Was that Meeting Worthy of Sun-tzu’s Art of War?

sun_tzuEvery Commander is aware

Of these

Five Fundamentals.

He who grasps them

Wins;

He who fails to grasp them

Loses.

I just participated in an internal project planning session and it went just about the same as most meetings in this office.  There was a lot of good discussion centered around where we are versus where we want to be.  There were a few trips into the weeds to be sure nobody was following the wrong path.  And, there was a trip through the calendar to see if the resources were adequate to hit the deadline.  After the meeting, and a subsequent reading of an article in the Lean Post, I found myself thinking of one of my favorite places to go when I need inspiration on planning and preparation: Sun-tzu’s The Art of War.  I wondered how our meeting would stack up when we look at Sun-tzu’s Five Fundamentals of Making Plans…

The Way

This is where the philosophy of the ruler and the troops are checked for alignment.  In our meeting, we discussed both our client’s goals and expectations for the project, our needs, and agreed on a path forward that we could all get behind.

Heaven

This speaks of Yin and Yang and the movement of nature through the seasons, which requires flexibility and adaptability.  In our meeting, we immediately had to be flexible and re-assign tasks to different staff in order to meet the deadline while completing other assignments.

Earth 

This refers to knowledge of the terrain.  As transportation engineers and planners, we can literally relate to this one every time!  We discussed how this project was similar to a nearby situation, but determined that a field visit was necessary to verify the existing conditions before proceeding.

Command

This lays out the five virtues of a general:  Wisdom, Integrity, Compassion, Courage, and Severity.  Since we are engineers and planners and not truly warriors in this case, we more appropriately replace Courage and Severity with Righteousness and Self-Respect from the five cardinal virtues of the Chinese.  Our leader (general) was heavily involved in the meeting and listened to concerns, issues and constraints, and displayed these virtues to help us formulate a plan to meet our goals.

Discipline

Organization.  Chain of Command.  Control of Expenditures.  The attributes of this Fundamental were truly the purpose behind our meeting.  We are trained to solve problems and sometimes it is difficult for us to step back and have the discipline to make a plan.  By holding this meeting, we planned the work at all levels of the organization and focused on how to most efficiently and effectively produce the desired result.

Again, Sun-tzu says:

Every Commander is aware

Of these

Five Fundamentals.

He who grasps them

Wins;

He who fails to grasp them

Loses.

I think that as a team, in hindsight, we grasped the Five Fundamentals, and won. Hopefully, that speaks to an inherent discipline in all of our work.  If anything, holding this meeting enabled us to exercise these Fundamentals to achieve the project goals.

Are your efforts worthy of Sun-tzu?  How does the Art of War play into your work?

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