Project development and progressive JPEG method

Honorata Fijalka and Ksenia Poplavskaya
May 2014

Progressive JPEG is a time-management approach for leaders running complex projects. It helps to make best use of limited time without losing sight of the big picture.

In information technology JPEG is a method to represent content by encoding it with approximations (or partial data). By doing so, JPEG represents a bigger set of data without losing crucial parts for the viewer while fading out the less important features. JPEG is used to encode pictures in size smaller pixel data set and at the same time fair representation taking the loss of resolution for the sake of better visibility and portability of the document. You certainly came across JPEG in digital photography or when storing digital images.

Project management uses the JPEG Method, too. And you’ve seen it at the beginning of every project that was won and treated as ‘the project’ of the century or the heartbeat of the team. As easy as drafting the first outline may seem, sticking to the original plan is easier said than done. Once initial enthusiasm fizzled out, it’s hard not to succumb to temptation and engage in wasteful hair-splitting. Everyone is enthusiastic and jumps into doing better than any time before. In psychologists’ parlance, optimism bias and planning fallacy are at work. And then comes the first deadline for internal review and things do not look great anymore.

That’s usually where adjustments come to play. That’s the spot where weakest parts are focus of attention: you sit long nights to eradicate every source of error on one end. Or you polish your pet passion while your team waits for the final draft endlessly. There are more losses than gains. You loose time and the clear view on what is to be achieved. As soon as you sit with the client for the mid-review, the reality check is tough. You spent nights on polishing off lots while the responsible person at the client’s office changed, sits at the meeting for the first time and wants to see the road-map to the finalization. And what suffers most on your side is you our most valuable asset – time. High time to run back to the office, close the door behind for few hours and get jpeg in place.

Progressive jpeg method was articulated by Artemy Lebedev, one of the most successful Russian designers and the owner of the Art.Lebedev Studio. The key of this method, as its creator metaphorically puts it, is that «the general view of the steak is always clear while the time gets spent just on the cooking». The feasibility of the progressive jpeg lies in its simplicity and usability at every stage.

As opposed to a deep dive into details of lots and sub-fields of the project, performed one after the other, you roughly define the project segments and their interconnections. With time the team works each of these project lot with detail increasing at the same weight of details depending on feedback and GO/NO-GO decisions received from the client. If you lack data, take approximations. Most important is to work and oversee each project segment with equal level of dedication. At some points a well-elaborated argument why it’s not worth digging further where value is not educible is of precious value to the client. It also is a valid case for re-allocation of resources rather than proof that you actually spent time digging and found nothing. The key to jpeg is neither neglect nor prefer any of the project lots/segments? Otherwise you loose focus and time.

Benefits of such an approach include saved time and unlocked greater potential for interconnections. Your team works independently, just oversee the alignment with the big picture. Schedule Skype calls to bring all teams together only if you know that they have a worked-out idea at hand. This way it gets easier to uncover the potential since everyone has been involved and heard.

Send out updates on who is doing what to make room for interconnections, reflected feedback and the screams, ‚don’t touch it– I take care of this now’, which helps to unveil the picture with the detail that the client was looking for.

However, note that the JPEG Method does not work in projects where you are asked to transform big sets of data (e.g. rewriting huge sets of similar data).

This sort of non-linear expansive development allows to create a fully-fledged concept right from the start and follow it consequently the rest of the time. Time is spent on fine-tuning and optimization, cooking as Artemy Lebedev would say. The client knows what stake he or she loves, you should employ the best of your time and resources in catching the taste and the degree of cooking.

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