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Reductionism Featured

   There’s a certain amount of comfort to be gained when reflecting upon your own career roadmap. It generates a sense of control, even when you’re being pushed past each milestone along the way.

   Now that the roadmap was completed, it was decided; these were indeed the accomplishments Blake had to achieve.

   All men have had Herculean tasks that they must perform for their loves: these were his. Nothing short of success would be right for his Tabitha.

   Everyone knows, Sunday afternoons are just the perfect time for boyfriends to do such things; at least that’s what Tabitha Turtle apparently believed. She had been poking and prodding Blake to do his planning for weeks - she finally had cornered him, and together they completed a roadmap that she could accept; Blake was a lucky guy to have someone who cared so much about his future.

   And so, it was decided; if Blake was to be a District Superintendent, he would have to finish his teaching certificate. Once that was under his belt, he could get the additional degrees he would need, be given some leadership opportunities at the elementary school, transfer to the High School, and Wham! He would be the District Superintendent before he was 43.

   However, Tabitha wasn’t satisfied; concerned that Blake would be overwhelmed by his first milestone of, ‘Get Teaching Certificate’; together they decide to create a project plan for getting a teaching certificate. Blake was reluctant at first- putting so much effort into just getting a teaching certificate seemed like a waste. It wasn’t until Tabitha Turtle reminded him about how so many other people would use his same plan, to get their own certificates at some future date, that he finally agreed.

   Now, how to start? Once again, it wasn’t until Tabitha Turtle walked him through the principle of reductionism that he started to gain traction. He started at the top, “Get Teaching Certificate”. Tabitha then asked the question, “What’s preventing you from being awarded your certificate right now?” “Wait a minute Honey, slow down, I can’t just go do that, for one thing, I don’t have a school sponsoring me.”

   So, Tabitha wrote down “School Sponsorship” and asked, “Why isn’t your school sponsoring you?” In a panic now, poor Blake just shouted out, “I need some more classes”. Tabitha was ready to write down what he said and quick with the next ‘why’. Before long, poor Blake was out of excuses. He just looked at her, quite surprised, “I guess I can do it.” At that moment, he saw it, he saw the whole picture, and he couldn’t believe it. Yes, he could do anything, one-step-at-a-time, and eventually end up with his teaching certificate. Amazed, he sat back thinking, “What a girlfriend”.

   The rest of the night was spent enjoying Tabatha Turtle’s talents, and boy could she play the guitar.

   Monday morning found Blake standing in front of his Third-Grade class once again. He was mostly just going through the motions, while he thought about his weekend and Tabatha. It wasn’t until after lunch that Blake became truly aware of what he was saying. The class was reviewing “The Nations of the World”. He was talking about the hard conditions in some of the nations, Cheryl a young lady in the front row was paying close attention. She sat there looking at Blake with her big brown eyes. When Blake slowed down for a second, Cheryl interrupted with a question, “Why do these people not have any food? Where are the stores?”

   Who knows why each of us does what we do, but at that moment, Blake felt a slap on the face. It stung just as much as if it was real. Yes, indeed; Why Blake, why is there hunger left in the World? Didn’t you just learn how to fix these types of big problems yesterday?

   Blake froze, he couldn’t answer Cheryl, he couldn’t even look at her- the shame he felt was too strong. What was he doing just standing there? He should be out solving World Hunger right now before another person dies needlessly.

   No, first he must finish out the day. Barely maintaining his focus, he finishes the day at school and runs to meet the Wizard.

   Now Blake and the Wizard are old friends and know each other very well. So, you can imagine what’s going through the Wizard’s mind as Blake explains his new-found desire to solve World Hunger. The Wizard waits patiently as Blake explains how the principle of reductionism breaks down big problems into little problems. Blake knows it works because Tabatha Turtle helped him use it just yesterday.

   Well, what could the Wizard do? “But Blake”, says the Wizard, “who’s going to listen to you? Just because you can identify things to do, doesn’t mean anyone will listen.” Argue as the Wizard might, it just bounced off Blake’s thick shell. He wanted the Wizard to use his magic and put him on a project to solve World Hunger.

   The Wizard decides the wise thing to do here is make Tabatha Turtle the bad person, so he tells Blake “OK, Ok I’ll do it. But, we need to have Tabatha explain how to solve World Hunger, so I’ll know where to send you.”

   That put a pause in Blake’s excitement; somehow he knew that Tabatha Turtle wouldn’t look kindly towards Blake being magically sent somewhere to solve World Hunger. Yes, and Blake wasn’t happy about having to tell her, but it made sense to him. He agreed with his friend the Wizard and set out looking for Tabatha.

   Of course, when Blake explained everything to Tabatha Turtle, she didn’t like the idea, but she was also proud of her boyfriend for being so caring for the hungry. With a long heartfelt discussion, tears welling up in her eyes, she knew the right thing to do was let him go. She gave him a warm, slow hug – hesitant to let him go, but finally giving in, and sending him on the way with a kiss.

   You know by this time, Blake was so excited, he forgot what the Wizard sent him to get, (that is, where to go to solve World Hunger) and he ran all the way to the Wizard’s house. After one more careful try to discourage Blake, the Wizard gave in. Watching Blake carefully, he raised his wand, waving it in circles, and with a loud short cry he said, “Drizzle DrazzleDruzzleDraup, Time for this one to grow up.” In a cloud of smoke, Blake dissolved into thin air, leaving the Wizard, his friend, all alone in his tree trunk.

   As for Blake, in one instant he was with the Wizard, in the next, he was sitting at a large beautiful wooden table, computers all around. There was the beginning fragment of a project plan being projected on the wall. Oh- yes! The title of the project was, ‘World Hunger.’ How great was his friend the Wizard after all- here he was right in the center of a World Hunger project! Can you believe it?

   People around the table were expectantly looking toward him. Blake seizes the opportunity and proceeds just as Tabatha taught him. He asks, “Why can’t we solve World Hunger right now?”

   You should have seen the face of the old silver haired gentleman sitting next to him. But it was the lady sitting across the table who declared confidently, “The Hungry People don’t have food, it costs too much.” He stood up, and on the cleanest white board he’d ever seen, wrote, “costs too much”. He then began to walk around the room, but stopped, and went back to the old man who was next to him. Looking right at him, asked, “Anything else?”

   The old guy just blurted out, “Not enough food for everyone.” So, Blake wrote this down as well, then turned to the group and gave them an expectant look. A younger, well-groomed man stated that food can’t be produced where the hungry people live and transportation was a problem, but was quickly shot down by someone pointing out that there were starving people in the California Valley; which still produces a lot of food for the rest of the World.

   “So why aren’t we solving World Hunger now”, restated Blake, “If we could get food to the Hungry people, at a price they could afford, would that remove Hunger?” Blake was running the necessary and sufficient test before going on, and everyone recognized it. No one responded.

   Blake didn’t want to go down in flames already, he had to do something. The first level of reduction needed to be sufficient to accomplish the goal- before going to the next level, didn’t it? Since his team wasn’t responding, did they have all the causes of hunger?

   He wished Tabatha Turtle was there with him. She seemed to know stuff.

   A man with a funny accent that Blake couldn’t quite place slowly responded, “Blake, aren’t you assuming everyone wants to solve World Hunger? I fear there exist governments, companies, and very powerful people who would keep things the way they are now. What do we do about them?” Blake felt his world falling in.

   It was the friendly lady across the table who helped Blake start the discussion that suggested, “Why don’t we continue the way Blake started us? Let’s just create a project to address each of these issues. I think a political campaign might do just the ticket here.” Blake jumped on this suggestion as if it was what he was thinking all along, “Exactly!” What if we had projects to address every issue? Could we solve World Hunger then? His high-powered team looked at each other for a moment and each began to slowly nod their heads, “Yes they could”, each carefully indicated.

  That is how they began asking each other why they couldn’t solve World Hunger, listing to all the reasons, and creating a project for each reason. At the end of their first day, the team had identified 1,836 distinct and separate projects they needed to complete before solving World Hunger. Even though most of the projects were about war, greed, jealousy, hatred, racism, corruption and selfishness, Blake felt that it was a successful day.

  At the beginning of the next day, Blake was very excited. He came into the conference room confident they would succeed. He couldn’t wait to get going. As he reviewed the list of projects identified yesterday, doubt began to creep into his mind. No, it wasn’t doubt but was a feeling of uneasiness, and he couldn’t shake it? Was it the turtle’s natural sense of impending death?

  He found himself wrestling with these feelings as team members representing nations of all over the world began to take their seats around the great and spacious table. By their conversations he could tell everyone was optimistic, but just as he was going to put away his feelings of doom, in walked a new person he’d never seen before; and Blake would have remembered him.

  The entire room became silent. Here dressed in the darkest suit and hat that Blake had ever seen, came a true personage of evil. If you had taken all the hatred, mistrust, lies, crimes against humanity, meanness; in short, all that was bad, and put it into the human form, you might begin to have what this man already possessed.

  This encasement of evil, walked, no I should say slithered up to Blake, “Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Dr. Knott. I’m looking forward to working with your team. His eyes produced a yellowish glow, “We all want you to be successful, don’t we?”, he said with an air of challenge and contempt.

  Blake did his best to thank him for coming but made sure to show him a seat on the other side of the table. Blake reviewed the events of yesterday with everyone and explained the project list to the newcomer, who was sitting silently eyeing the rest of the members as Blake spoke.

  The old man from yesterday quietly asked the group, “How do we know that these are the projects that need to be accomplished?” Even before the question was completed, Blake remembered his own doubt and began to feel nauseous. He never thought to ask Tabatha Turtle about this, and when it came up yesterday, he had just dismissed it. Oh, how regret is a hard burden to carry on one’s back.

  The entire team looked at Dr. Knott, who knowingly presented a slight smile, and just nodded as if it was only a matter of time before everyone was doomed anyways.

  It was then that an idea hit Blake. “Who cares if we don’t identify all the reasons for World Hunger at that moment? Couldn’t they add additional projects later, after they come up?” Blake decided that if the group felt confident enough in the list to move forward as it was. Later, they could come back, add more projects, and continue the program in Phase 2, or 3. Eventually, they would succeed.

  As Blake presented his idea, everyone seemed to relax and be ready to move forward. Everyone that is except for Dr. Knott, who grimaced and looked at all our work so far as trifle little scratches on the already fading tombstone on the program’s grave. You could almost see the wheels turning in his head.

  He slowly stood up, and ignoring Blake, addressed the rest of the team, “What makes you think that the entire world has the means to complete these projects? I know my government won’t support such a program without some idea of what it will take to complete. How do we know where to begin; 1,836 projects are too many to do all at once- where do we begin? I think we should at least rank the projects so we can establish priorities. Maybe we don’t have to do all the projects at once. Look, before we commit irrevocable resources to such a program, we will need a way to prioritize our investments.

  Yes, Dr. Knott quickly gained a consensus from the rest of the committee. He preceded to define a prioritization process that was based on data that would take at least two years to gather, and at a cost that was larger than 40 gross national products. In less than two hours Dr. Knott had managed to derail the entire program, even before a single project had been defined in any level of detail.

   If Blake was going to regain control, he’d better do something quick. Blake addressed the group, “All this data that Dr. Knott is requesting is good to have, but we don’t need it to just prioritize our projects. As a Grade School Teacher, I’ve had to prioritize projects all the time. We would use three dimensions of estimation; the ‘Estimated Commercial Value’ of the project, the ‘Strategic Alignment’ of the projects, and then the Business Model Canvas to provide direction in structuring business expectations and value realization. These estimates provided relative high-level relative rankings; they were not financial forecasts, so they only required high-level estimates, we didn’t need the research or the specialists. Now if we ranked our projects this way, could your governments get behind our efforts?”

   Once again the team nodded in agreement, even Dr. Knotts had to agree that these factors could be a basis for relative project prioritization. But sternly warned that they would be useless for creating a budget. Blake wanted to address this a bit more, but in the end felt it was more important to move on. One of the team members who had remained quite all day yesterday spoke up now, “Is it really possible to get the data you need for these estimates quickly and with minimal expense?”

   “Yes”, Blake said, “This type of project ranking is used and taught for free at pmNERDS all the time.” Blake then walked them through the estimating process using the ECV estimate scoring method, a set of 20 simple questions used to assess strategic alignment, and the creation of a Business Model Canvas for each project that would provide direction while forming the projects’ structure. So, despite Dr. Knott’s presence and constant negativity, the team could finish all the estimating and ranking of projects in just four days. Blake was back on track and feeling good.

   Once again it was Dr. Knotts who stumped the team. This time he was almost laughing at Blake, “We’ll Blake, we do have our projects ranked, and I have to give you credit for that. But listen here, and this is critical like I said before, we can’t go forward until we know that we have the means to finish. You can’t even tell me how long these projects will take, or how much they all will cost. We will not go forward until we know more.”

   With that, he took his black hat and walked out of the room, with the rest of the team in tow. It was the end of the day, but the effect was dramatic, all the same. Blake knew Dr. Knott was just capitalizing on the time of the day. Never the less, even the lady that was so supportive in the past wouldn’t look at Blake, she put her head down as she passed by. In the next moment, the entire room had made it out the door, leaving Blake alone asking himself what had happened.

   The next morning when Blake arrived, a few of the other team members were already gathered around Dr. Knott discussing different specialists and analysis methods they would need to build time and cost estimates. Regardless of that, they all agreed on one thing, before they could do any estimates, they had to have completed project plans and that could take years. Being thus convinced, they determined it would take them years before their government sponsors would be willing to back such a venture. Who would fund the activities in the meantime? It was all impossible.

   When the rest of the team came in, the thinking was presented. No one listened to Blake, the program was voted unfeasible, and everyone left. This time Blake’s head began to spin- he had failed. What made this experience even more bitter was that he had had the answer. He could have shown them how to get the cost and time estimates, both in an accurate and timely manner. It could have been done. World Hunger could have been wiped off the face of the planet like a bad disease.

   Now it was all over, he had somehow failed, and in doing so, had let down all the hungry people of the World. The questioning faces of all the “Cheryl’s” in the world came crashing in on him. He began to spiral downward. He felt suffocated by the presence of Dr. Knott. The evil satisfaction coming from the destruction of yet another human soul gave Dr. Knott even greater suffocating power. In that very last moment, well beyond all hope, Blake heard the familiar musical chant of his friend, Mr. Wizard. “Drizzle DrazzleDruzzle Drone, Time for this one to come home.”

   It took Blake a minute for him to begin breathing properly. A little bit longer to realize he was in the familiar tree trunk with his friend Mr. Wizard. Boy was Blake glad to see a friendly face. The unlikely pair embraced each other excitedly. There was far too much for Blake to tell his friend the Wizard, so it would have to wait. He knew what he had to do now.

   First things first. Blake went straight to Tabatha Turtle’s house, and after much expressions of affection, he slowly told her of his experience. She quietly listened, and then somewhat bewildered, asked what he could have done differently. Bitterly, Blake explained that if he had only told everyone one up front, they would have all know he could teach them the practices they needed, and Dr. Knott wouldn’t have had any power over them. They looked at each other in silence for a while, then drifted off to sleep in each other’s arms.

   The night worked it’s strengthening magic, and in the night’s peace, Blake found the confidence he needed. In the morning after a great breakfast, Blake gave Tabatha a short kiss and a wink and went directly to school. He had a lesson to teach his whole class, and teach he did. He taught them a little of the power of reductionism, taught them of how war, greed, and the search of power also caused the World’s hunger.

   “But”, said Blake, “Even though hunger is only a symptom of our lack of humanity, we need to address it. He looked at Cheryl and continued, “Just like a runny nose is a symptom of a cold, you wouldn’t ignore that, would you? We can help fix this runny nose, as a class lets gather some food and send it to someone who needs it.” When the class quit laughing, they began making brochures and distributed them in the neighborhoods, while others planned food pickup stations.

   Other teachers asked if they could participate, and in the end, the program was a success. The District Superintendent had read about it in the town’s newspaper. She organized an after-school ceremony to congratulate those who participated. They had photographers, newspaper, and members of the community attend the affair. After all the speeches, they had Blake’s Elementary School Principal come up and receive a big bonus for being such a thoughtful and caring man. The Principal gave each of the participating teachers a plaque.

   Blake’s class attended, laughed noisily and were all wiggles. Later that evening, Blake met with Mr. Wizard and Tabatha Turtle. He showed them his plaque. Mr. Wizard said he was proud to shake Blake’s hand as a friend. Tabatha, kissed him, hugged him, and wouldn’t let go.

   And Blake, well, he understood that the principle of reductionism gave each person power to do great things- one step at a time. He could look at his students in the eyes, and help them feel a little less helpless. Above all else, he knew that step by step, he was going to follow his (Tabatha Turtle’s) roadmap, and be in control of his career path.

Last modified onThursday, 11 May 2017 17:05
Val Workman

With a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, Val began working in the Aerospace and Defense, Telecommunications, and Electronics industries doing Predictive performance modeling, simulation, and animation. Later he would gain experience in Project, Product, Program and Portfolio Management. He leveraged this experience as Director of Global Marketing at Telelogic and while serving as Fellow at Ryma Technologies. He worked as a consultant in Enterprise Work Management for Workfront. He is the father of six kids and has been in Boy Scouting for 20 years. He has been an active evangelist for Integrated PM since 2009.

As a columnist at the Innovation Spark, Val writes a column about the issues and practices of Integrated PM leveraging the format of a 1960s cartoon, "Mr. Wizard and Tooter the Turtle".

Website: www.linkedin.com/in/vworkman

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