Nike’s Slogan

Just Do It
I found the article below interesting as it discusses the idea that in new projects, specifically those that may be in unfamiliar or unpredictable environments, it may be better to simply act instead of analyzing.

This concept makes me think about our class assignment to build a structure with uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows and how our team reacted (and failed miserably) to that project. We took the first 25% of the project time to map out our strategy, sketch out our detailed design plans, review our budget forecast for materials, and create a rough work breakdown structure. We assigned tasks to team members such as collecting specific supplies, breaking noodles into correct sizes for our base and support beams, configuring the correct marshmallows (small or large) in the right sections, and monitoring the time we had left to complete the project.

So what went wrong? Within the first minute of the ‘build’ stage of our project it was clearly evident our design was not going to be successful. Even though we had mapped and planned out the entire project in detail, and we had two professional engineers working on the project, none of us had any experience building a structure with uncooked noodles and marshmallows. What made us believe our unproven ‘plan’ would be even remotely successful to follow?

The article goes on to discuss the concept of “learning through action” and the steps a project manager can take to move forward, making right and wrong turns, to learn more about the eventual correct direction for the project. The project manager is not ‘flying blind’ in the project, but instead moving carefully into action by simply starting and evaluating the results.

Act:        Take a smart step toward a goal.
Learn:    Evaluate the evidence you have created.
Build:     Repeat Act and Learn steps until you accomplish your goal, opt to change direction based on findings, or discover the goal cannot be competed.

The paper examines how the old methods of planning, forecasting, analyzing, and allocating for new and uncharted projects simply do not result in success. Instead, the authors discuss some points to consider in using the act-learn-build concept above.

Stay within your Acceptable Loss
The act-learn-build model is inherently low risk, but not risk free. Within each phase consider how much you can lose in terms of time and money and still continue moving forward.

Secure only the Commitment you Need for the Next Step
Instead of asking “How do I get everyone committed to my idea?” ask, “What’s the least amount of commitment I need to act?” The idea is to have just enough freedom to continue to explore the concepts.

Manage Expectations
Make it clear to management this is a proof of concept rather than full scale project plan.

Have you ever experienced something similar with being on or managing a ‘new’ project at your company?  Do you have examples where the Act-Learn-Build method may have been a better approach to a project?

12 thoughts on “Nike’s Slogan

  1. Great post! I like the slogan and it seems this is the right way to go for any project we manage. We won the spaghetti noodles and marshmallows competition and the reason for that was exactly what you concluded. We learnt through actions. We did not spend too much time on planning and design. We thought about the best structure and then we started building based on our initial design. During the building process, we redesigned the structure to make it stronger. We also learnt that we need more materials to build the foundation. We increased the budget to purchase more materials. The whole project management process was dynamic. We continuously refine actions during the project. This helped us to react faster against any unpredictable circumstance.

  2. I enjoyed this post. I think your analogy of your our class project was a perfect one. I am the type of person that prefers to spend a lot of time on planning. Also, the company I work for is very risk adverse. As a result, I often find myself having to explore every single scenario and possible risks before gaining approval to take action. I particularly like the approaches of managing one step at a time and communicating it as a proof of concept.

  3. Really liked this article. I think it’s important to remember that some times it’s more effective to just act and then evaluate- especially in large groups where everyone has an option and wants to do things their own way. I went through this process at my old company while we were tearing down the third Boeing 737 new gen in the world. We weren’t sure what to remove first or what would be first to sell since each aircraft platform is a little different. I started in the cockpit where we generally start, but found quickly that people wanted to buy landing gear and different engine components before the cockpit material. I decided to stop the mechanics in the cockpit and advised them to move into these other areas of the aircraft where we’d have more success. The teardown was a process learned through action followed by evaluation.

  4. Thanks for the post. This method is definitely valuable, but sometimes you do have to consider resource availability. We take this approach a lot of times with our undefined projects at work and it is easy to go down the rabbit hole trying to figure out how to navigate and make the project work. The challenge we have is our limited resources, you need to know when to come out of that rabbit hole and manage time on projects with higher probability of return. If I could throw endless resources and time on certain new projects and not have it affect other projects that are currently in the pipeline I would do so in a heartbeat. It comes down to choices and how you utilize the resources available.

  5. thanks for the information and posting. It works well because it is a catchy slogan and it speaks true to a culture of acting. Sometimes the best approach or outcome isn’t know until there is a baseline to measure against. On top of that inaction is the worst approach. This is a good idea to act, but only manage the near future while at the same time use some foresight, but lest priorty to the long term future.

  6. Very catchy slogan and good post Zach, “just do it” also reflect culture of the workplace there many innovative tech companies, use this line when they want result or solution on problem by hook or crook. my team also had similar experience in our Marshmallow activity
    , we spent almost 12 minutes out of 20 in planning and then we started implementing plan /building house. and our big learning was “learning through action”. so actions gives insights and get more time to come up with different plan and this is big takeaway of Project management.

  7. I loved the concept behind this article and post. it is such a change in the thinking structure to act and learn from the act rather than to analyze before making that first step. If anything goes wrong, the first thing that would be said was that it was due to lack of planning. If it works, you run the risk of team members complaining of lack of direction. It would take a forward thinkning, and gutsy, organization to go with this type of project managment as the rule.

    I also wonder if this would work in every type of project. The example of the dry spaghetti and mashmallow project made sense, but I don’t know if I would want a surgeaon trying a procudure for the first time operating under the same premise.

  8. Zach, this is a great concept that I personally have never experienced. I do agree with the idea though. My group had a conference call yesterday to decide our charity, and all of us knew we had to quickly decide on a charity. We didn’t want to spend the majority of our quarter deciding on a charity and planning. I think the concept works, because it’s very difficult to foresee potential risks 10 years from now versus foreseeing risks 1 years from now. Problems will arise no matter how great one plans. Therefore, the idea is to remain adaptable and tweak the plan as one progresses through the project. It makes sense.

  9. Even though I could enter the link of the article, I really enjoyed the blog post. I wasn’t aware of the Act, Learn, Build model. I’m aware how planning can consume a lot of time, but I will like to know more about the definition of “smart step”, because it’s says that the model is inherently low risk, but I think that Risk is correspondent to the “size” of the smart step. And I also think that the analysis pre act is important when it’s efficient. On the other hand I agree with disaggregating the goal and securing the commitment you need for the next step, and also, with managing expectation. Those 2 points can really help you manage a project better. Does anyone have also problems entering the link?, I will like to read the full article.

  10. I enjoyed the article and the three step process describe above in the Act, Learn, Build. Even thought there was low risk with this method, there is still some risk. In the portion of securing only the commitment you need, I like the idea of not getting everyone to like your idea, but instead of getting enough people/commitment to act.

  11. I enjoyed your take on the act-learn-build model. I strongly believe there is too much time spent in the planning part of a problem. I have been a part of project teams that drag on the planning stage. This not only makes the project longer but also it creates for a more expensive project due to the extended planning times. Because I was unable to open the link you posted, I did look up an article in Forbes about this model which I linked below. You never know what obstacle you are going to run into so the time wasted planning for these unknown outcomes seems like a waste for some projects.

    While the act learn build model can work for many projects, project managers should weigh the many aspects of the business such as resources, money, labor and many more before making a decision to use this model. In a large company setting, I believe the act learn build model is the way to go on a majority of projects. Larger companies have more resources to change routes and learn from their mistakes. But some smaller companies where they have a limited budget, and limited resources, I believe this act-learn-build model will hurt the company in some scenarios.

  12. The article was a great read, every project should use this same method. Act, learn, and build are vital steps in project management that must be followed correctly. I do think there is so much wasted time spent in the planning process instead of executing the project. Agreeing on a plan tcreate a project statement is a vital step as well. I wish there was a little more information on the term smart step.

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