Don’t worry about starting with a blank canvas

When starting a new project/product job, I used to worry about starting with a blank canvas. Now I’m more alert to the challenges of established systems.

Earlier in my career, when starting a new project I’d wonder: Where will I begin? How will I set up the right structures, ways of thinking?

In practice I’ve found that generally you inherit structure, process, documentation. And even if you don’t, you will come in to an established culture with a set of expectations and values (which you likely won’t fully understand straight away).

So actually the challenge is generally more about understanding what’s been done already and why, and working out what needs changing.

I’ve come in to organizations and been initially relieved at the structure and scaffolding in place, only later to realise that there might actually be some quite big problems with those cultural norms or established processes.

Did they start with user needs?
Is their conceptual approach to procurement the right one?
Are the governance ventricles predicated on the right foundations?
Are there cultural warning flags associated with some of the ways of working?

Worry less about what is missing and more about what is present but wrong. Your toolkit of techniques will help you build anything that is missing – the bigger challenge is assessing, challenging and changing what’s already there.