What do The Sopranos, In-N-Out Burger and Jim Collins have in common? They are featured in Matthew May's book In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing which ships today. This is a little book about a big topic, how elegant design comes to be. Matt takes his readers through a series of stories that reveal the elements of elegant design. Why might that be useful for project managers? My first answer is we are all designers.
Start rethinking your role, whatever it is, as a designer.
Projects come to be when we make a big promise to someone. That big promise requires us to assemble a temporary organization to deliver on the promise. How we do that is completely up to us and our team. We design the temporary organization and we design the approach or path that we will take. For the most part, we don't think of our roles as designers of projects. Instead, I hear project managers speak of our role as conducting a project putting our attention on getting things done rather than creating a space or setting for doing. Does this matter? You bet. One way we characterize great projects is by the freedom project participants have to explore, experiment and express themselves. Designing for that is our challenge.
You can get a preview of the book by reading Matt's ChangeThis manifesto Creative Elegance: The Power of Incomplete Ideas. In this 13-page document Matt exposes the counterintuitive nature of powerful ideas. Matt writes,
Conventional wisdom says that to be successful, an idea must be concrete, complete, and certain. But what if that's wrong?
He goes on to show how what we choose not to include can make all the difference in how successful we are. For you west coasters, you know that In-N-Out Burger's menu includes only 4 items, but those "in the know" order off the not-so-secret hidden menu that is standard across the chain. Not publishing that menu makes the In-N-Out experience.
Get the book. As you read, start rethinking your role, whatever it is, as a designer. Designers of things, designers of experiences, and designers of projects. Elegance is there for the taking.