Readiness and The Penelope Effect

In Greek Mythology, Ulysses had a wife, Penelope, who was faithfully awaiting her husband return from his travels for years.  She was a very attractive and her husband would be king.  Several suitors wanted to marry her and the people were putting pressure on her to remarry because they said Ulysses had to be dead.  She said she would remarry after she had finished knitting the blanket for her wedding bed.  Everyday she worked diligently knitting in public and every night secretly she would unravel the days work. 

Have you ever wondered why project requirements keep changing or new little things are discovered.  While you were not looking, Penelope was unraveling.   In the context of readiness assessment the person is not ready to commit while appearing to work diligently to more the process forward.  Why and what to do about requires skill and the application of the Breakthrough Approach.  An engineer working on a piece of software was always a week from finishing.  When asked, when he had met the spec, he said weeks ago.  I think his name was Penelope.

Tags: Consulting, Project X, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Fixed Price, Time and Materials, CGI, Accenture, Cap Gemini

  1. Graham Boundy Reply

    I think the right move is to take the “penelopes” off the team rather than try to figure out what is making them want to unravel the process. I’ve been in too many working sessions where everyone nods there heads in agreement and then leaves the room mumbling under their breath and shaking their heads. By the time they are back at their desks they’re actively unravelling the whole process. This type of passive-aggressive behaviour creates a disfunctional organization. When this happens too frequently it’s time to clean house.

  2. Jim Reply

    I remember a time when somebody on the team was very negative and everything we did to keep the team spirit up, he would unravel. It took us quite some time to discover what was happening. At the time we took him off the team but maybe in hindsight I should have found out what was bothering him and tried to correct it. We sometimes dismiss the Penelopes but you know Ulysses was actually alive. Things are never as simple as they appear or as complex as they seem.

  3. Len McGrane Reply

    Exactly! I see this all the time in corporate teambuilding weekends. People come, they enjoy themselves, they learn heaps, they go back, for a short time the office effectiveness improves … and then Penelope slyly begins to unravel all the good work! Actually, I guess the key to any program of change (like team building) is to do whatever is necessary to get a deep-down change of values in the people in the middle of the change.

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