When we change our minds about the goals of a project, delays often result. Changing goals can cause delays even when the changes narrow the scope of the project. Why do we make so many major changes so late in development? Two possible reasons are that some goal changes seem smaller than they really are, while other goal changes masquerade as changes in tactics.
- Some goal changes seem smaller than they really are
- Imagine that you're an office tower developer, and that your 188-story building in Singapore has in place about 80 stories of steel, 60 stories of concrete floors, and 40 stories of glass skin. One thing that won't be on the agenda of a status review meeting is switching to a different steel alloy for floors 1 through 50.
- No one would consider changing something so basic so late in the project. Yet, in product development in other industries, this sort of thing happens maddeningly often. When schedules slip and budgets overrun, our first instinct — too often — is to change the design.
- Using computers for new product development is one source of this problem. Whether the product is software, integrated circuits, or even legislation, products developed with software tools don't exist physically until development is fairly advanced. When we're building a skyscraper, the physical form of the building itself helps us see the folly of many proposed changes, but products developed using software tools often lack physical form. Because of this "software effect" we feel free to move the goal posts.
- Some goal changes masquerade as changes in tactics
- When the workpiece
isn't physical, but is
instead represented in
software, it often
seems more malleable
than it really is
- Proximity to the troubles of the status quo lets us see the necessity of a change, but it also distorts our view of it. People who propose changes are usually very familiar with the reasons for the change, and very likely to see clearly — or be affected by — the consequences of not making the change. To the proposer, the change is necessary and merely tactical, while everyone else can see clearly that it's a change in goal.
- Every project goes through changes, and we must learn to limit them. Too often, my change is a needed correction, while your change is needless feature-mongering. When a debate about a change has taken this form, it's possible that both sides are right — there is a real need to change tactics, but the change proposed to address that need is more than tactical.
So if you're about to propose a change, ask yourself: Am I actually moving the goal posts — are my perceptions affected by the "software effect?" And if the change is tactical: "Is it only tactical, or is it a change of goal too?" Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: II
- Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of
project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
- Why Scope Expands: II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often?
One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
- Team Risks
- Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are
some risks worth mitigating.
- False Summits: I
- Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing
the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: II
- We know we're in firefighting mode when a new urgent problem disrupts our work on another urgent problem,
and the new problem makes it impossible to use the solution we thought we had for some third problem
we were also working on. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for getting out of firefighting mode.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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- When we assign responsibility for troubles that bedevil us, we often make mistakes. We can be misled by language, stereotypes, and the assumptions we make about others. Available here and by RSS on December 27.
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- Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
- When we talk, listen, send or read emails,
read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person.
And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling
hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how
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- Embassy Suites by Hilton Jacksonville Baymeadows, 9300 Baymeadows Road, Jacksonville, Florida, 32256, USA: January 15, 2018, Monthly Meeting, Northeast Florida Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
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- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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