are a few reasons I think keeping things as simple as possible is important:
- It makes high-level objectives accessible to the project team
- It keeps everyone focused on the things that are the most important
- It protects everyone on the team (including stakeholders and sponsors) from getting bogged down in distracting minutia
In my opinion, successful projects share straightforward objectives that are simple to identify. If the project plan is so complex that it obscures the objectives, it might be time to rethink the plan, because it isn’t likely to succeed.
What do you do to keep things as simple as possible?