New Years Resolutions

A daily work-out is an important aspect of my life both physically and mentally. Throughout most of the year, the facility that I use for my work outs has a natural equilibrium; everyone knows each others cycles and there is rarely a collision where two people want to use the same machine at the same time.

There is one time of year that all consistent exercisers dread: the month after new years. January brings a swell of newcomers into the environment. These bright-eyed newcomers arrive headstrong with the resolution that “this year is the year of becoming fit”. After no stretching or warming up whatsoever these individuals load up the weight machines and jerk and pull a few times until they look like they’re going to pop and then move to the next machine. They then proceed to the various cardio machines and run / cycle as fast as they can for about thirty seconds until their heart reaches the near explosion point and then they leave (again, without stretching or warming down in any way).

Needless to say this injection of soon-to-be-buff induviduals reeks havok on the natural balance of the workout facility. All regulars recognize the motivation and lifetime of these people and some of us even try to help them prevent from killing themselves. But we all recognize that the number of resolutioners will dwindle to about half by the second week, half that again the third week, and by the start of February there may be a single new person left that becomes a regular.

But why do all of these people fail in their goal? It all boils down to two factors: they lack a detailed plan and they lack domain knowledge. If you would ask one of these individuals why they are there they would likely answer “to get fit”. So it is clear that they have a goal (albeit quite loosely defined). If you ask them how do they plan on reaching their goal, they would likely say “I’m going to work out for 50 minutes at least three times a week”. That’s a good guideline to have but it doesn’t actually tell them how to reach their goal. It’s also lacking technical detail such as how much weight on which machines or how long with what resistance on which cardio machine. To compound this lack of planning is the lack of knowledge of physiology and the proper use of the available equipment.

This same phenomenon can be witnessed on most projects in low maturity organizations: a general goal is set; people attack the task with wild enthusiasm but little regard for how the goal will be met; within a week or so, half of the individuals are off-task or are already demotivated; in just over a month the first milestones have already been missed or are in the process of being missed; and shortly thereafter, management is engaged to bring the project back into line (the involvement of management introduces a quality cost called a transaction cost). If you ask any member of the team what the goal is, it is likely that they could answer correctly (though I’m always amazed to find people that do not even know the goal). If you ask them how they are going to achieve that goal you are likely to hear a very high level description (or, again, you may find individuals that don’t actually know and yet are doing something). It’s also common for people not to fully understand the tools available to them or how to best apply them to the task at hand.

Whether you are attempting to fulfill that new years resolution or preparing your next project ensure that you have the basic elements in hand: a detailed plan (including ways to montior if you are on course) and enough knowledge of the environment in which you are working.

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