Houses and the Harvard method

Do you know about the Harvard method?  I’m not talking citations or negotiation; I’m talking making lists. I was told it by a friend of mine and it’s the best thing ever. (That, obviously is a wild exaggeration. I can think of many things that are much better, including champagne, my daughter’s GCSE results, the smell of jasmine on a summer evening, etc etc, but in the breathlessly excited tone that is required for this sort of blogging, I will let the statement stand.)

Step 1: You take a piece of paper, preferably A4 or letter but it can be any size

Step 2: You divide it into three or four sections using a pen, pencil or other writing implement of your choice

Step 3: You write your list

The amazing and wonderful thing is that the process of thinking “which section shall I add this item to” causes you to sort the list items on the fly, and helps you to prioritise.

Because that point is, after all, the key struggle in project planning. How do you set your priorities? Do set priorities, you need to know what your goals are. And if you haven’t recognised your goals, then they change and flip around and mess up the priorities. I’ve been reading a book by Gavin Essler, “Lessons from the Top” (no, I am not going to cite that correctly in italic and publisher and blah, I’ll give you a link, isn’t that enough? And it’s not to amazon because of their behaviour on UK tax – correct but amoral.)

Sorry, got slightly distracted their. Essler quotes Alistair Campbell as saying that the key questions are: objective, strategy, tactics. And if you lose sight of the objective and get distracted by the cleverness of the tactics, you will fail. The tactics must always be subordinate to the strategy which must always be subordinate to the objective.

This is true for all projects.

An example of how it goes wrong (substituting stategy for objective) is to think that the point of the house conversion is to have a beautiful house. It’s not. It’s to have a happy family life. If you get stuck on the beautiful house bit, then you invest all your resources into the house, lose money, have enormous rows and go bankrupt, get divorced and everything goes phut. Having a nice place to live is a way of assisting the objective. And the method of converting the house to make it a nice place to live is merely a tactic.

So when you sit down in the morning or the evening with your piece of paper (or in our case a hardback book) and draw the lines on it, and start sorting the items in your list. Think clearly, think long-term. Some of it really doesn’t matter that much, but sometimes, short-term goals will hinder that final objective.