Difficult Projects

Difficult Projects
February 21, 2024 Rob Artigo
In Podcasts

In life and business decisions must be made, but they do not always have to be hard decisions if you are prepared. In this Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn explores a list of lessons learned that can help you be ahead of the game.

Rob Artigo: Well, I was reading a Forbes piece. It had some experts, and these are 20 tech leaders who shared their lessons from some difficult projects that they had, so they didn’t explain the projects in general, but they said we had a really difficult project. I guess that could be anything from rolling out a product to developing a product or what have you, but they weren’t specific on it. What they did was they offered a few things that you can learn from difficult projects.

Ray Zinn: Or what they learned or what they learned from-

Rob Artigo: What they learned, and I guess the idea is that you could consider these things when you were approaching.

Ray Zinn: Rob before we start that list, even in life, in other words, what you can learn from a difficult situation, whether it be an accident, whether it be an illness, whether it be some other loss of a loved one. These are the difficult lessons that we can take away in life, but the ones you’re going to read refer more to company kind of issues, difficult company problems, which is fine, but I want everyone to know that these apply to life in general.

Rob Artigo: Yeah, you can definitely edit and adjust to make it fit whatever you need to deal with.

Ray Zinn: Any difficult situation.

Rob Artigo: Yeah, so in looking at this list here, I mean there are 20, so I will tell you that if you go to forbes.com and look for this, you can find the whole list. So, we’ll let Forbes handle the whole list for you. We’ll just pull out a full bullet, a few bullet points here and give Forbes credit for having given us some inspiration to take a look at this stuff here. When looking at a, I guess, a product rollout, I’m guessing here, but along these lines is the first one is don’t scale your team too quickly. I guess that means that you don’t want to build faster than you need to because you-

Ray Zinn: Or that you can grow, don’t scale faster than you can grow or to consume it. It’s like how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, right? Don’t try to eat the whole elephant in the same setting. It goes to, again, almost any struggle or difficulty project you’re undertaking. Don’t take on more than you can chew.

Rob Artigo: I thought you were going to say, “How do you eat an elephant?” Head first, or something like that. But how about number two or B, if you will, identifying the unknowns early on. I guess going into it, you want as few mysteries as possible.

Ray Zinn: Yeah, so kind of understand whether it be a marriage or whether it be a project you’re starting or whether it be a company, understand what you’re getting yourself into. Be prepared for that. Other words, know all the pros and cons. I had this rule it when I was running my Micrel semiconductor, I had to rule it for every pro you have to have a con. It’s like when you flip a coin, flip a coin is half of its heads, half of its tails. So, half the time you’re going to have pros, and half the time you’re going to have cons, and so let’s find them. Let’s identify the cons. We’re real good at identifying the pros, everybody. I mean, that’s how you start a project. You’re all enthusiastic and excited, and so you can come up with all kinds of reasons why you want to take on that project, whether it be a project or a company or a spouse or a home or anything.

What you want to do, look at the pros and cons. Okay, so a pro of course is the advantage. This is why I want to do it, and as we know Rob, those are the easy ones to come up with. What the difficult ones to come up with are the cons, because we don’t want to talk ourselves out of the project or the relationship, so we tend to try to ignore the cons. If you ignore something, what’s your chances are going to happen? You’re going to get hurt, not wearing a seatbelt. You say, “Well, how often will I get into an accident?” Well, until you do, you wish you had worn your seatbelt. So, it’s again, look at the reasons why your project may not succeed or your relationship might not succeed. You got to look at all the downside and make sure they’re equal. Equal number of pros, equal number of cons. Don’t con yourself into only having pros. How’s that one, Rob?

Rob Artigo: Oh, I love it. And yeah, of course if you have all pros, then you’re just into confirmation bias and exactly just telling yourself lies. All right, so the next one is make sure that you have the right people for the project.

Ray Zinn: Again, this can go to a marriage relationship, could go to a company, could go to a product. Make sure that you’re heading in the right direction. Again, it is key to identify what it is you want. In other words, what is your expectations? What problem are you trying to solve? And if you’re just being cavalier about your project or the company you’re starting or whatever relationship that’s going to come back to bite you because you haven’t looked at what your objectives are, in other words, what is you trying to solve? Don’t solve something that doesn’t need to be solved.

Rob Artigo: Also, I guess it says prioritize expert guidance. Make sure that you’re prioritizing your expert guidance.

Ray Zinn: I hate to keep only bringing up marriage relationship, but it goes to what we’re talking about. So in the US, divorces are about what? 50% to 60% marriage end up in divorce. Whereas in India, the divorce rates is only 94% or 95%, and the reason is because the parents help the individual find the right partner. So, those are the experts. Believe it or not, your parents know you better than you do, so they help out. They want the best for you. If they love you, they want the best for you. So, you want to make sure your experts are really on your side, whether it be you’re starting a company or whether it be your product that you want to do.

Again, I had this group that had to have at least six people in it that would analyze your project and give you their opinion of that project, and you had to get unanimous agreement among your 16 members or the project wouldn’t go. We called it the product definition committee. So again, whether you’re running a company or starting a project or finding a spouse, get some people around you you trust that will give you guidance that will help you decide on the value of what you’re doing.

Rob Artigo: Outline the project scope and SMART objectives. I don’t know, maybe that one’s a little too esoteric for us. Outline the project scope. Let’s go with that. I guess understanding what the objective is.

Ray Zinn: Well, we did, we talked about that just prior, so then maybe that’s one we’re just going to kind of glean over a gloss over because it is very similar to what we just talked about. Have the right goal in mind when you go into a relationship or a product or a company, make sure your goals match.

Rob Artigo: And then bouncing off of that is set your expectations carefully.

Ray Zinn: That’s an interesting, that goes back again, this all could be summarized down to its pros and cons, okay? You have to expect difficulty, you have to expect challenges. What happens, Rob, is we expect everything to go hunky door, everything to be perfect, wonderful, nothing ever to happen, everything ever to go wrong, but that’s just nonsense. Anybody that’s lived more than 12 years knows that you’re going to have difficulties, okay? And that’s just the nature of life mortality is that you’re going to run into problems. So, when you manage your expectations, make sure they include the cons, the reasons that things will fail, then you’re ready. You’re prepared. So, that’s the main thing, is to be prepared. That’s the scout motto, isn’t it? Be prepared. So, you want to get prepared for whatever happens. It is really the ones that fail are the ones that are just not prepared or for problems, and so they’re not managing their expectations because they’re ignoring the difficulties that they’re going to experience.

Rob Artigo: Again, that’s forbes.com. I’ll just tell you it’s Expert Insights 20 Tech Leaders Share Lessons From Difficult Projects, so if you want to check that out, go ahead. Thanks again, Forbes. Appreciate it. This is the fast-growing podcast for Silicon Valley. A lot of people are listening to it and we’d like you to rate it at your favorite podcast platform. Please also check out Ray’s books, the Zen of Zinn 1, 2, and 3. Also, Tough Things First. I look forward to the next time, Ray.

Ray Zinn: I do too. Thanks, Rob.


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