by Bill Flury

At a local Pawn shop I saw something that was labeled “Project Manager’s Mirror.”  The manager said that it was quite old and had some remarkable powers. First, it could talk. Second, it always told the truth. This sounded interesting and the shop owner wasn’t asking much, so I bought it and took it home and hung it on the wall.

The next day I looked into the mirror and it spoke. It asked me:

“How are your projects going?”

I said, “We’re doing just fine.” The mirror replied:

“No you’re not! …and here’s why. [The mirror spoke in bullet points]

  • Your team members make lots of mistakes
  • Some of  your products get rejected
  • You sometimes waste time with duplicate or unnecessary work
  • You fall behind on schedules and don’t know how much work is still left to be done to catch up
  • You go on vacation and have to come back because of a crisis

…and there’s lots more… How can you say you are ‘Doing fine’?”

I told the mirror that those things were just the normal things that always happen and they were not really a problem. The mirror almost jumped off the wall with its answer. It said:

“You say it’s not a problem!!!!! You’ve got to be kidding. You have competition that is more efficient than you. Your customer really cares about how long it takes you to get things done or get them done right and could drop you at any time for someone better. Your team members care about working nights and weekends on unscheduled overtime. Don’t you see that?”

I answered by telling the mirror that it is sort of inevitable that those kinds of things happen. Every job is different. The mirror replied:

“You know that every job is different, so why don’t you have a process that deals effectively with that situation? Auto repair shops do that – the better shops are set up to be prepared to deal quickly and efficiently with all the various things that go wrong with cars. You should be adjusting your processes so you can handle all the variations in your projects.”

This was getting a bit annoying so I decided to give the mirror a little dose of reality. I said, “Look, there’s nothing I can do. The company staff guys talk like you. They keep saying that I need to set up a process improvement system. I’d do that but it would take a lot of effort and we don’t have any to spare.”

Once more the mirror spoke:

“Please remember, I always tell the truth. Setting up to do continuous process improvement does not take long and does not cost a lot. You can do it just like a little project.

You already have a process. It’s what you are doing now. You can start by looking at a part of it where some of your problems come from. If you have been missing some schedules, take a look at how you go about estimating time and effort. You could draw a flowchart of how you do that. Then, you and your team can all look at it together and see where you can make some improvements and start doing it the better way.

After you’ve done that, pick another target and do the same.”

I told the mirror: “We are already working 50-60 hour weeks. We don’t have any time to do this kind of thing.”

“If you thought this was important you could find time to do this. This is the kind of thing that you can all do at your brown bag lunches. You can skip some of the sports talk and instead talk about what you do and how you can do it better. Lots of people do it this way.

Most of my previous owners said that it took them less than two hours a week to get things going and within six months they were saving more time than that – and I agreed with them.”

“Ok Mirror, I’ll get right on it today.”

“Sure you will – and pigs will start flying tomorrow. Today will be just like yesterday. You’ll go in to work and the first little thing that comes up will grab your attention and you’ll forget all about what we’ve been talking about – doing fire prevention rather than just fighting fires. And tomorrow will be the same and you will keep saying, ‘I’ll get right on it.’”

I got really annoyed at that and decided to hit back. “Look here, Mirror. If you’re so smart, how come I found you in a pawn shop? Your last owner must have wanted to get rid of you.”

“My last owner was different from all of those before him. He didn’t listen to me and didn’t do what I said. Instead of fixing his processes he kept trying to fix his problems one at a time. He got worn out. His company failed and he lost his job. Please don’t do that. It’s lonely in the Pawn Shop.”

2 replies
  1. Bob Pikul
    Bob Pikul says:

    I think the “magic mirror” is a good attention grabber. Your white paper is well written and addresses a major concern…motivation to get started. That is harder than actually doing “process improvement”. The “reveal” part of your paper actually requires that the participants GET started….sit down and describe and make explicit what they do. If one can get over that hurdle then a lot of progress toward the appeal and deal phases can occur.

  2. Bill Flury
    Bill Flury says:

    Thanks for your comment. As you stated, getting people motivated to take a serious look at what they do and how they do it is always a problem. It’s too easy for them to just keep making the same mistakes and working through them rather than taking a few minutes now and then to look at and fix their processes.

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