When I was kid, I used to religiously watch the television show MacGyver with my dad. For those of you who were NOT a child of the 80’s and early 90’s, MacGyver was a television character legend. Created by Lee David Zlotoff, the show centers on secret agent (MacGyver) who worked for the fictional Phoenix Foundation in Los Angeles and as an agent for a fictional United States government agency, the Department of External Services (DXS). A scientist by trade, MacGyver served as a Bomb Team Technician/EOD during the Vietnam War (“Countdown”).*
Forever resourceful and armed with a deep and varied scientific education, he spent each episode managing his way out impossible situations by taking what he had available to him… generally his Swiss Army knife, duct tape, and a paper clip. A non-violent agent, he preferred to manage himself without a gun making his only defense against the “bad guys” the things he had in his possession, his creative wits, and his subject matter expertise. He was superb at taking the things that he had and turning them into the exact resources he would need to solve a problem.
While his time to solve problems were often being ticked down by a terrorist bomb he had to diffuse, he was thrust into a critical sense of urgency, immortalizing the idea of “thinking outside the box” in a television show. At one point he constructed a rocket powered harpoon gun that could be shot to create a zipline using only cleaning fluid, a telescope, moth balls, a rope, a pulley, and handlebars he found lying around in an attic. In constructing such outrageous inventions, he demonstrated how to take an opportunity (or life threatening scenario) and create the much-needed outcome without a set of operating instructions.
When confronted by unexpected obstacles in project work, we are given the opportunity to take what we have available in talent and in resources to ensure that the outcomes are not compromised in the process. By maintaining a laser focus on the goals and destinations of what we are accountable for and maintaining a nimble approach to how we reach them, we can channel our own inner MacGyver.
Assess the Global Situation
While it sounds simple, taking an initial evaluation of what actually happened (and what didn’t happen) against what could happen, what might happen, and what hasn’t happened yet. This first step gives you a starting point.
Identify the Specific Risk or the Opportunity
While MacGyver’s risk was generally an extremely unpleasant death, in project work it may be a technology deficiency, a resource constraint, a lackluster stakeholder, or something as simple as a miscommunication. Either way, know exactly what you are dealing with before you take action.
Outline the Objective
A bump in the road doesn’t mean the game is over. Remind the team and the stakeholders what the objectives are and determine if that objective is still feasible given the new information. If there is a shift, outline the specific changes to ensure that expectations are uniform across all project stakeholders.
Check the Clock
While you may not have a ticking bomb to diffuse while your hands are tied together, project clock and calendar drive resources and those come with a cost! Getting off track with getting projects implemented could also delay revenue opportunities or add unnecessary overhead or IT costs. Align the obstacle with how it impacts the project timeline and make immediate adjustments.
Here is where you can channel your inner MacGyver and think about how to achieve the end result in the new approach. Remember that everything you have is everything you need to be successful. With the end in mind, you can determine the best path to success. Leverage the team talent and experience to come to a happy ending and keep moving forward.
(And always carry a Swiss Army knife. Because, well, you never know.)