Third Full Moon Syndrome
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

I learned a tough lesson early in my career about being prepared. Had I performed a Stakeholder Analysis, might have known that I was about to walk into a trap. But I didn’t, and so I did.

I was just about finished with my presentation on how to modestly improve a process by removing a couple of steps which I had been told were unnecessary. It wasn’t a breakthrough, but it was a start.

From the back of the room the senior manager of the department in which I was working interrupted me in mid-slide and flatly stated, “You have not accounted for the times in which the Daily Report is Delayed! You come back to me when your new process handles this otherwise don’t waste any more of my team’s time.” And with that the leader walked out and the project completely and irrevocably fell apart.

Although this does have largely to do with understanding the customer, there’s another point here.

I did NOT ask the senior leader “How often is the Daily Report Delayed?”

In fact, I didn’t ask anyone else either.

I should have, because the answer to that question was, “Almost never.” Or, “Once in the past year, and that was the day after Thanksgiving when it didn’t matter.” (That’s “Thanksgiving in the United States,” just to be clear.) In other words, it was never brought up because the magnitude of the issue was next to zero. On the other hand, the Daily Report being Incorrect happened several times a month and that WAS a problem which was fully considered and addressed in the project findings.

So, although it’s debatable that the senior manager would have found another excuse to disapprove of the project findings, in this specific case, I could have calmly related that the project team determined delays in the Daily Report were not a significant factor.

From that point on, I made sure that if there was an issue, concern, or problem brought up, I validated its magnitude. And I’d relate that point in kickoff meetings:

“As we go through understanding and documenting the process we’re trying to improve, we may come across someone who will hold up a pencil” – I would actually hold up a pencil for effect – “and say, everytime there’s a third full moon in the month, I get this pencil, and your process flow doesn’t account for it, so I don’t buy into any of this work. And what’s the problem with that? A month can’t have any more than two Full Moons. So if something does come up that seems very unusual, let’s ask how often it happens.”

Substitute “pencil” with “expense,” “rework,” or a variety of other choices. While it’s true that those infrequent process issues could be substantial and need further analysis, you won’t know that if you don’t know how many times they actually happen.

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