Friday 20 May 2016

Less is More Even if More Looks Better

I once worked with someone who had joined the corporate world in mid-career. His early years were spent opening and managing a chain of pizza stores in Vancouver. As we traveled together, he shared stories from his retail years and what he learned about people in his restaurants. One insight taught me a lesson about how people add complexity to their lives.

Each employee was entitled to two free pizza slices per shift. They could have as many toppings as they wanted  they were the chefs of their dinners. New employees went wild: they would pile on everything available and double up on their favourites. It took two hands and many napkins to lift and eat their creations. 

After a month, the number of toppings and portions would decrease. A few months later, the pizza slices looked like the ones customers ordered. After a year, most employees chose no toppings except for tomato sauce and cheese. The combination of these two ingredients tasted the best.

I have observed a similar dynamic in the corporate world. People begin by adding as much content as is available. If they have access to five tools, they use all five; if a thirty-page PowerPoint presentation is acceptable, they create one, regardless of the objective. Quantity is a sign of quality.

This practice also applies to project lists, strategies, tactics, objectives, product varieties, leadership behaviours, personal development goals and metrics – piling them on in the belief that they will create the best results.

With experience, people focus on the practices that deliver the greatest value. Selective tools or targeted presentations guide dialogues, decisions and actions. They have learned less is more. 

In two weeks, I am leading a workshop on change planning for a group that is new to this discipline. I won't be touting a project methodology or an enabling software program. Neither will I be creating Gantt charts nor a percentage completion tracker; I will be demonstrating how to use a simple, one-page chart including:

  • Activities
  • Tasks
  • Outcomes
  • Owners
  • Support required
  • Completion date

The team will develop a "less is more" plan for a longstanding industry issue. It won't look as good as a long plan but experience has taught me that it will deliver the results they need. 


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