The Moment Of Ignorance

The Moment Of Ignorance

Writers and artists know the moment of ignorance well. It’s that period of time you spend staring at the blank paper or canvas, knowing there’s work at hand, but having no idea how to begin. A strong urge to lay down the pen or brush and walk away battles a desire to do something, anything.
As a project or product manager, you’ve faced the moment of ignorance and gotten past it, but sometimes it’s worse than others. When it’s particularly intense or lasts too long, it can be costly in terms of time, good standing with the stakeholders, and your personal peace of mind.
If you’re stuck in the moment of ignorance, how do you get past it? Here are a few ploys:

  • Visualize the End Result: The product or end result of the project is probably sketched at this point, however vaguely. Jot some notes or doodles to show what your goal is. Include a finish date if you’ve got one. Work backwardfrom there to create a 100,000-foot view of your course.
  • Brainstorm:
    • Random list. For the verbally-oriented. Grab a pen and paper and “throw up on the page.” Write down anything that comes to mind about the project or product, no matter how outlandish. Write without stopping for 10 minutes. Then put the notes in logical order to form a rough plan.
    • Mind mapping. For the visually-oriented. Draw a circle in the center of a page with the name of the project or product in it. Draw a second circle to one side with a line from it to the center circle. In the second circle, write something associated with the project—a development phase, a stakeholder group, or what have you. Create third-tier circles branching from the second one. Create as many circles and connectors as you like to create branches of ideas. When ideas on different branches are closely related, draw a line between them. The end result will look like spaghetti, but you’ll have something on paper now to refine.
    • Paper slips. For the tactilely-oriented. Cut slips of copy paper or use index cards or sticky notes. Write down every idea you can come up with on a separate slip. Put the slips in a pile. When you can’t fill out any more slips, move them into a rational order. You’ll end up with a layout for the project. This is a great one for finding gaps in your work breakdown. Don’t let the slips blow away before you’ve transcribed everything!
  • Go for a Walk: Inside or out, a 15- to 30-minute walk willclear your head, loosen your joints, and relax your muscles. You don’t have to go for a walk, just stop staring at MS Project (or whatever) and get away from your desk. Talk to co-workers. Go for coffee. Call your mom—she’s always complaining you never call, right? When you get back to your blank slate, your calmed mind will be better able to produce ideas.
  • Study a Similar Project: Rifle through the organization’slessons learned and project archive (if you’re lucky enough to have such) to find efforts similar to the one you’ve been assigned. Talk to a co-worker or friend who’s done something similar. Use all the good ideas, schedules and processes you find as a basis for your own work.
  • Quit your Job: This is easy. First, get at least two million dollars (or more, depending on how posh a lifestyle you want). Then quit your job and stop worrying about the project or product. Please let me know if you figure out that first part.
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