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Paradigm PoP

Friendly software tools for small and medium sized companies

George A. Miller and “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”

In “Rain Man” Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic person, who is able to visualize the number of toothpicks dropped on the floor. How many of us can do that? Perhaps not many. It seems we can focus well on a few things at a time – seven, give or take two, according to Miller. In 1956 cognitive psychologist George A. Miller (of Princeton University's Department of Psychology) wrote a paper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information” ( This paper has been cited by many researchers over time. The idea is that our working memory can hold about seven “chunks” of information at a time.  According to Miller, one could possibly improve short-term memory about working with many small elements by collecting them into a smaller number of higher level elements. PoP!

I do not claim to be a scientist or researcher, but I arrived at a similar conclusion after observing many projects, talking to expert project managers, and getting frustrated at the widely used Gantt charting tools. I kept wondering, “Why do these project managers not seem to grasp their projects which fail eventually?”, “How can they possibly plan 500 line Gantt charts in the first week of their projects?”, and more amusingly, “How can they maintain those charts to remain truthful to the reality of daily life?” My answer was, “They can’t.” That’s how the idea of a PoP was born. The “Rule of Seven” I mentioned in my previous blog is my mental model trying to mitigate the same limitations of the human mind that Miller mentioned in his paper. I felt that it would be more efficient to visualize a project in terms of its seven largest “chunks”. Each chunk would be a like a self-contained sub-project owned by somebody and having a clear objective to deliver on. Each chunk would be represented by a PoP which would signify this “Project of Projects” structure. The main project would itself be a PoP. Planning with PoPs would mean that you think top-down in terms of the seven (OK, give or take two) sub-projectish chunks that you’d like to visualize your project as. PoP Project lets you drag-drop these PoPs. You would then assign the PoPs to some owners. The owners would perform the bottom-up job of filling the PoP with detailed tasks. Then as the project progresses, you would be able to easily track the seven PoPs as per Mr. Miller’s theory, while the PoP owners deliver on their tasks and turn their PoPs green in time!

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