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Making Change Easier with “Levers” and “Brackets” April 15, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.

A project is ultimately a vehicle for change. One of the problems with projects is that there is an inherent resistance to any change. In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield calls this force “The Resistance”. He submits that with every human endeavor to help others, grow yourself, or make something unique, men find themselves opposed by “The Resistance”. How can we overcome this natural drag that plagues all good projects?

Thanks to homespot HQ at http://www.flickr.com/photos/86639298@N02/

Thanks to homespot HQ at http://www.homespothq.com

The Resistance is powerful. It is also primarily internal. Uncertainty, unclarity, and fear are all aspects of this force. Like gravity, these forces tend to prevent a project from getting off the ground. Once it gets moving, a project is plagued by other forces. Loss of momentum, crisis, and wandering focus work together to get a project off course. We can combat these forces using two similar but different tools.

Levers focus force. They allow us to move things we would normally be unable to budge. When starting a project, one or more levers can overcome initial project inertia.They can also help us drive through crisis. Levers have several characteristics:

  • They are short term
  • They greatly enhance force at the point of leverage.
  • They require significant energy and focus to control.

The best example of a lever I can think of is a diet. It is short term. A true diet cannot last. It greatly enhances the force at the point of leverage. In this case, a diet is enhancing the self control of an individual over calorie intake. A diet takes significant mental energy and focus to control. Left to our own devices, we tend to stray from a diet. Like most levers, diets tend to make very good gains for a very short time.

In projects, levers are usually associated with initiation or crisis events. A customer or sponsor complaint that gives a project a much needed push serves as a lever. A triage list of problems which is used to make sure issues are being dealt with in the proper order can be another lever. A list of ongoing issues with a resource group used to force change in that group is another example of a lever.

Brackets maintain force and preserve structure. They are often used in construction at points of likely failure, to protect the overall structure. They allow us to achieve success for extended periods of time. This is a way to combat wandering focus in a project. It may sound like a habit, but it is not. Once a habit is established, the bracket is no longer necessary. I also call a bracket a “coping mechanism”. It assists someone in maintaining maximum natural force in areas where they are not naturally gifted. Brackets have several characteristics:

  • They are long term
  • They maintain force, but not above the level that is naturally present
  • They require little energy to maintain

The best example of a bracket I can think of in my personal life is the principal to never answer an email while angry. Without this rule of thumb, I can be irrationally angry in my responses. This not only prevents me from burning bridges, but maximizes the effectiveness of my email. It doesn’t make me a better communicator than I normally am, but it prevents me from being worse when under pressure. Most brackets are for places in your life, or your company, where there are natural weaknesses. They help maintain strength in those areas and prevent failure.

In project management, often the monitoring and controlling stage serves as our brackets. Scope control, quality control and integrated change control all encourage the project to stay on focus. Process is often another word that can be substituted for bracket.

One more important thing about Brackets and Levers. Each tool has its special purpose. Don’t mix them up or be prepared for either ineffectiveness or disaster. Levers are best used on places where you are strong, to boost performance. Normally using a bracket on an area of strength is a waste. You don’t need assistance in keeping these areas at maximum force. Likewise, using a lever for a long term process is a mistake. Like the yo-yo dieter, you will press forward with success, then fail when you grow tired. Use the right tool for the right job.

Finally, Levers and brackets can be used together. Again, with the diet example, a lever, a diet is used to get forward momentum. Then brackets are used to maintain the momentum. Examples of brackets in this case are workout buddies, a coach, or rewards. Hopefully over time the need for brackets will fade as the activities and attitudes become habits.

Now that you know what levers and brackets are, describe a time when you have used Levers or Brackets or both to help you succeed.

Comment Here



1. thefieldgeneral - April 18, 2013

Let me know what you think!

2. Tyler @ HomeSpot HQ - April 21, 2013

Chris, good blog post. Would you mind changing the photo credit link to our website? (http://www.homespothq.com) Thanks!

thefieldgeneral - April 21, 2013

Made the change. Thanks!

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