Reflecting on Perigee II – Part 1: Background and Personal Lessons Learned

TL;DR – The Mach 30 Board has been struggling with how to spend limited human resources; this struggle has emerged as a conflict between Board members (a disagreement with emotional heat behind it – because the board members and advisors care deeply about Mach 30) and as facilitator I did not catch it in time to address it before Perigee II; dealing with it now has put us behind schedule in our annual planning. Skip to the end to see my lessons learned.

Note, this post (and the ones that follow it) will be longer than normal. It also discusses a current conflict in our meetings, so I secured permission from all involved before moving to this a more public forum. For reference, here is a link to the Google Drive folder for Perigee II – https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0BzOPMhBGrtSXNnZGWkdOYkFkQXc&usp=sharing

There have been numerous discussions and emails (and so far one extra meeting) regarding Perigee II. Most of these discussions eventually end up at the question, “why is it taking so long?” It’s a good question. After all, Perigee is designed to be a one day event and we have yet to complete the first two (of three) phases with well over a day spent on Perigee.

As I stated at this past Thursday’s meeting, I believe the core of our struggles is a conflict between the members of the board regarding how we spend our time (this struggle is itself driven by a very real lack of human resources to accomplish everything that *needs* doing even when the list is whittled down to the absolute minimum). On one side, Greg wants to focus the limited time people have on outreach, marketing, recruiting, etc in order to increase the number of people participating in Mach 30. On the other side, I have been pushing hard to ensure we maintain *some* level of “on mission” work (my primary examples have been in open source spaceflight hardware, but other aspects of the mission should be included in this list as well). This conflict was fully developed and influencing our work long before Perigee II.

Unfortunately, my roles as a participant in the conflict and as a facilitator were in conflict themselves, and it has taken me far longer than it should have to recognize the signs of the conflict and to start to actually address it. I did at least understand enough of the dynamic in play that I adjusted my planning for Perigee II to try to accommodate it and see if we could find a balance between the two extreme positions by way of the exercises we would use in our meetings.

The key adjustment I made was to change how we addressed the proposed activities for 2015. In years past the Mach 30 Board has developed detailed roadmaps for the year (in the form of Gantt Charts like this one – https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BzOPMhBGrtSXRi0wZS1XZ3ZKVEE&authuser=0). We have met with, shall we say, mixed results using this technique. To put it simply, our eyes are bigger than our stomach and we have never successfully completed an annual plan. By chance, the results of our planning for the second half of 2014 (following the strategic work done at Apogee I) were much more streamlined (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1aGPiaiTtZIUWpYAfLbfR-d3UJLseKDXHmDAlKVjnBrM&authuser=0). In fact, the 2014 H2 plan was essentially a flat list (with some prioritization) broken down by project areas (busses). And while we did not finish everything on the list, we made decent progress and it was much easier to see where we were and decide what to work on next. This happy accident reminded me of some changes we have implemented at my day job (namely the adoption of the agile/scrum software development processes). So, I decided to include some agile/scrum like steps in our planning process for 2015 (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1g5UHkv_JpFqNleNaWpqbwRs0Alccv6bVWYn3VjPzlUc&authuser=0), with the hope that the new process would help us see past the unspoken conflict and help us develop a plan that we could all rally around. Note, in deference to our previous planning work, I decided (perhaps incorrectly) to go beyond a high level “rack and stack” of our proposed activities by including a step where we would determine how far through our list of prioritized activities we planned to get through by the end of 2015.

In hindsight, this was unlikely to work. The conflict had become too well established for anyone (including myself) to work through without tackling the conflict head on (this is a lesson from Facilitation 101). Now, I will say that I while I own some responsibility for not planning for the meeting correctly, I was in a very tough spot as a facilitator who was also deeply enmeshed in said conflict. The good news is that the process did focus our attention on the conflict, as by the end of the day, we had a prioritized list of activities that did not include any mission work because we could not see a way to include any within the constraints of people and time (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1zGFc9-8oo6iIqKAuFm-guLJWnAFdmbri9RoasDck93s&authuser=0 – see the “Ranked” sheet, everything above row 9 is what people thought we could accomplish and all of those activities are outreach or business operations related). Also by trying to build in a cut off I was really treating the year like a giant sprint which is not good agile process.

Since the meeting, I have been asked why we don’t just use the ranked list of activities as our racked and stacked list and use that as the backbone of our annual plan. My concern here has been (and continues to be) that the list as it stands now has the conflict above embedded in it and that until we address that conflict, we will be setting ourselves up for more difficulty in board meetings as we continue to struggle with the two positions tugging at how we spend our time.

Given my concern about needing to address the conflict, we held a follow up meeting this past Thursday to work through the conflict. I think we did very good work (though I am not sure we are quite done handling all of the nuance of the conflict) – https://drive.google.com/open?id=1a6Qw38pVPR51GF7fJOL04pYYbiLgNer489h6Bb7WBZM&authuser=0. Here are my personal lessons from this meeting.

  • We need to grow the organization, but the early steps toward that growth must be implemented by the people we have today (though those people could and where possible should contract specialists to take on some sub-tasks as budget supports).
  • We cannot address outreach and marketing without dedicating someone to take point on it (or to quote scrum, we need a “single wringable neck”), and Greg is willing to be that person if we can get him professional support to address delegateable tasks and help him set up sustainable marketing and outreach processes.
  • We need to balance outreach/marketing with “on mission” activities so there is strong and relevant content to include in the marketing and outreach work.
  • We need to revisit the cards with the above in mind in an efficient manner (more on that in a follow up post).
  • We need to finish this work *soon* (before the end of the month) so we can get on with the business of running Mach 30.
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#facilitation, #perigee, #planning, #transparency