Chris pushed back from his desk and stared at his display. The earliest completion date was now three months later than before his latest schedule changes. Resting his chin on his left fist, he let out a deep sigh.
Just then, Warren walked by, waving as he went. 'Uh-oh,' Chris thought.
Sure enough, Warren stopped, turned back, leaned into Chris's office and said, "You don't look happy."
Chris looked up. "Dropping the Bluefield requirements didn't help. Actually, it got worse."
Warren looked at his watch. "Well, if you don't figure this out by Eleven, let's all meet in my conference room."
Chris and Warren are having a familiar conversation. When we make changes that ought to speed things up, things usually slow down.
Knowing about impending negative progress can be helpful. Here's a collection of tactics and events that can indicate the potential for negative progress.
- Denying negative surprises
- When you deny the significance of bad news, you start losing time immediately. Review carefully all denials of the significance of surprises.
- A drumbeat of bad news
- When you deny the
significance of bad news,
you start losing
- Troubles often travel in herds. When things aren't going well, staying the course could be a questionable strategy. See "Flanking Maneuvers," Point Lookout for September 8, 2004.
- Outdated, inadequate, or shared equipment
- Using obsolete or worn out equipment, or having to schedule the use of essential equipment, costs time and creates delay. See "The Cheapest Way to Run a Project Is with Enough Resources," Point Lookout for March 21, 2001.
- Extremely tight or very lax deadlines
- Reasonable deadlines encourage risk-taking, which is essential for discovering innovative solutions. Extreme pressure — or the absence of all pressure — threaten both creativity and quality. See "Make Space for Serendipity," Point Lookout for September 25, 2002, and "Critical Thinking and Midnight Pizza," Point Lookout for April 23, 2003.
- Fractional people
- When too many projects depend on a few people with critical skills, their time becomes fragmented, and they must constantly switch between tasks. Often their productivity falls as fast as the quality of their work. See "When Is Change for a Dollar Only 82 Cents?"
- Relaxing requirements to maintain schedule
- In today's environment, requirements do change. But relaxing requirements solely to maintain schedule could be a warning of trouble ahead. The tactic rarely saves time, and it often has the opposite effect.
- Adding staff
- Adding staff always slows things down, even if your intention is to speed up.
- Meetings consistently running overtime
- In a well-run project, some meetings run over — but some finish early. If you always run over, look out for trouble.
- Underused consensus
- Consensus produces the most durable decisions. If you never use consensus, even when time does permit, some decisions could be flawed. More important, avoiding the use of consensus could be an indicator of trouble on the team. See "Decisions, Decisions: I," Point Lookout for November 17, 2004.
- Closed communications
- If an elite group deals with bad news, making critical decisions without participation of the team at large, and controlling the circulation of information about the bad news, then it's possible that the bad news is worse than many people believe. See "See No Evil," Point Lookout for March 30, 2005.
Most projects exhibit at least some of these traits from time to time. Track their incidence. When many are present, and when they settle into a stable pattern, you might be in for a wild ride. Spend a little extra time looking around the next turn. Top Next Issue
- Ron Thompson, Eiscon Group, Ltd. (www.eiscon.com)
- One of your best yet! I have stories about all of your nine indicators (I think eight of them come from the same project). I wanted to pass along a couple.
- On adding staff I was once able to head this off. I was leading a pressure project where we were tracking on time, but tight. The manager asked me when we could deliver if he gave me another person. I looked him in the eye and said two months later. He never brought it up again (and we delivered on time).
- On meetings consistently running overtime I was on a project that was running extremely late, so the manager started holding daily status meetings that usually ran at least an hour. At one, he asked if anyone had ideas to get the project back on track. A co-worker (and friend of mine) quietly says from the other end of the table, "We could try getting back to work instead of sitting in this ******* meeting." The manager never did get a clue and the project ended up dying a slow death.
- On closed communications Even worse, the project team invents rumors that the bad news is worse than many people believe, even if the "elite group" isn't even dealing with bad news!
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
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More articles on Project Management:
- Geese Don't Land on Twigs
- Since companies sometimes tackle projects that they have no hope of completing successfully, your project
might be completely wrong for your company. How can you tell whether your project is a fit for your company?
- Are You Changing Tactics or Moving the Goal Posts?
- When we make a mid-course correction in a project, we're usually responding to a newly uncovered difficulty
that requires a change in tactics. Sometimes, we can't resist the temptation to change the goals of
the project at the same time. And that can be a big mistake.
- Risk Management Risk: I
- Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. It's often overlooked,
and therefore often unmitigated. We can reduce this risk by applying some simple procedures.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
- Seven Ways to Get Nowhere
- Ever have the feeling that you're getting nowhere? You have the sense of movement, but you're making
no real progress towards the goal. How does this happen? What can you do about it?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 25: Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
- And on November 1: Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- 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.