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Are We There Yet?
Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
When you’re working
on a project with high visibility and a short timeframe, 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 also
eN-061005 – 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.
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
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
eN-071004 – The Schedule Estimate Extortion Game and
eN-060706 – 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
eN-040805 – Project Management Proverbs). [E.g.
“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
eN-060803 – 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,
“Too few people on a project can’t solve the problems; too many create more
problems than they solve.”] (see also
eN-021219 – Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth!).
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 also
eN-060608 – Unrealistic Expectations), or base your schedule on
sunny day scenarios that have little likelihood of coming true (see also
eN-070503 – 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
eN-041104 – Project Planning: 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 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 also
eN-050303 – Project Management: When Bad Things Happen to Good Projects,
eN-090402 – 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
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?”
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Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved