PARA Part 7: Creating a Project Network (草翻)

There have been 3 Eras of Productivity in modern times, each defined by a seminal book:



The Values-First Era at the dawn of corporate America told us that character was the most important thing. If you were a virtuous person, living according to principles and high ideals, you’d be successful. But then the cutthroat corporate culture of the 1980’s set in, and everyone realized they had to look out for their own interests.

The Goals-First Era came next, proclaiming that we should have clear goals to help focus our efforts. No one was going to give us a handout, so we had to ruthlessly drive toward the outcomes we wanted to happen. But goals too lost their luster. As the new millennium began and the uncertainty in the world spun seemingly out of control, we started looking for a process to follow.

We are now deep in the throes of the Process-First Era. A little over halfway through, if the average 25-year cycle holds. People march under the banner of their favorite process: Theory of Constraints, Six Sigma, Design Thinking, Agile/Scrum, Getting Things Done, Lean Startup, Habit Loop. Every aspect of modern work is being systematically distilled down to 5 steps that promise results if you’ll only follow the process



现在,我们已经深入到了过程优先。如果按照25年的平均周期来计算,已经过了一半多一点。人们打着自己喜欢的过程的旗号前进。约束理论、六西格玛、设计思维、敏捷/Scrum、Getting Things Done、精益创业、Habit Loop。现代工作的每一个方面都被系统地提炼成5个步骤,只要你愿意按照流程去做,就一定会有结果。

When it comes to personal productivity, the Process-First Era is most clearly manifested in our obsession with habits. Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit (Amazon Affiliate Link) in 2012 kicked off a flurry of thought pieces, habit change frameworks, and products. Silicon Valley jumped on the bandwagon with a conference dedicated to creating habit-forming products. A stream of startups created wearable devices promising to help you stick to good habits.

The appeal of process-based habits is obvious: replacing a far-off outcome with a daily action makes it seem far more manageable. It gives us something immediate to focus on, in the midst of a highly uncertain environment. It distinguishes the fundamental building blocks of behavior out of which big achievements are made. The consensus is clear: goals are dangerous and unproductive — we should create habits instead.

说到个人生产力,"过程第一 "时代最明显地体现在我们对习惯的迷恋上。Charles Duhigg的书The Power of Habit (Amazon Affiliate Link)在2012年掀起了一系列的思想品类、习惯改变框架和产品的热潮。硅谷也加入到了这一行列,举办了一场会议,致力于创造习惯养成产品。一大群初创公司创建了可穿戴设备,承诺帮助你坚持良好的习惯。


But I think we’ve gone overboard in our love affair with habits. Discrete achievements still matter. I don’t care that I wrote X number of words per day — I care that I’ve published a book. I don’t care that I dedicated Y minutes to prospecting new clients — I care that I have a client list.

We don’t need to throw the whole concept of goals overboard in order to start making progress. We need to reinvent what goals are and how they’re formulated in a radically different environment than the one in which they were conceived.

In P.A.R.A. Part VI, I argued for the critical importance of “small-batch” projects in creating an effective Project List. I explained how tightly scoped projects with clean edges contribute directly to focus, creativity, and perspective.

In Part VII, I’ll share with you how to formulate the most important part of small-batch projects: desired outcomes. The scope and the deadline (the other two components) are easy to come up with. It is the desired outcome that defines and shapes what the project is and where it takes you.

但我觉得我们对习惯的热爱已经过分了。具体的成就仍然很重要。我不在乎我每天写了多少字 —— 我在乎的是我出版了一本书。我不关心我花了Y分钟去寻找新客户 —— 我关心的是我有一个客户名单。


在P.A.R.A.第六部分中,我论证了 "小批量 "项目在创建有效的项目清单中的关键重要性。我解释了紧缩的、边缘清晰的项目是如何直接促进专注力、创造力和视角的提升。



The key shift we need to make to formulate desired outcomes is from prescribing means to describing ends.

Traditional projects prescribe means: we will do X, then Y will happen, and then we’ll have Z. In a slow-moving environment, laying out all the steps in advance was both possible and effective. The more intermediate steps you completed, the higher the chances of success. Following the plan was actually more important than project success, because you could avoid blame if it failed.

Modern project-based work instead focuses on describing the end state of a project in vivid, exciting, yet objective detail. The purpose is to focus the efforts of a diverse group of collaborators on outcomes that are inherently, immediately valuable (instead of valuable only according to the plan, and “someday”). Many of the people working on the project may move on after it ends. They’re not going to wait around for a 5-year strategic plan to come to fruition.



而现代的项目型工作,反而注重用生动、精彩而又客观的细节来描述项目的最终状态。这样做的目的是将不同合作者的努力集中在内在的、立即有价值的结果上(而不是只根据计划、"某一天 "才有价值)。很多人在项目结束后,可能会在项目结束后转行。他们不打算等着5年战略计划的实现。

Instead of “Deliver training manual” (a means), we want to ask “What will the manual improve, accelerate, enable, strengthen, accomplish, or increase?” In other words, what is the manual a means to? If it is to “accelerate employee onboarding,” that suggests multiple pathways: a live workshop? An online training? A pre-recorded video orientation? A peer mentoring program? We do need to commit to one of these for now to get started, but having these alternatives in mind will allow us to pivot quickly when new information comes to light. If the desired outcome is instead to “mitigate legal risks,” well that’s a completely different matter. In that case, you might just need some legal boilerplate and then be done with it.

Can you see how a group of collaborators discussing this project around a table are headed for trouble if they don’t agree on the criteria for success?

与其说是 "传递培训手册"(一种手段),不如说是问 "培训手册能提高、加速、启用、强化、完成或增加什么?" 换句话说,手册是一种什么手段?如果是为了 "加速员工入职",那就说明有多种途径:现场研讨会?在线培训?预先录制的视频指导?同行指导计划?我们现在确实需要投入其中的一个项目来启动,但如果有了这些替代方案,当有新的信息出现时,我们就可以迅速做出调整。如果我们想要的结果是 "降低法律风险",那就完全是另一回事了。在这种情况下,你可能只需要一些法律模板就可以了结了。


When we articulate these “desired ends,” just to be clear, we’re not saying they are “correct.” We’re not saying they are the ultimate, final ends. We’re not even saying they are necessarily aligned with the big picture. All we’re saying is that achieving them would be an inherently valuable, worthwhile result. Even if the only result is that we gain more learning about which direction we should be taking.

Paradoxically, the faster and sharper we want to turn, the further out we need to project our desired outcomes. Like a GPS navigation system keeping you headed for your final destination despite all the twists and turns you encounter along the way.

Most project outcomes I see people formulate don’t look further than the means. That would be fine if they at least had the end in mind. But when I ask what that is, the most common response is “Let me think about that…”

当我们阐述这些 "期望的目的 "时,只是为了说明一下,我们并不是说它们是 "正确的" 我们不是说它们是终极的、最终的目的。我们甚至没有说它们一定与大局相一致。我们要说的是,实现这些目标将是一个有价值、有价值的结果。即使唯一的结果是,我们获得了更多的学习,了解到我们应该往哪个方向发展。


我看到大多数人制定的项目结果都不会把目光投射到更远的地方。如果他们至少心中有了目标,那就好了。但是,当我问起那是什么时,最常见的回答是 "让我想想看.........."

For example:

  • Launch new website
  • Deliver new feature set
  • Finalize marketing campaign
  • Finish reading book
  • 推出新网站
  • 提供新功能集
  • 敲定营销活动
  • 读完书

These are outcomes, but not ones that are worthwhile in isolation. What I recommend instead is describing the success criteria. In other words, the standards or metrics by which success will be measured. For example:


Launch new website: New website is launched, with 10,000 unique visitors, $50,000 in sales, and 15% repeat customer rate by November 30, 2018.” 推出新网站:新网站上线,到2018年11月30日,新网站上线后,网站独特访客数达到1万人次,销售额达到5万元,回头客率达到15%。"

There is no ambiguity around this finish line. Either the website will be launched or it won’t. Either it will have 10,000 unique visitors, or it won’t. $50,000 in sales, or not. 15% repeat customer rate, or not. This will all happen by Nov. 30, or it won’t.

This outcome describes an end state. It outlines precisely “what will have happened.” It is very clear on what must be true for it to be considered successful, without prescribing any particular way of reaching it.


这个结果描述的是一个最终状态。它精确地描述了 "会发生什么"。它非常明确地规定了必须是什么才算成功,而没有规定任何特定的达到方式。

You’ll notice that this outcome has many ways of NOT coming true. You could even nail the first 4 metrics, but not by Nov. 30. Having more ways to fail is an important feature of project-based work: everyone wants to know as soon as possible whether a project is off track, because you’re getting paid for results, not time spent.

What tightly scoped projects with clear success criteria really do is surface assumptions. If you have a massive project taking up 80% of your time for the next 6 months, assumptions will only be revealed after the deadline has passed, and management or the client starts taking a hard look at what’s going on. By then, it’s way too late to take corrective action.

Precise outcomes are designed to reveal assumptions as quickly as possible. They are actually hypotheses — designed to be falsified. By making our projects small, we expose their inner workings to scrutiny. By writing falsifiable outcomes, our assumptions about what will happen by when become public records open to questioning.



精确的结果是为了尽快揭示假设。实际上,它们是假设 —— 是被设计成可以伪造的。通过使我们的项目小而精,我们将其内部运作暴露出来,以接受审查。通过写出可伪造的结果,我们关于何时会发生什么的假设就会成为公开的记录,供人质疑。


The fundamental nature of goals has changed, from forecasting an outcome to formulating a hypothesis that will yield maximum learning.

For example, one of my current goals is:



Forte Labs content is licensed to 5 people or businesses, producing $5k per month in revenue, by August 31, 2018. Forte实验室的内容授权给5人或企业,每月产生5K美元的收入,到2018年8月31日为止。

This is a good outcome not just because it’s specific, but because there are many ways it could not happen, all of which will yield insights. Here are some of the questions underlying this goal:


  • Once the licensing agreements are in place, how long does it take to onboard new licensees? 一旦签订了授权协议,新的被授权人需要多长时间才能入驻?
  • Who will license my content? (“people and businesses” are vague, but I could continue to narrow these down as I gather more information) 谁会授权给我的内容?("人和企业 "是模糊的,但我可以在收集更多信息时继续缩小这些范围)
  • How much income will these licensing agreements produce? (the numbers imply $1,000 per license per month, but I really have no idea) 这些许可协议将产生多少收入?(数字暗示每个许可证每月1000美元,但我真的不知道)
  • How long will these contracts run for? (if I reach a $5k run rate by August, will that be easy to maintain, or require constant effort?) 这些合同会持续多久?(如果我在8月前达到5K的运行率,那是容易维持,还是需要不断努力?)
  • How long will it take to get licensing agreements written and approved by my lawyer? (reviewing this goal each month I’ll be able to track progress) 需要多长时间才能写好许可协议并得到律师的批准?(每个月复习这个目标,我就可以跟踪进度)
  • What kind of support or updates will licensees require to maintain a subscription? Is it a one-time transaction or does it require building a relationship? 被许可人需要什么样的支持或更新来维护订阅?是一次性交易还是需要建立关系?

There are others, but this should give you an idea of how specificity surfaces questions. You can’t get specific without making assumptions. And as soon as you articulate those assumptions, you’re free to examine them.

This kind of goal is designed to be falsified, just like a scientific hypothesis. Answering any one of the questions above will require shifting the goal, which is exactly the point. I want the goal to track changes over time, getting closer and closer to reality as completion gets nearer.

This is not about trying to foretell the future or be overly rigid. The intention is to be able to look at the difference between what you aimed for and where you hit, and be able to ask and answer “why?”

There is a distinction here between precision and accuracy. In a corporate environment, they are closely linked: you had better only get precise if you know it’s going to be accurate. But when setting goals for yourself, even in a traditional corporate environment, being precise even at the expense of accuracy will yield the learnings you need to change reality to fit your intentions!

After all, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.



这并不是要试图预知未来,也不是要过于死板。目的是要能够看清自己的目标和所打的目标之间的差距,并能够问和回答 "为什么?"




What you begin to create as you become more fluent in formulating desired outcomes is a personal productivity network. The Theory of Constraints calls this a Prerequisite Tree or a Necessary Condition Network, described briefly in this slide deck and in my upcoming articles in the TOC101 series.


This network is a map from where you are, to where you want to be. But the waypoints along that path are not “things you have to do.” That leaves you individually responsible for walking every step, expecting no help from anyone or anything.

这个网络是一张地图,从你在哪里,到你想去的地方。但沿途的路点并不是 "你必须要做的事情" 这让你一个人负责走好每一步,不指望任何人或任何事情的帮助。

They are “things that must be true.” And there are many ways for one of those statements to flip from “not true” to “true” that don’t require your direct effort: changes in the economy, software programs coming out with new features, shifts in the competitive landscape, new people coming into your life.

它们是 "必须是真实的东西" 而且有很多方法可以让这些声明从 "不真实 "变成 "真实",而不需要你直接的努力:经济的变化、软件程序的新功能、竞争格局的变化、新的人进入你的生活。

As an example, here is a prerequisite tree we created for transitioning Praxis from Medium to WordPress. It describes what must be true at each stage to proceed to the next:



Each dependency can, of course, be broken out in more detail, revealing what must be true at a fine-grained level for these big milestones to be true. New information coming in or changes in scope can reconfigure the network, as you can see comparing the two more detailed trees below, from early in the project and late in the project:

Prerequisite Tree from early in the project, when dependencies weren’t clear




Prerequisite Tree from late in the project, as dependencies became more clear



By mapping out the network of necessary conditions for a new reality to emerge, you are opening yourself up to serendipity. You are positioning yourself to benefit from unexpected opportunities when they arrive at your doorstep. By elevating your perspective, you are moving from trying to wrangle individual nodes into submission, to managing the network effects, surges and pulses, feedback loops and bottlenecks that make networks so volatile, and powerful.

Your projects are the nodes in your personal productivity network. They are the containers into which information flows, intelligence is applied, and work is performed. Desired outcomes are the interfaces between these nodes, allowing projects to work together and become more than the sum of their parts.




All the guidelines and recommendations I’ve outlined in this article are designed to make those interfaces as clean as possible. A project could be an outstanding success on its own, but if it doesn’t have clean interfaces that can connect it to other projects, it will be a lonely beacon in the night.

Clean interfaces — clear desired outcomes — are what allow a project node to rely on its neighbors. To build upon and extend the momentum of the ones that came before. If it’s unclear where a project begins and ends, it’s like an irregularly shaped, fuzzy node. Like Legos, not having a clean edge means it can never become a piece in a beautiful new creation.

It’s worth adopting a standardized definition of “desired outcome,” even if you don’t accept mine. That’s because you have much bigger things to worry about. You are the manager of the highway system — you can’t afford to be performing safety checks on individual cars. Standardizing and semi-automating the way you formulate your projects allows you to ascend to a higher horizon: managing portfolios of projects.

Any given project on its own is trivial. But as part of a portfolio, they can change the world.



即使你不接受我的,也值得采纳一个标准化的 "期望的结果 "的定义。那是因为你有更大的事情要操心。你是高速公路系统的管理者--你不可能对个别车辆进行安全检查。将你制定项目的方式标准化和半自动化,可以让你提升到一个更高的境界:管理*项目的投资组合。


PARA Part 7: Creating a Project Network(EN)
PARA Part 4: Setup Guide - Forte Labs(已翻译)