The Element: Chapter 7


The Element: A series of articles to explore and improve the methods used for meetings between small teams striving to perform at an expert level.

It is a rude awakening to be pushed out of a moving vehicle, and that is exactly what Rusty was thinking as he fell into a large snowbank. The only sound that broke the silence was the van motoring away. With a mask covering his face and zip-ties restraining his hands, his bare arms were stinging from the cold. Rusty heard footsteps coming toward him, and his mask was lifted to reveal a silhouette in the night’s darkness. He eased as he heard Freelance spouting some colorful language.

Freelance worked at cutting the zip-ties and said, “Come on. We need to get the others. Where in the hell are we?” He muttered.

“I have no idea,” said Rusty, “but it feels like the temperature is in the teens and the wind-chill is not helping our situation. I estimate 45 minutes before our skin freezes and frostbite sets in.”

As Rusty freed Test Drive, Freelance went for Coach.

“Test Drive, what is going on here?” Asked Rusty.

“All I did was request transportation to our meeting site,” answered Test Drive.

“Did you use the words transport or lift?” asked Rusty.

“What does it matter? I used the word lift, I think.”

“Did you read the Email about future Snatch and Grab to be referred to as a lift?” Asked Rusty.  His mind drifted to the many Snatch and Grab operations that he had either coordinated or participated, which covertly removed a target agent from their normal life for detainment.  If done properly, nobody in the target agent’s  circle of friends, family or work associates would expect any wrongdoing.  If done exceptionally, not even the target agent knew they were the focus of an operation.

All four men were shivering, but noticed something on the two-track road that had brought them here. They grabbed at the pile and felt fur, quickly realizing that some protection against the weather was being provided. Every word was followed by a cylindrical stream of fog that exited their mouths. As they discussed their situation, they noticed a small light along the edge of the woods. It was a mile away, so they quickly made their way toward what promised to be shelter.

Goldylocks Cottage

A knock came at the door, and T screamed as she swung it open to see what looked like a bunch of fur outside the door that she mistook for bears.  All four men had not noticed that their pants matched the fur of the provided jackets, and the hoods used to cover their heads had fur ears attached.

“It’s me,” said Rusty.

As the team quickly filed into the cottage, they noticed that T was wearing a dress and cloak that was not of this century.

“How did you get here T,” asked Rusty.

“The same way you did,” she said. “I was picked up by a couple agents and they brought me here. I was cold, so they lit a fire in the wood-stove and made me a cup of tea. I got tired of waiting for you to show up, so I took a nap on the most comfortable of the three beds over there.”

“Not exactly how we got here,” said Test Drive.

“What’s up with the fur coats?” She asked.

“What was the meeting name you used when calling in for a lift?” Asked Rusty.

“Sorry that I breezed over the Email announcement Rusty.” Test Drive meekly uttered the word “Goldilocks.”

“Breezed over! Breezed over! We are stuck in the woods acting out an early 19th century children’s fairytale because you breezed over a process Email. Now the fur coats, cottage in the woods and the weird assortment of chair sizes make a little more sense,” said Coach.

“Everybody settle down,” said Freelance. We are all safe and at the meeting location, so we might as well get on with it. Test Drive is our Point-Man.”

“I believe that mission success correlates with the size of the mission,” said Test Drive. Size can relate to several aspects, so don’t just focus on the amount of manpower required. I think back to several conversations with Rusty about the amount of manpower that delivers varying levels of quality, and what stages to best focus manpower. The operative word that inevitably creeps into the conversation is EARLY.”

“First Defense-Man, you are up,” said Test Drive. “Come tell us about what Papa Bear knows about missions.”

Rusty leveled his eyes. “Papa Bear might become a little grumpy if continue with the sarcasm, my dear friend.”

“I understand,” said Test Drive.

“On with the sharing,” said Rusty. “Our symbolic big, hard chair, the porridge that is too hot to eat, and let’s not forget about Papa Bear’s spoon that was too heavy to lift. Most people forget about the details like the spoon that are important to a story. I believe we can draw a few parallels to missions, or project work. Big chair correlates to large project scopes. Hot porridge to accelerated project schedule. Heavy spoon to the need for buy-in from a large group of project result users. This is not where a 5-Man Team does their best work. An elite project team that is ready to execute a mission will be well aware of their limitations. From personal experience, when I can identify any of the three risks that were just mentioned, alarm bells start going off in my head.”

“And what follows the alarm bells?” Asked Test Drive.

“The sound of a wood-chipper!” Said Rusty.

Test Drive smirked and said, “might you consider a fine wood-splitting maul, or a sharp ax.”

Rusty made a deep sigh. “You, of all people would agree that whatever tool is used, large project tasks must be broken into a size that the team has at least a chance of completing. Everyone here will bring ideas to the table, and mine is a Chuck and Duck wood-chipper.”

“Chuck and Duck?” Asked Test Drive.

“It has a cutting head that spins and quickly pulls the brush through the chipper,” said Rusty. Chuck the wood into the machine and duck as the brush whips around while it get sucked in.”

“On with the Second Defense-Man, Mama Bear,” said Test Drive.

“You are walking on thin ice,” said Coach. “Mama Bear had the soft chair. My thoughts lean toward the work bonding the team. Rusty has already pointed out the danger of too much work. Too little, it does not hold the interest. The latter has a great amount of affect on efficiency, as slacking is allowed to play in idle minds. The mind does not work as effectively as a Porsche, down-shifting from fifth gear to third, and then shifting up to reach a top speed. It is the consistency in the amount of work that produces efficiency of a 5-Man Team engine.”

“Rear Security. It is your turn T,” stated Test Drive.

“Some projects are hard, some are easy and some are just right,” she said. “Might as well go into what it is like to be Goldilocks. What mission aspects make them just right?”

She paused and thought for a moment.

“I am going with a Fitbit analogy, where historical metrics from past projects can not only give us clues into potential risks, but also support better estimation of durations. Are we taking the pulse of the project periodically and documenting it? Are we accumulating steps in regular intervals to achieve our periodic goals? And with that, I think our meeting time has expired.”

“Your Six-Sigma Black Belt training often leads back to metrics,” said Test Drive. “Under the extreme circumstances of the meeting, I think we did pretty well.”

Freelance spoke up and said, “we obviously did not have paper to take meeting notes, so I may need some input from the team.”

Coach smiled. “No worries, this is a bug-house that I wired for both audio and video surveillance. Look directly into the eyes of that 5-pound bass mounted on the wall and smile. I will get you a tape for our records.”

As Freelance walked over to the bass mounted on the wall, it mechanically moved to face him.  “I’ve got my eye on you Freelance,” came from the moving mouth of the fish and a stream of water sprayed him in the face.  The team erupted with laughter as Freelance knew that he walked right into a well planned trap.  Freelance spun around, smiled at Coach, and said, “now I’ve got my eye on you Coach!”

On the way out, Rusty grabbed Test Drive by the shoulder. “You were well aware of the new process for requesting a Snatch and Grab.”

Test Drive looked him in the eye and said, “you are very good at reading situations, Rusty. I thought we needed a little excitement to get the team’s blood flowing.”

Design Thinking [Empathize] Chapter 8 is up in our next issue.  You are on the team, so please comment on this issue to add additional experiences that can be drawn from to create a solid project definition.


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