Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Are We There Yet?


When you’re working on a project with high visibility and a short time-frame  you’ll often receive “help” from many others looking to see whether you’re done.  How can it possibly take so long, they’ll think? It wouldn't take nearly so long if they were doing it, they’ll think (see No Job Is Hard For The Person Who Doesn't Have To Do It!). Some will stop by every day (or every hour) to ask whether you’re done yet, or to demand to know why you’re not done yet. Some help! You spend as much or more time defending your efforts as it would take to finish the job. Others will offer to “roll up their sleeves and jump in to help you to get things done”, despite the fact that they may know little about the details of what you’re doing and would take valuable time away from doing the job just to get them up to speed in ways they might actually be able to help (see Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth!). All of these people are a bit like kids at the beginning, middle, and end of a long trip continually asking (yelping at) their parents, “Are we there yet?”

Bowing to pressure to get something out before it is ready can lead to disaster, and pressure to get something out can often backfire (see The Schedule Estimate Extortion Game and If Your Want It Bad, You’ll Get It … Bad!). Sure, the customer may be happy to see something on time, but that happiness will quickly turn to disappointment and even anger when they see that what they get doesn't work properly or is of poor quality. There are hundreds of project management proverbs that hit at different aspects of this situation (see Project Management Proverbs). [Proverb: “The bitterness of poor quality lasts long after the sweetness of making the date is forgotten.”] Regardless of how you couch the specifics of what you’re delivering, if it isn't right (to them), the caveats you raise about what is being delivered will be instantly forgotten. [Proverb: “The conditions attached to a promise are forgotten; only the promise is remembered.”] And you only get one chance to make a good first impression! (see You Only Get One Chance To Make A Good First Impression!).  

The reality is that it takes time to bake a cake, and it similarly takes time to properly complete a project, whether large or small. And adding people to a late project almost always makes it later. [Proverb: “It takes one woman nine months to have a baby. It cannot be done in one month by impregnating nine women!”]. Or, [Proverb: “Any project can be estimated accurately, once it’s done.”]. Or, [Proverb: “Too few people on a project can’t solve the problems; too many create more problems than they solve.”].

So what do you do when the powers that be are standing over you saying, “Are we there yet?”

The best approach is to notify people in advance of the time you expect it to take to get the job done right. Don’t set unrealistic expectations that the project can be completed properly by taking “shortcuts” (see Unrealistic Expectations), or base your schedule on sunny day scenarios that have little likelihood of coming true (see Sunny Day Scenarios). And let them know that constant checking or poking or prodding will only distract from completing the job. Show them your project plan in advance and make it clear what needs to be done by whom and in what order and with what dependencies (see Plan Based On What You Know, and On What You Don’t!). As long as you are following the plan, they should stay clear and let you and your team do your jobs. Assure them that you will provide them with frequent and honest updates of status, issues, resolutions, and outlooks, and then follow through on that commitment.

When you move off of the plan they will have valid reasons for questioning you, as long as they have not been the reason you are off the plan. Be forthright about what has happened.  

Sometimes, it is indeed the result of poor planning on your part and you need to fully accept responsibility and do whatever can be done to get the project back on track. Accept the responsibility, and the blame, when it is your fault. Then identify what needs to be done to complete the project in the best ways, whether you will retain the responsibility or hand it off to someone else. Do everything in your power to make that happen.

Sometimes, however, external circumstances or totally unforeseen circumstances come into play and nothing you could have done can compensate or correct the source of such problems (see When Bad Things Happen to Good Projects, and The Best Laid Plans … and Then Life Happens!). In such cases, analyze the impact of the unforeseen circumstances and devise a plan to work around or through them to reach the goal in the best possible way.

Whatever the causes, when your project goes off course, or preferably when you can see in advance that it is about to head off course, seek help in places where help can really be useful.

There is a clear need to be on top of the project and anything that will prevent reaching the goal of completing it on time and with high quality. Your role is to make that happen, despite the many obstacles. The better you can stay on top of all the issues, foreseen and unforeseen, the higher the probability of reaching that goal, and the lower the likelihood that you will be pestered with questions like, “Are we there yet?”

Copyright 2012 Workplace Insanity, All Rights Reserved

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