Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Style Over Substance

You and everyone in the company are called to a company meeting and you head out with reservations, since you’ve attended such meetings in the past and have come away disappointed, with perfunctory messages, carefully manipulated company results, berating words for people or groups who have been unable to deliver on unrealistic expectations (see Unrealistic Expectations), and obligatory congratulations for a few people or groups. But this meeting sounds different. The big boss conveys a truly inspiring message and sounds like he really gets it. He lays out a vision for transforming the company in new and exciting ways (see Poor Company Vision Clouds Everyone’s View). He points to a future that holds great promise and potential.  He discusses a plan of action that can make a real difference and a call to action to make it happen. He points to changes that will take place starting immediately, and envisions a bright and hopeful future that will bring excitement and success to the company and its people. Everyone is charged up and anxious to get started and leaves the meeting with a new spring in their steps. Then … very little happens. The promised changes are always about to begin, but never really do. Those changes that do begin go nowhere with little real support. The hope in everyone’s minds diminishes with each passing day.  You have just been subjected, once again, to style over substance, and its result can be devastating. In fact it can be considerably worse than if the promising message had never been given. People’s expectations get built up, only to be torn down. They watch the bubble grow, only to see it burst; the bigger the bubble, the bigger the mess when it inevitably bursts.

Unfortunately, we see style over substance everywhere, and the consequence is that people are becoming more jaded and cynical. We see it in politics, where promises to “give” people this, that, and the other thing fly left and right from all parties, with few, if any, of the promises backed up by anything real or meaningful; but that doesn’t diminish the non-stop pandering.  We see it in companies and even in work, community, and social groups. In smaller group settings it is generally easier to identify who is delivering style over substance and who is really delivering substance, and to do something about those who don’t deliver.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunny Day Scenarios

You’re a project manager tasked with putting together the schedule for a new and critical project. You are told by senior management that this is an extremely critical project, and that it is essential to the company’s future success that it is delivered as quickly as possible and that whatever delivery date you come up with absolutely must be met. You are told that Sales is basing their forecasts on the availability dates you provide, and that Finance is basing their revenue and net income projections based on your schedule. The whole company is depending on you delivering on your commitments without fail.

You know you want the schedule to be as aggressive as possible to get products to market as soon as possible, but recognize that it must also be realistic and achievable, and that it must be met. You meet with all of the appropriate people, define all of the necessary tasks and their anticipated durations and dependencies, and incorporate the critical interactions among and between organizations (including organizations within and outside of your own company). You do your best to push back on people to make sure what they tell you is truly achievable and can be counted on. You apply what you feel to be an appropriate level of contingency on critical path tasks. Still, you have some level of discomfort that you’re missing something in the schedule you’ve put together.  

Before you finish and present the final schedule as complete, do at least one more check (really considerably more than one). Make sure, to the best of your ability, that no part of the schedule is based on Sunny Day Scenarios, where the people giving you task duration and dependency estimates base their estimates on everything going just right, or on other people providing what they need just in time. “Sunny Day Scenarios” can and will kill a schedule, and over time you will watch your carefully put together schedule fall apart, and your credibility in the organization with it. [See also Failing to Plan Means You Are Planning to Fail!, What Gets Measured Gets Done!, and Plan Based On What You Do Know, and On What You Don’t!]

What are some of the “Sunny Say Scenario” pitfalls you need to look out for? They can be categorized as Schedule, People, and Management related.