Effective Engineering 
                Consulting Services
                                           "Helping Engineering Excel!"

Our Premise
The Problem
Our Promise
Our Approach
Our Deliverables
Case Study
Our Results
Our People
Contact Us


Back to e-Newsletter Archives:

 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter Ė 4/02/2009

This is your monthly e-Newsletter from
Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!


The Best Laid Plans Ö and Then Life Happens!

  By Tom Dennis Ė President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

Youíve been working hard at planning and carrying out your new project.  Youíve put a great team in place (see eN-090305 Ė Hire Adults, Expect Results!).  Youíve put together a great project plan that takes into account contingencies and plans for the unexpected.  Youíve thought about the known knowns, the known unknowns, the unknown knowns, and even the unknown unknowns (see eN-041104 Ė Project Planning: Plan Based On What You Do Know, and On What You Donít!), or so you think.  You think youíve got everything covered Ö and then life happens!  A critical person on your team gets sick or injured in an accident.  The spouse or child of key person suddenly becomes seriously ill, and the care of that person takes priority over everything else.  The downturn in the economy forces funding and support for your project to be significantly cut back or even put on hold.  Your primary (or worse, only) customer decides they want to go another way or that they want something significantly different from what you had planned.  A technology you were depending upon develops problems that make its use uncertain, impractical, or impossible.  A huge storm hits and power is out in the entire area for weeks.

In work and in life the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  You can try to anticipate the unknown, and whatever you do in this regard can often help greatly, but all of your advance planning and anticipation generally wonít cover personal emergencies, company or customer changes, catastrophes, or acts of God.  What do you do?  How do you keep your head while others around you have seemingly lost their minds?  How do you regroup, rethink, replan, and restart?  What can you use and what must you scrap?

If you have indeed put together a great team (see also eN-081002 -- Pigasus Ė When Pigs Fly!), then it is time for that team to show their true mettle.  They need to come together when times are not good, when it means more than discomfort, when it may mean survival.  In some cases it may mean survival or delay of the project, but depending on the circumstances it could also mean personal survival, group survival, department survival, company survival, or even societal survival.  Sometimes it may not even be survivable.

OK, enough for predictions of doom and destruction.  Letís take things one at a time and think about what can be done in some specific situations.

First, letís take the case of the sudden absence of a key member of the team for any of the possible circumstances illustrated above.  If the team has really been properly structured, the project should not fail due to the loss of one person.  There should be sufficient cross training among members of the group such that knowledge is sufficiently spread and others should be able to step up to the plate to carry the load of that key person.  I understand that this may be very difficult if your team is small with diverse critical skills, but as the leader of the team, you need to ensure that the project doesnít suddenly grind to a halt should something bad happen to one member of the team.  If this is not the case, then your ďgreatĒ project plan isnít really so great and youíve got work to do right now to incorporate this all too realistic scenario into your project planning.  This would fall into the category of a ďknown unknownĒ Ė you know it could happen, but you donít know the impact Ö unless you plan for it in advance.   So do that!  Think now specifically about what you would do should one or more of your people suddenly not be there, and then do it.  Make sure other team members can carry on the work and continue to make effective progress.

Next, letís take the case of business conditions forcing a cutback in funding and/or staffing.  The first thing to do in this situation is to examine the situation forcing the cutbacks and objectively rate your project in realistic terms of its impact on the financial situation.  If you believe that your project can make an immediate or near-term impact on the financial situation of the company, then make this known, not in an emotional plea, but in a facts-based presentation.  Objectively demonstrate the benefits and the costs and show how continuation of your project can help to improve the near-term financial situation.  Be prepared to be told that it simply isnít enough, but also be prepared to more forcefully make your case if you truly believe it.  If you donít see direct ways your project can help immediately or in the near-term, but you see ways that you could apply your and your teamís efforts in other ways to make an immediate positive impact, then present a proposal that demonstrates benefits and costs of what you and your team can do to help, and let the executive team decide whether or not this makes sense.  If your project or team still canít make an immediate or near-term impact on the financial situation of the company, then you probably need to accept the cutbacks and see what else you or your team can do to best help improve the financial situation.  That may mean cutbacks to your team or even to you.  If it does, try not to take it personally.  If the company dies, everyone loses their jobs. 

Next, letís take the case of your primary customer deciding they want to go another way or with another companyís products.  If this customer is currently a significant portion of your companyís revenue, such a decision has far broader impact on your company than just to your project or team.  It spans virtually every organization in your company.  If your customer wants to go another way but stay with your company, then there will be a flurry of activity to determine what can be done quickly to address this desired change in direction.  Do whatever you can do to help, and show flexibility and an ability to quickly react and propose solutions, and not complaints, to help quickly remedy the situation.  If the customer wants to go with another companyís products, it can mean life or death for the company or, sometimes worse yet, your company living in limbo.  This almost certainly will lead to major layoffs and a significant restructuring of the business.  Much of this is often beyond your control, but if you believe you can see ways with current, modified, or planned products to rescue this customer loss, make your case immediately to the key players in the company.  This will show your flexibility, initiative, innovation, and determination to help rescue a bad situation.  Still, the situation may not be recoverable, and you and many others in your company may be adversely affected.

Finally, letís take the case of acts of God Ė storm, fire, flood, etc.  Your company should have well considered disaster recovery plans in place.  Make sure they do, and understand them thoroughly.  If disaster strikes, there may not be a lot you and your team can do, other than to offer your services to do whatever is needed to help get your company back up and running.  This may mean tough manual labor or offering technical know-how others may not have.  Do whatever you can to help your company and yourself.  It is simply the right thing to do.

So, do all you can to plan to the best of your ability.  Try to incorporate contingencies and uncertainties into your planning.  Think about reasonably realistic situations, such the sudden loss of a key person, temporarily or long term, by making sure no one person is irreplaceable.  Think through as thoroughly as possible the known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns.  Still, even after you do your very best, you can start with
the best laid plans Ö and then life happens!

Copyright © 2009 Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved

Back to e-Newsletter Archives:


Society of Professional Consultants


Copyright © 2002-2013 Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved