Wandering Around the Desert relates to what goes on during the middle of a project. During Inception and early iterations of Elaboration you are generating excitement, anticipating the prize, building momentum, identifying and eliminating risks, and selling the story. There is a perceptible buzz around the team’s activities. You know that you will be challenged and you gear up for it.
During the middle of the project the long hard winter sets in. You start to believe that you have answered the disbelievers, eliminated the most serious risks, and have all the executive sponsorship you need to get you through the night. All that remains is flawless execution and a tremendous amount of work. The excitement diminishes. The work begins to take its toll. You can’t hear the buzz. Things start to slip.
In every project, there comes a time when you wish with all your heart that there was some way out. Everything is in doubt. Cynicism and mutiny are in the air. No one has seen land for months. The crew is suffering from scurvy, the larder is empty, the stormy seas seem endless.
Welcome to the middle game.
It is time for the entropy police (i.e. the Director) to go on patrol 24/7. The Director knows that the team and project are a long way from being out of the woods. In fact, the forest and trees converge and then disappear. All that is left is miles and miles of desert and a very unreliable compass called your instincts, which by definition can’t be very good otherwise they wouldn’t have led you into the fucking desert!
The only ray of hope is that the Director knows the desert. Is capable of finding food and water at the appropriate times. Recognizes landmarks that lead to nearby villages wherein the council of elders can be called upon. Knows when to push and when to rest. Is constantly vigilant about team members succumbing to sunstroke. Mitigates disputes that arise as team members start to lose faith. Knows that progress must be made each day even though there is no guarantee that you are walking in right direction.
In the middle of the desert bandits that you thought were friends will try to ambush you. You must anticipate their arrival and forewarn your team of their inevitable appearance. They will strike with greater force and frequency the closer you are to emerging from the your long and arduous pilgrimage.
The final problem of middles is often the most frustrating. Even if you have built a coalition and involved key stakeholders, the critics, the skeptics, and cynics will challenge you. They will be strongest and loudest not at the beginning but in the middle of your efforts, just when the project itself is not quite ready and thus is most vulnerable. It is only then the possible impact of the change becomes clear. And those that don’t like it have had time to formulate their objections and harden their positions…And now that it looks like the venture might succeed, the threat to those that oppose it increases.
The desert can be conquered but, no matter how many trips you have made, it always poses a life and death challenge. Do not celebrate too much during early stages because the desert and the bandits await you. Be ready.