The Practice Mentality

Denial is a better way of getting through another day.
Nov | 30 | 2009

Nov | 30 | 2009


I’ve always been a sports junkie and, in particular, a fan of SportsCenter.  Hey, we all need our escapes from the daily grind, right? While watching the Allen Iverson retirement announcement last night at a local bar, I couldn’t help but remember one of my favorite rants of all time: the infamous “Practice” monologue.

Say what you will about “AI” or “The Answer”, but this is a fascinating video to watch. Unfortunately, many people on IT projects follow The Answer’s lead. Applied to new technologies and systems, I have worked with many over the years who simply don’t take testing seriously, or at least seriously enough. To them, it’s just “practice.”

Characteristics of “The Practice Mentality”

I have found over the years that “The Practice Mentality” is more prevalent than one would expect. Specifically, end-users on IT projects often and perilously:

  1. Lack a sense of urgency
  2. Pretend that tomorrow will never come
  3. Assume that others will bail them out
  4. Ignore warning signs

Let’s explore each one a little more. I’ll even throw in my “tough love” recommendations free of charge.

Lacking a sense of urgency

Many end-users do not realize that implementing a new technology is analogous to building a house. You can’t decide after you added the roof that the ranch now needs to be a colonial. Consultants like me need to have clarity on major design decisions as soon as possible. At a certain point, an ostensibly minor change can cause major problems, delays, and budget overruns.

Simon Says

Make major decisions as quickly as possible and hold people accountable for them. When facing a considerable bottleneck, stopping the project altogether might be a drastic step but will certainly drive the point home.

Pretending that tomorrow will never come

This one baffles me the most. I’ll admit that, say, one year out, a new system or application might be difficult for many to conceptualize. But three weeks? To quote Gob from Arrested Development, “Come on!”

I’ll never understand how people can be remotely comfortable not knowing how essential features, reports, and the like work when they will be responsible for them in one month’s time. Perhaps Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree says it best: “Denial is a better way of getting through another day.”

Simon Says

Escalate potential end-user commitment issues before they become potential showstoppers.

Assuming that others will bail them out

At some point, organizations have to cut the cord with consultants. We’re too expensive to keep around forever. During IT projects, we often save the day, finding a creative solution to an unexpected bump in the road. Lamentably, this often breeds a sort of co-dependence on the part of client end-users. Yeah, I’ll say it: consultants can be like drugs, and I’m talking about the addictive kinds.

Simon says

During the later stages of testing, management should endorse a “hands off” approach for consultants, at least to the extent possible. Dry runs will help assess end-users’ ability to fend for themselves. If current internal staff cannot handle the new demands of their jobs, think seriously about replacing them. Soon.

Ignoring warning signs

Many projects invariably reach their points of no return. Legitimate concerns raised by rabble-rousers like me often go unnoticed. The organization has to make its date, come hell or high water. If end-users don’t know how to do their jobs, then how is ignoring this fact going to make it go away?

Simon Says

Don’t be afraid to move a date if key areas of the business are not ready for a new technology. The pain now will probably be inconsequential compared to the pain later.

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  1. Greg Larson

    Allen Iverson and the Art of Project Management. Perhaps this will be the title of your third book?

  2. Jim Harris

    What are we talkin’ ‘bout? Practice? We’re talkin’ about practice?

    Sorry – couldn’t help myself…

    Consultants can be like drugs – and hopefully the performance enhancing kind – but I completely agree with you that consultants must become spectators during the later stages of testing.

    Clients need to receive training, mentoring, and knowledge transfer, and then start doing the work themselves – while the consultants are still available – but as a safety net, not a crutch.

    When clients push a completion date without regard for training, mentoring, and knowledge transfer, then they are really just postponing disaster.

    As I often tell my clients, “would you prefer to fail now or fail later?” Moving a key date might be perceived as an early failure, but as you have noted, it will pale in comparison to the inevitable and much larger failure if you “make the date no matter what!”

  3. philsimon

    That’s well put Jim: failing now or failing later. It’s more expensive to do the latter but many times, as we both know, clients don’t get it.


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