Last time I wrote about using your desired result in combination with your time table to help define your methodology. By now you should be well on your way to completing your project successfully. Being on your way isn’t the same as arriving and that is why I am writing this third and final post in the series.
Even when you define your goals correctly, set a reasonable time table, and have an excellent methodology in place there are times when your project’s success will come into question. The reason for this is simple but it was a huge surprise for me. You don’t know everything! No matter how much planning you do, you cannot anticipate everything. Natural disasters, budget cuts, layoffs and a host of other problems can send your project into a tailspin. Even simple issues like poor communication can set a project weeks behind.
How do you tell if your project is making a wrong turn? Go back to the time table. See where you should be at this point in the process. If you are halfway through your project and you haven’t met at least half of your goals you aren’t on track. This is the reason setting a time table is so important. If you didn’t have anything to reference you could go along for some time not realizing anything is amiss. Think about it like driving in heavy fog. You can see only a few feet in front of your car so by the time you see an obstacle in the road you have only seconds to turn the wheel before you crash. On a clear day you would have seen the obstacle from a much greater distance and easily navigated around it. Having your plan in place clears away much of the fog and gives you much more time to correct your course.
Once you realize your project is not on track it is time to rethink. This is where people often drop the ball. If I see that my project is running behind I immediately think I just need to push harder. Work longer hours and make my team do the same. Sometimes this works, there are times when you can jerk the wheel hard to the left and miss the obstacle in the road, but sometimes you just get thrown into a skid and you are in a worse position than before.
I saw this happen to a friend of mine who is a contractor, lets call him Ted. Ted successfully won a contract to build a water pipeline to a huge new development. As part of the contract the city offered a sizable bonus for finishing the project early. In fact the size of the bonus was calculated based on the number of days the project was completed before the due date. The opposite also applied. Each day the project went past the due date brought greater penalties. After 2 months everything seemed to be going very well. The weather had been agreeable, the equipment was working very well with only occasional maintenance, and the materials had been readily available. Unfortunately Ted overestimated the pace they could set. Even with everything going well they were nearly a week behind schedule.
Watching his profit disappear before his eyes Ted panicked and made a huge mistake. Ted broke the news to his crew that they were going to start working 14 hour days on the weekdays and 10 hours on Saturday. There weren’t any cheers, but no one complained either, they just went back to work.
For the next two weeks things were really moving. Ted was excited his plan was working, well until that next Monday. On the third Monday after Ted had announced his plan, 2 of his senior crew members didn’t show up. He called them several times to see what was going on and finally he got an answer. They quit. They got a job with another contractor, they just couldn’t take the 80 hour weeks. After this everything started to fall like a house of cards. More people quit, more new people were brought on. Finally about 3 weeks before the due date, the site foreman quit. Ted ended up coming in two weeks late and taking a huge loss.
If just working harder isn’t the solution to putting a project back on track what is? To answer that we have to go back to goal setting. We have to look at our desired result, time table, and methodology all over again. If, like in Ted’s case, your desired result, and time table cannot change you have to change your methodology. Ted could have hired more people, taken a crew off another job, or purchased equipment to make the job go faster. Other times, when time is not your biggest constraint, you can adjust the time table and extend the completion date. Sometimes you are constrained by time and money so you have to change your desired result. This is the kind of concession most people don’t want to make.
Often people perceive any kind of change to their desired result as a failure. Many, rather than change their desired result, give up completely. This is a costly mistake because even failure is a great learning experience. If you underestimate your budget, or overestimate the pace you can set you can at least bring the project to completion, recognize your error, and be much more accurate the next time. Simply giving up robs you of the experience and growth you could have gained, and the confidence you could build in your own ability.