Twenty odd years ago I was a young combat medic in the army.
Not a great medic as it turned out, as most of those with critical injuries died on me.
Army teaches you discipline
Discipline teaches you to work by procedures.
One of the more interesting procedures, was a medical combat procedure called “Tour de France” (named after the famous bicycle race that travels around all of France)
The procedure is used in battle, when the medic rushes into an area of multiple wounded soldiers.
You do not stop at the first person wounded you see, but continue a full circle search for additional wounded.
You do not stop at any of the wounded for more than a few moments to assess their situation. A quick tourniquet if needed, a push of air, and move on. No bandages, no CPR, nothing.
The quick “Tour de France” procedure is there to enable the medic to qualify and prioritize the wounded.
The medic then does a second round, only with the high priority wounded, a third round, etc.
Unlike other medical procedures, this specific procedure is counter intuitive.
It goes against your natural human instincts to rush to the help of the person that is screaming the loudest.
The logic behind the procedure is simple:
A person that is screaming – is alive, conscious, and has no breathing issue – therefore not a high priority.
You are looking for the ones that are not conscious, and have an airway, breathing or a circulation problem.
I’ve always used the Tour de France procedure when going into a new customer.
Formal requirement gathering is important. Formal sponsor meetings are important.
But an informal chat with all project and process participants is the best way to understand the real business pains and obstacles, before starting.
Sometimes, it’s nearly impossible to complete a full “Tour de France” cycle.
Due to internal politics, when trying to talk to process participants, you find yourself suddenly accompanied by their manager, or a colleague, which doesn’t let them speak their mind. I try to sneak back latter to have an informal chat.
Getting the objectives and priorities right is crucial, and usually requires you to discard you human instinct to rush to the help of the person that is screaming the loudest. Focusing only on the project sponsor, the top manager or the person with the budget is great in the short run, but counter productive in the long run.
Getting the yellow jersey in the early stages is easy. Keeping hold of it until the finish line is the hard bit.
But even if you have managed to speak to all the participants, heard their ideas, requests and rants – it doesn’t mean that you are in the clear. Dissecting the information is also tricky.
Understanding that person A will never be satisfied. Person B is lovely but will be on maternity leave in 3 months, Person C is the smart one but has no clout in the department, Person D just needs a lot of love and attention, but doesn’t really understand, know or care about the project.
In the BPM world, the Tour de France procedure can be translated to one simple recommendation:
Have informal chats with all of the project and process participants before you start.
It never gets easier, you just go faster.