The Ultimate Jigsaw Puzzle

This weekend I decided to start my second jigsaw puzzle of the quarantine and realized just how similar the whole process was to implementing a new initiative at school, from the planning stage onward the parallels just kept popping up.

I started with the problem…any well-founded initiative isn’t born out of thin air, it is developed as a response to a problem or even as a proactive solution to a potential problem.  In this case, the problem was that I was bored! It was Sunday afternoon and the golf match that I’d been desperately waiting for weeks to watch was delayed by terrible rain in Florida, I needed something to keep me busy while I waited!  

Next I needed to analyze the data. This is a collaborative process, data are collected and then analyzed by a team to identify focus areas and potential paths for moving forward. Being that this was a collaborative step, I called in my wife. First off, we had multiple options.  What size are these puzzles, will they fit our table?  How many pieces can we handle? How much time will she dedicate to helping me with this project? And perhaps most importantly, how long will my wife tolerate this table being covered in a puzzle? With the data collected and analyzed we were ready with a plan.

At this point I’d imagine most people are rolling their eyes at me…I get it, I’m probably taking this analogy a little too far but this is the process and these steps are truly (loosely) connected to the steps taken as a school goes through their regular processes which lead to an initiative. Here’s where it really begins to take shape…

When I start a puzzle there’s always a process.  First we sort pieces.  The border pieces need to be identified and separated, these will form the general parameters for our initiative and show guide us along the journey. While we’re in this early stage of setting up the general parameters we’re also getting to know the lay of the land much better. As we sort pieces we start seeing patterns that we may not have noticed earlier; different color trends, certain repetitive shapes, and we can even see areas that are going to be particularly troublesome down the road. In these early stages it’s really important that all of the collaborators are (literally) at the table, helping sort through the planning process and early first steps as we wrap our heads around the work ahead of us.

As we get to know our puzzle better we start making adjustments (any pieces with light blue should go in this pile, all pieces with words on them over here, etc) and we make revisions to our plan. At last, it’s time to start putting pieces together and build the frame. With this particular puzzle we got the frame finished (or so we thought) and then looked down to see five flat-edged pieces still loose on the table, how could that be?  Just like with any initiative we had to step back and re-evaluate our progress. We began to see where we thought we had put the right pieces together but really had missed a key connection. The process of stepping back and evaluating your progress is essential and will keep any initiative from heading in the wrong direction, maintaining that zoomed-out view is oftentimes difficult but very important!

To spare you all of the details we moved forward from here. Collaborating occasionally and each taking breaks from time to time to gain perspective (and get distracted by the golf that had now started!) We each worked independently on different sections and would occasionally see the link that would bring our sections together, always a great feeling of accomplishment to see the separate parts of an initiative come together smoothly. Over the course of the next day or so we would walk away and come back to the puzzle. At one point I started looking at the sections my wife had started and really got on a roll, it seemed that the fresh eyes helped me to see things she hadn’t (another great idea when working on an initiative!) Which brings us to Monday night…

The puzzle isn’t done yet (it’s 1008 pieces!!) but we’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting. We’ve set it aside for now and cleared off our table. As with most initiatives there are other things happening that required our attention. We have a plan for restarting this puzzle but this is a stage with many initiatives that can get dangerous. All too often projects get started, the early momentum carries them for a while, and then they fizzle out. Ensuring that all team members are committed to the plan, remain engaged and focused, and setting a strict deadline are all essential to the success of completing any initiative.

When it comes to a puzzle there is an endpoint, the pieces all fit together and you can celebrate before taking it apart (or framing it if you’re really into the final product). However, with an important school initiative there really is no endpoint. Initiatives are a cycle, a process, that continues on into the future. The results of the first stage of the initiative lead to a review plan, which in turn may lead to future modifications. They keep going, they are (sometimes) never ending. School initiatives in a lot of ways are the ultimate jigsaw puzzles, they require great team work, tremendous focus, lots of communication, and ongoing attention. 

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