Is an argument the sound of success?

15. 05. 19 John Chapman

In the Argument Clinic sketch by Monty Python, Michael Palin goes into an office and pays money to have an argument. On meeting John Cleese, they commence to argue, but it turns into contradiction upon which Michael Palin says ‘Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says’.

Nasa and High Performance Teams

Ed Hoffman, former Chief Knowledge Officer for NASA, in an interview with the UK Major Projects Authority talks about the Sound of Success. He says that ‘high performance teams and organisations have very active conversations, … the Sound of Success is people talking, arguing, laughing, who are engaging, walking around, opening doors, talking with each other. The lack of this is usually the biggest indicator we are increasing the likelihood of failure.’

Compliance versus usability

Some years ago on implementing a spend control solution, there were two individuals on the project team who had very diverse opinions. The Compliance Officer was determined to implement controls on purchase orders where each order would need to be checked and approved by a manager, irrespective of the value, and then go up into the organisation hierarchy prior to being released. Item records were to be listed at a very detailed level (e.g. not stationery or even pens but blue biro pens, black biro pens and so forth). The other side of the table was the User Representative who said it would be unworkable and never be adopted. The design workshop discussions were lively, forthright and at times blunt.

Yet the result was a balanced outcome, which met both the needs of compliance and usability. The Compliance Officer and the End User each had to compromise in some ways in order to find this “happy medium”.

Encourage dialogue

On your next project, as part of the project initiation and setting of the culture, encourage dialogue and speaking with each other. During implementation walk around, engage and talk. Don’t be afraid to disagree with someone but try to avoid contradiction. Issues in projects are very rarely binary and the outcome of a ‘yes/no’ argument is rarely win/win. If all else fails, you can agree to disagree and show that you understand the other persons point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. In any project, a successful outcome will only be found by a willingness to compromise in certain areas and to listen and take on board other people’s viewpoints.

The sound of success

If an argument ensues, remember the words of Michael Palin ‘Argument is an Intellectual Process’. For our projects it is the ‘Sound of Success’.

  • Share on:
John Chapman

Written by:

John Chapman

Programme Director