A satirical cartoon attacking the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, for the passage in April 1829 of the Roman Catholic Relief Act
"We're still nattering over tactics, Maudling our way into an increasingly perilous future of our own creation."

My first project management assignment came over a lunch, from someone I didn't at the time report to who managed a department in another division of the company. A succession of actual project managers had failed to tame an effort, so my name had come up, probably over another lunch, where his VP and my VP had reached an agreement that perhaps informally assigning Schmaltz as a sort of stealth project manager might finally tether the aspiring initiative. I was told, as a first step, to, "go get the plan." Naive me, never before having managed a project, I set out on what would become just another chapter in a never-ending saga to find a reliable plan for the initiative. I'd initially thought my predecessors delinquent for having failed to at least produce a plan, though I later learned that a) no plan had ever existed because b) the effort was inherently unplannable. Those VPs who had so blithely recommended assigning me to fix the so-called project had abrogated their responsibility, for this project had no strategic intent, and no two people I spoke with while searching in vain for the plan, agreed upon the purpose of the project. I never did manage to produce a credible plan before the executives wisely chose to cancel funding for that woe begotten excursion after the fifth or sixth time that I'd reminded them that they'd need to decide upon some strategic intent before the effort could ever hope to satisfy them.

I mention this story at this time because it seems to inform our current dilemma in our ongoing battle against the insidious Covid-19 virus.
Ten thousand planners have been Maudling their collective butts off without producing a single reliably predictive plan. The virus moves like a phantom, sidestepping every defense. First the Coronavirus Task Force says one thing, then it says another, each proclamation seemingly contradicting the former. I suspect that the modelers produce the best projections they can produce, given the many assumptions they must necessarily embrace to produce anything at all. Variance moves through each model like the virus moves through society, and explosions of variance render any model predictively pointless, though great insight might be gleanable from even a model overwhelmed by variance. We seek answers, not insight, with only insights to choose from. Every ounce of steadfast strategic intent injected into a model could incrementally improve its resulting utility. It might be more politically useful to point blaming fingers, like those two VPs who'd assigned me to go find the plan had, than to reach even a rough agreement on some strategic intent. Projects, like viruses, are best killed before than can spread.

Are we trying to eradicate this bug? Globally? Locally? For Now? Forever? Just what are we intending to do? Simply casting the virus as our mortal enemy hardly hints at any strategic intent. Without choosing some intention, no intervention could possibly prove very powerful. We squabble instead, focusing upon tactical actions like testing and tracking, measures which produce no forward perspective. We can report on actions without determining progress, because progress relies upon strategic intent. We can sort of show where we thought we were a month ago without knowing very much about where we find ourselves today or are likely to find ourselves tomorrow. Progress necessarily relies upon an envisioned goal, and insisting upon simply going back to the way it used to be falls on the deeply delusional pole of the strategic. We're not lost because we don't know the way, though we don't know the way. We're lost because we haven't yet chosen where we intend to go. We hold no clear strategic intent.

Dedicated modelers will continue to try, producing projections on a seemingly infinite fly, because modelers try to model whatever their situation. I tried to produce that elusive plan until I began to understand that no plan could decide for those who had abrogated their one essential contribution. Were we supposed to choose for you to guide you to the proper decision? Maybe a hypothetical least-cost alternative, or a gold-plated luxury one? The pandemic modelers cannot anticipate the swerves and switches our current executive insists upon injecting into our responses, so of course their projections have reliably proven wrong. Most now seem to have caught on to the game and their latest runs project ever worsening conditions as the population loses interest in a seemingly meaningless pursuit. Why even suit up for a game without apparent end? Why dedicate my blood and treasure to achieve strategically irrelevant measures? We have met our oldest enemy again, the one those VPs once assigned me to vanquish for them, and that enemy seems to be us.

I deeply appreciate that it's hard, damned hard, to choose when any choice might reliably produce another apparent loss. How much will it cost? More than you'd ever willingly forfeit. How long will it take? Longer than you could ever imagine tolerating. What will we gain? We could lose it all, but if we don't answer these calls to choose, we insist upon losing without ever firing a single meaningful shot. These choices outline the scenario we always face at the start. Whether we end up going anywhere better demands that we decide anyway. We're still nattering over tactics, Maudling our way into an increasingly perilous future of our own creation.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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