Thinking Big

DHS Agile Expo_small.png

Think Big, Plan Big, Start Small, Deliver Quickly

I heard something this week at the DHS Agile Expo that struck a chord with me. In a talk on Product Ownership, Barry Zukose, DHS's Deputy Chief Data Architect told us about a sign he has in his office:

Think Big and Develop Small

I like that.

It's similar to a sign on my Coast Guard office wall years ago:

Think Big, Plan Big, Start Small, Deliver Quickly.

That was a mantra for the teams I led delivering IT systems.

I consider myself accomplished at stealing ideas from others and putting them to work in my life, but I can't figure out where I got that phrase from. Google searches lead me back to my project blog from Coast Guard days. If anyone reads this and knows the source, please let me know so I can give credit where it's due. I’ve repeated it many times and It has served me well.

This week also marked the end to a non-IT projects I've been working on for five years. My role with the team evolved from full-time PM to part time SME as I took on work with other clients.

While reflecting on the great work of the team, I was reminded of the final blog post I'd shared with the team as their PM. It was a good reminder that "Think Big, Plan Big, Start Small, Deliver Quickly" works for more than just software. It's might apply to anything where value can be delivered in chunks. Here is that post from April 2014 (with portions redacted):

Little Things


During our first meeting together after I stepped into a leadership role, I told you my approach to TSCAP would be characterized by a desire to:

  • Think Big

  • Plan Big

  • Start Small

  • Deliver Quickly

You should all be proud of the work we did to start small and deliver quickly in the first six months. I had the privilege of speaking on the team’s behalf to [Assistant Administrator] Thursday and Friday last week. Thursday Mike and I briefed him on the results of the [——-] case study. Friday I got to share all that we’d accomplished in the four months since our last PMR.

As I reflect on how far we’ve come since I briefed him in December, I’m just amazed at the progress. In December, we had lots of work that was partially done and lots of concepts that were coming together. In just four short months, the work was made real in our Security System Architecture Framework, or SSAF. Our work isn’t all done, but we’ve made visible progress, and we were able to put it to use to show real results.

As I took a step back to think about the importance of our work, I’m convinced that we’ve taken the first steps in creating something that can fundamentally change the way the TSA does business. We have provided some tools and simple processes that can help decision­makers to be clear about what the important factors and data are in making a decision so they can be transparent about why they are pursuing a course of action. Then we’re using the SSAF to show the impact of alternative courses of actions. That’s pretty powerful stuff. Knowing WHY a decision is made and better understanding the IMPACTS is huge.

What we’re doing is bigger than tools. This isn’t about Decision Lens and Tableau and Access. it’s about how we’re using those tools to help TSA think different. That’s where we’ll see the real payoff down the road.

Granted, our problem domain is just a part of what TSA does... but it’s a pretty important part. Imagine if the way of thinking we’re promoting – structured, repeatable, and transparent – can start to take hold throughout the organization.

Be proud. We started small. And we delivered. We delivered work that is making a difference. You’ve started to deliver a series of little things that will continue to grow into something great.