Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For!

We’ve all heard the fairy tales where a person finds a magic lantern, rubs it, and a magic genie comes out and grants that person three wishes. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they come out horribly wrong. In the movie Bedazzled, the hero is offered seven wishes by the Devil in exchange for his soul. This was a classic and hilarious example of how one’s wishes can come true, but in horribly wrong ways.  When the hero wishes to be rich and powerful, he wakes up a Columbian drug lord, rich and powerful, but beset by troubles on every side. When he wishes to be sympathetic and sensitive, he wakes up a sniveling, spineless wimp. And so it continues through all of his wishes. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for!

Life in the corporate world can operate in a similar fashion where unintended consequences of getting what you wish for frequently occur, despite or as a result of the good intentions you may have had. The road to hell is paved with good intentions (and the unintended consequences of those good intentions)!

Long ago, during my days at Bell Labs, I was involved in a project that was in deep trouble. My management, trying to help, decided to add a lot more people to the project. This was their wish, not mine, and was meant to “help” me. My plaintive wail to them at the time was that I felt like a drowning man who had just been thrown … an anchor! All of those new people had to be educated on the product and project and brought up to speed, and had to communicate frequently with those already on the project. The people who had to provide the education and communicate frequently with them were the people currently involved in developing the product, preventing them from effectively continuing the development. The natural, but unintended, consequence was that the project was delayed significantly further than it would have been if we had not received the added “help”. It fit perfectly into Brooks Law [from The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., © 1975 by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., page 25], which states, “Adding manpower to a late software project will make it later.”] Ultimately and happily, the product we released (late) was a strong success, but this experience was a great illustration of the unintended consequences of good intentions! The result could have easily gone badly. [See also Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth!].  

How else can wishing for something “good” become your worst nightmare?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Take the Time to Plan

Your boss has just drafted you into a project already underway. You’re told that this is an important project and it just needs a bit of extra help to get it back on track. You meet with the others involved to learn more about the project and your intended role in it. As they begin to explain, you ask about the project plan, and where things stand in that plan. What you hear raises concern when they tell you they don’t really have a formal plan, as they believe the project to be straightforward and that, with your additional help, they should be in good shape. 

You ask, if that’s the case, why they suddenly need the extra help, and why they believe they don’t need a plan. You ask if they’ve thought through all of the various aspects of the project, how the parts will come together, what the timing will be, and who will do what when. Again, they just slough off your questions, saying it’s not that complicated, and you just need to start doing what they ask, and things will come together (see Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts! and Own Your Job! All of It!). 

Of course, that doesn’t happen, and soon they’re asking your boss again for ‘just one more person’ to be added to the project to get everything back on track (see Excuses, Excuses!). Whenever you raise concerns or make suggestions to your boss or to the team to better develop their plan of attack, you’re put off and put down. You soon realize that you’re on a path to disaster, and everyone involved in this ‘project without a plan’ will soon be tarred as a poor performer and a loser, including you (see Does Everyone Really Understand?). What can you do?