I worked with a project manager who loved skydiving and photography. He was a mechanical engineer, but one of the best Project Manager of our company. While walking around the plant one day, I asked him “What is the most important thing that he does to stay focused on the management and progress of the project?”
He said Project management is not about 'focus', but about 'focal length'. I always use a normal lens.
And then he went ahead to explain what he was trying to say by drawing a similarity between project planning, driving in traffic and photography.
A basic explanation of photography using different types of lenses will be necessary to explain what he explained. Here it is.
Do you love photography?
If yes, you may know about DSLRs. DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex. Digital means it uses an electronic sensor to capture a digital image unlike old photographic rolls with photosensitive chemicals. Single-Lens because, it uses one lens to view as well as to capture the image, unlike some cameras in the past that used to have two closely mounted lenses, one for viewing the subject and another for taking the picture. That way what you see through the first lens is what gets captured by the second lens. Reflex stands for the fact that, these cameras use a mirror and other optics to reflect the image to a view finder where you get an exact preview of the image that you are going to capture. And when you click, the mirror goes up, the sensor is exposed, and the photograph captured.
There are two parts to a DSLR camera - the camera body that captures the image and saves it on a memory card, and the lens that focuses the image onto the camera sensor. The body has a large circular opening where different types of lenses can be mounted to take different types of pictures. If the focal length of a lens is small, it will give a large viewing angle to capture everything from extreme left to extreme right of the field of view. That is why it is called a wide angle lens.
If the focal length of a lens is large, it has very narrow viewing angle and captures distant objects magnified. That is why it is called a tele (or telescopic) lens. Commercially, above 50 mm lenses are called tele, and below 50 mm lenses are called wide. And 50 mm lenses are called "normal" lenses.
Why 50 mm lenses are called normal lens? That is probably because, a 50 mm lens gives a view that is closest to the view that a normal human eye will give.
The above explanation is a gross simplification of the basics of photography with DSLRs.
Now imagine, you are travelling to your friends place a distance of 300 km from home. Driving a car takes about 5 hours. There are two places you will stop on the way. Your wife and baby daughter are in the back seat, and your 12 year old son in the front next to you.
As you are "travelling", you have a mental map of the journey in your mind from your previous journey last year, and you are thinking of your next stop for breakfast. Things like what will you eat, whether the toilets would be clean, whether there would be enough parking, etc are in your head. You are not thinking of your second, third or final stop. Although, at the back of your mind you just have two numbers. 2 hours after breakfast, and 3 hours then on to destination.
As you are "driving", you are watchful of the normal weekend traffic. You can see the first, second and the third car clearly ahead of you. Traffic on the other lane and the return traffic on the incoming lane is within your clear field of view. From inside the car you are looking at the world that is passing by (with your normal eyes). You are just getting enough view from left and right and front and navigating through the traffic. In the language of photography, you are on an equivalent of a “normal 50” mm lens.
What will happen if you look through an 18 mm wide angle lens while driving?
Suddenly your view will become very wide. You will start seeing lot of additional things from your left and right that you were not viewing earlier. These additional items will clutter your field of view creating distraction - without helping you in your driving in any manner. Also a lot of objects ahead of you that you used to see clearly in your field of view with your normal eye will become smaller, making it tougher for you to keep your eyes on most important objects on the road for driving to your destination.
What will happen if you look through a 300 mm tele lens while driving?
Suddenly lot of things from left and right of your field of view will vanish. You will have a clear magnified view of 5th or 6th car ahead of you. This will make driving not only very uncomfortable but also very dangerous, since you will not know if anything is coming in your way from your left or right. You will see them only when they are very close to you, when you may not have time to steer clear of them.
What this tells us is that, driving a normal car on normal roads in normal traffic is done well with normal eyes. You can drive well only when you have balanced view of the world around you. Not too wide. Not too tele.
Project planning is almost like driving through traffic and is directly driven by this concept.
There are three plans on a project. The top level plan of a project is called the Level-1 schedule. This is the grand plan of the project showing the start date, finish date and intermediate milestone dates. Detail planning for each milestone is further done on a Level-2 plan. This plan has smaller milestones to achieve the main milestones. Activity planning for achieving the smaller milestones is a Level-3 plan. Depending on the complexity of the project, it may be required to do a Level-4 plan also, but generally that is not required.
A level-3 plan is an execution level plan, it is continuous, and dynamic. It is like driving continuously through the traffic. Like you can drive well when you take balanced view of the world around you, in the same way you can manage the project well when you take a balanced view at level-3.
A good L3 plan is a plan for 7 days. It is realistic, achievable and manageable. It is not too wide and not too tele. It is “normal”
Any plan less than 7 days is too little plan and too shortsighted not looking ahead. It will have elements of micro management. It is too wide and not looking ahead. Any work plan for more than 7 days is too optimistic, difficult to manage and less likely to be achieved. There will be more unknowns and less focus on immediate short term tasks.
Driving your own life through every day is also not very different.
If you can't see beyond what you are surrounded with or immediately impacted with, you cannot focus on that part of your daily agenda that is essential for your long term goals. That will be like driving through a busy road looking through a wide angle lens.
If you only look at your long term goals, you may not be able to plan your daily agenda because lot of unknowns will come in and keep you busy. That will be like driving through a busy road looking through a tele lens.
Interesting, how technology, philosophy and everyday life follow the same rules.