Solitaire and Project Management

Microsoft’s Solitaire Collection – an add-on to Windows – now has 100 million users, apparently.

Of course, the built-in Solitaire game(s) have far more than that. In fact, in a way, Solitaire saved Windows.

(I’ll get to how this all ties into project management at the end. Really.)Solitaire

Microsoft introduced Windows 3.0 in May, 1990. Windows 1.0 was pretty much an experiment. Windows 2.0 was mostly a platform developers could include to support their own graphics – e.g., Aldus (later Adobe) PageMaker. Windows 3.0 was intended to be an actual operating system.

Except no one knew what to do with it, and there was little software for it. (I was part of a team creating some of that software, as I had done with the first Mac some years before. It was hard, though not as hard as the Mac, and we were late. What else is new?)

The effective coming-out party was a trade show, PC-Expo, at the Javits Center in New York in June. That’s a time when no one wants to be in New York, and fewer people wanted to schlep over the the far west side of Manhattan, which was unconnected to any subway lines. Still, there were hundreds of booths, maybe even a thousand. A huge percentage of them offered computers and/or monitors, and even those selling computers-but-not-monitors needed monitors to prove their computers worked, were fast, and ran Lotus 123 and Flight Simulator, the then-standards of compatibility.

Microsoft convinced most of those vendors to load up Windows 3.0. Perhaps they offered a great deal, or perhaps the vendors wanted to show something a lot more colorful and interesting than the C:> prompt of DOS, or perhaps both. But hundreds of booths, from companies large and small, featured monitors running Windows.

KingKongBundy(One booth featured the wrestler King Kong Bundy, supposedly proving how easy their computers were to use. Because who would argue with a 500-pound shaved-head guy, even if he did make his appearances in a turquoise wrestling leotard. Turquoise. Some things cannot be unseen.)

And the only program that came with Windows 3.0 was… Solitaire. The original Solitaire, with one game, the game called Patience.

I watched the same scene repeated so many times. A potential buyer would wander over to a booth, look at Solitaire, be encouraged to play. He (or she, though mostly he in those days) would try the keyboard, and the booth staffer would point to the mouse. The buyer would tentatively touch the mouse, and the onscreen cursor would move. Remember, most of these folks had never seen a mouse, since the Macintosh wasn’t used in business except by a handful of art departments.

He’d move the mouse, stare at the cursor, stare back at the mouse. Move it again, track the cursor. Maybe click. And after five or ten seconds, the light would go on. “This is what a mouse is for!” And he’d be off playing Solitaire, entranced by the cool new way of controlling the computer, a way we take for granted these days.

And by the time he left the booth, he was convinced that this Windows thing was the way to go, the wave of the future.

I saw it over and over and over again during that week in June, at booth after booth after booth. Decision makers and individuals, large companies and small.

We gotta go Windows.

Because of Solitaire.

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Here’s a project management lesson. When things aren’t going well on a project, or when you take over a failing, flailing project, find one thing – one simple, easy thing – that the team can be successful with. Focus on it, get it successful, and trumpet that success. Get the team – and the client – invested in even a small success, some real, tangible progress. Flip the mindset from “this project is a disaster” to “we’re making progress.”

Even a bit of progress is enough of a lever to renegotiate what it means to be successful, both with the client and the team. And it’s an even bigger lever for the team itself to pull them out of whatever funk they’ve fallen into, to believe in themselves (and you as project manager). A team that believes in itself may or may not succeed, but a team that does not believe has about zero chance of success.

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Meanwhile, Concrete Blonde, a fabulous band that never had the success they deserved, knows a hundred games of solitaire.

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