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We're ALL Project Managers

Mike Flecker at his desk

I’m excited to report that Idea Planet had a really great 2019. Our business did well, and for that, I am thankful. However, I don’t attribute our success to coincidence or luck. We have worked hard to develop strong client relationships, create critical processes, hire talented people, and collaborate to align our global teams around the same goals. All significant achievements.

That said, it has occurred to me that the reason we’ve been able to accomplish all this is our overarching approach – our perspective regarding the way we tackle projects. Let me elaborate. This may seem counterintuitive, but we are not doers – people who simply execute tasks to get things done. We are Thinkers.

Idea Planet team members consulting notes

We fully embrace and internalize our projects, assess each step, apply logic, problem solve, and anticipate what’s next. By truly being engaged with our clients and their goals, by thinking on their behalf, we have become better project managers.

Please note that when I say, “project managers,” I mean that not as a title per se, but as the way we work. Each of us has a specialized role, and within that role, we manage our part of the project. This is an important distinction and what sets us apart from many other companies in our industry.

I read a great quote recently (sorry, I forgot the source) that stuck with me:

Ultimately, the biggest project in the world is a series of steps taken in the right order.

I wrestled with that notion because, to me, it’s both true and not true. Technically, yes, you create a detailed project schedule with key milestones and dependencies – all the next steps to get from start to finish. You know the process and what has to happen to reach completion.

But in my experience, it’s never that simple. In fact, typically the path takes quite a few unforeseen twists and turns, sometimes circling back to an earlier point in the process. And it’s because of this that all Planeteers must be Thinkers.

We can’t mindlessly shepherd our projects forward step by step and “tick off the boxes” based on our initial plan. That pretty much happens never. As Robert Burns well noted,

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Too many other factors jump in the way that cause each of us to commandeer the situation and mindfully determine the new best route to take.

We are not on cruise control; we are active, alert drivers (yes, you can quote me on that). In other words, we are fully “checked in” to each of our projects, all the time (I’m on a roll, here!). I’m sure you get the picture (I’m cracking myself up!). Ok! Ok! Here are three attributes I’ve identified as inherent in our Thinker approach to project management at the Planet.

The Dichotomy

Basically, this is my term for the need to mire yourself in the project details while simultaneously being able to step back to see the big picture. These two contradictory components together make management of a project infinitely more successful. Doesn’t matter if you’re in Accounting or Logistics – it applies to all roles.

Idea Planet team member looking at part from 3D printer

Dichotomy skills enable you to keep track of all the fast-moving parts of a project while understanding their impact on its overall trajectory and timing. You can better foresee potential risks or implications that may need to be called out to the team or addressed in advance. All while making sure no balls get dropped (is that another cliché?) in the here and now. So, at any given moment, we each comprehend what’s going on with our project and can articulate the potential impact to the project both short and long term.

The Dichotomy is a critical superpower, and we have it at multiple levels across all disciplines within our organization (just sayin…).

C2 Thinking

My abbreviation for Critical & Creative Thinking. Both are important methods for rational assessment and innovative problem solving.

Remember a few paragraphs back when we all agreed that projects rarely go as planned? And you have to keep your head on a swivel at all times to continually herd the cats that are running off? (is anyone counting now?)

Well, it’s our critical thinkers who, in these situations, separate fact from opinion, examine the issue from all sides, make logical inferences and withhold personal judgment or biases. They use logic and reasoning to fully understand the problem and develop effective solutions. They encourage the exchange of questions and answers that challenge assumptions, expose partiality, and foster improved judgement and decision making.

Creative Thinkers, on the other hand, are less structured and more open. They look at problems from a fresh perspective and seek solutions that are original, non-traditional and/or unexpected. I think Dr. Seuss said it best:

Think left and think right and think low and think high.

Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!

Actually, this was standard reading to each of my 3 kids starting at birth, haha!

Think of C2 Thinking as a one-two punch. Critical Thinkers help evaluate and define the problem objectively, so Creative Thinkers can directly address it with unique, workable solutions. Working together in this way allows us to be more productive, efficient, and creative in the way we manage projects.


I don’t have a fancy pseudonym for this trait. It’s pretty straightforward. It goes back, once again, to coping with the change, complexity and unexpected left turns we all experience on projects. Some employees love the discipline and structure of a position that clearly defines their responsibilities, and they thrive when they stay in their lane.

That’s not really the case at Idea Planet. We do have clearly defined processes and stringent procedures (we have to – we’re in manufacturing!) but change is a normal and expected part of our business. You have to not only be ok with that, but you might also get a little thrill out of it…

So, we wear lots of hats, and we help each other out. We move quickly, re-adjust priorities, and change course as needed, sometimes a couple times a day! Therefore, as Thinkers, we have to keep an agile mindset to adapt and stay ahead of our projects – so we remain proactive and in control, instead of reactive and chasing kittens.

Well there are many more important Thinker attributes that I could elaborate on, but these are my top three: The Dichotomy, C2 Thinking, and Agility. No matter what industry you’re in, you can use skilled Thinkers who move with the course of your business, manage “projects,” and cultivate success. We are living proof!

At the end of the day our Thinker attributes are about the remarkable people you hire and giving them the opportunity to think. Steve Jobs said it right...

Give them the management tools they need and let them go!

Cheers to all the Thinkers out there!



The COVID-19 Coronavirus has caused major disruption in China and has now spread to many other countries. Each of us at Idea Planet is not only concerned about our brethren team in Shenzhen but for everyone affected by this devastating outbreak. As the situation evolves, we extend our heartfelt compassion to those in need. We are continuing to send medical and protection supplies to our staff, while also keeping in close contact with our factory partners, who are also dedicated to prevention and control. They are slowly ramping back up with extensive new procedures to keep their workers and products safe and secure. We are hopeful for better news over the coming weeks and wish everyone health and a return to normalcy very soon.


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