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#004 - How details make you or break you
Welcome to Issue #004 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
✍️ Insights: How details make you or break you.
🤔 Made me think: When dependencies distract you from what you're trying to achieve.
Everything you do is about the details. If you don't care about details, in time, they will break you. If you do, then they might just make you.
Details absolutely matter.
Details are the difference between a good solution and a great solution.
Details are the difference between a successful implementation and yet another project that didn't deliver the dream that was promised.
Details are the difference between being any business analyst and being the expert business analyst
So, it's utterly infuriating when details don't matter to some.
Such as having to hold my tongue when the salesperson is trying to sell my client this nebulous vision of how their product will magically solve all their long-standing issues. Yet, can't answer in detail how it will. Especially when they know it can't but just want to land the sale anyways.
Or, when the client themselves are in a rush. Focusing on hitting short-term outcomes, arguing that taking the time to get the details right is inefficient, and promising there's another delivery phase to do that - which inevitably never arrives.
Thus, they end up with a solution that technically work in certain scenarios but one that imposes more costs over its lifetime. Ranging from the "cost" to the users of the solution being harder and clunky to use, the "cost" to the business of the manual workarounds and unforced errors that have to be dealt with, and the "cost" of the solution not being trusted - which leads it to being stripped out and replaced.
"The details are not the details; they make the product."
Charles and Ray Eames | Industrial designers
A lesson from the oil industry
Working for a UK oil major, I was required to do a health & safety course as I onboarded onto the project. Nothing particularly unusual about that but what did take me by surprise was how they actively adhered to it - even in an office environment.
One example was being repeatedly reminded that all drinks must be covered by a lid to mitigate the risk of a spill when being moved. This applied even when I was walking the mere metres between the drinks machine and my desk.
Why does this seemingly insignificant detail matter? Especially in an office where, statistically, the risk of injury is low and the risk of a fatality is even lower?
Being an oil rig worker is in the top 3 of the most dangerous jobs in the UK. In July 1988, the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea became the site of the deadliest offshore oil rig accident of all time when 167 people were killed.
Whilst there were many inter-related reasons, one of the primary causes was the night crew being aware that Pump A was undergoing routine maintenance but, crucially, being unaware that a critical safety valve had been removed from it - under a different maintenance work permit.
So, when Pump B failed, the night crew re-activated Pump A. Without the safety valve, gas leaked and ignited. The resulting fire was finally extinguished 3 weeks later.
Unsurprisingly, safety is ingrained into their culture from the obvious things to the seemingly inconsequential detail - irrespective if you're on their oil rig or in their office.
Details matter to them. For it only takes one missed detail to unknowingly trigger a devasting cascading outcome.
A decade on from working there, I do still automatically look for a lid on my cup.
It's the details that makes things happen
In March 2021, Nicholas Butler (president of Columbia University) in his address to the University of California said:
"The vast population of this earth, and indeed nations themselves, may readily be divided into ... three groups. There are the few who make things happen, the many more who watch things happen, and the overwhelming majority who have no notion of what happens."
For the few who makes things happen, what sets them apart is their attention to detail and their willingness to act upon that detail.
By noticing the detail, they build understanding, context, and awareness. So when they make something happen they know the why, the when, and the how.
By acting on the detail, they understand the importance of it. As Derek Sivers put it well: "How you do anything is how you do everything. It all matters."
Whilst you should consider all the details, it's quickly apparent that there are a lot of details - varying in size and significance. Only experience will tell you which matter and when they matter.
And the best way to get that experience is to simply start noticing.
🤔 Made me think
When dependencies distract you from what you're trying to achieve.
In projects, this is something to be aware of - especially in the name of minimising dependencies.
Otherwise, a straightforward software implementation project can lead into a project to implement long overdue core system upgrades. Which, in turn, leads the business to starting a year-long target operating model programme to re-establish its vision.
And this isn't restricted to software projects.
I've had the idea for doing this website and newsletter for a number of years. And "yak shaving" turned out to be the perfect excuse to justify my procrastination for not starting.
First it was finding the "right" platform, then learning the code to edit themes, then it was building a personal knowledge management system, then ... well, you get the idea.
My lesson learnt? You'll never have everything in place before you start, so just start anyways.
🧑💻Worth checking out
📺 The best way to answer “So what do you do?” (Clay Hebert): A simple framework to follow the next time someone asks you this question. My take: "I help users achieve their outcomes."
🧐 The strawberries have no red pixels - so why do they still look red? (Vice): I do love a good optical illusion - especially when what you think you see isn't what you're seeing. In this photo, by Akiyoshi Kitaoka, the strawberries look red but are in fact only grey with a bit of green. Because of the blue overlay, your brain automatically filters that out and makes you think that you can see red.
🖖Until next Thursday ...
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For now, thank you so much for reading this week's issue of The Forcing Function and I hope that you have a great day.
PS: Thanks to P for reading drafts of this.