Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 25;   June 22, 2011: The Deck Chairs of the <i>Titanic</i>: Task Duration

The Deck Chairs of the <i>Titanic</i>: Task Duration

by

Much of what we call work is as futile and irrelevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors that extend task duration.
An F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter test aircraft AA-1 undergoes flight testing over Fort Worth, Texas

An F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter test aircraft AA-1 undergoes flight testing over Fort Worth, Texas. The story of this aircraft's power plant provides what could be an example of hoarding. The latest U.S. budget included funding for the F136 engine, being developed by a unit of General Electric. That engine is a competitor to the engine currently in use, the F135, developed by Pratt and Whitney. The U.S. Department of Defense under both the Bush and Obama administrations has tried to end funding for the F136, but Congress has continued to fund it anyway.

Congressional constituents and lobbyists for GE and its suppliers have so far succeeded in keeping the F136 project alive, despite the efforts of two presidents to end it. One wonders what GE could do with those resources if they could be allocated to more fruitful endeavors. Photo courtesy U.S. National Guard Bureau.

Since so much organizational effort is irrelevant to the goals espoused by the organization, exploring the mechanisms that generate useless work is a worthy endeavor. In this Part II of our exploration, we focus on examples of deck-chair-rearranging that extend the durations of tasks and projects, sometimes indefinitely. See Part I for a discussion of obvious waste.

Hoarding
We hoard equipment, space, budget, people, and supplies. Hoarded equipment and supplies might actually be usable, but often they're useless junk. Analogously, we retain people who've demonstrated an inability to perform, or space we can't use. We even hoard time, by not reporting work we've completed. Later, we claim that the finished work is incomplete, and then we use for something else the resources granted to complete that already-completed work.
Hoarding might arise from worry associated with feelings of being overwhelmed by the many issues and problems remaining unresolved due to the focus on deflective activities, priority inversions, agenda cluttering, and the considerable effort spent to conceal the hoarding. In this way, hoarding might serve as misdirected risk management, but it always slows progress.
Perfectionism
In personal lives, perfectionism is the belief that perfection is both attainable and mandatory. Perfectionism often manifests itself
as continued work on tasks beyond
the point where additional effort
creates significant additional value
Anything not done perfectly is unacceptable. At work, perfectionism often manifests itself as continued work on tasks beyond the point where additional effort creates significant, if any, additional value. It is this irrelevance to the organizational mission that qualifies perfectionism as deck-chair behavior.
Perfectionism can be a personal pattern, but at work, it can also arise from fear of what lies in store if the current effort is declared complete. In these cases, perfectionism can be seen as the hoarding of tasks. Perfectionism in managers often makes them extremely demanding, which accounts for subordinates sometimes experiencing perfectionism as micromanagement. Perfectionism often causes us to reject perfectly workable solutions. Expensive delays and unnecessary rework inevitably follow.
Scope creep
Scope creep is usually seen as a problem in itself, and sometimes it is. But it can at times be merely a symptom of deeper dysfunction. For instance, as part of the deck-chair-rearrangement pattern, we can interpret scope creep as a means of delaying task completion, to allay the fear of what might lie in store if the current effort is declared complete. Alternatively, scope creep can be a means of hoarding work, and therefore budget or schedule.
In essence, scope creep might be a symptom of dysfunction rather than, or in addition to, being a source of dysfunction. Dealing with scope creep as an independent problem to be solved might not be effective if it has causes that lie elsewhere.

In the next part of this series, we'll examine how the deck-chair rearranging pattern affects organizational strategy. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: The Deck Chairs of the &lt;i&gt;Titanic&lt;/i&gt;: Strategy  Next Issue

For more about scope creep, see "Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep," Point Lookout for July 18, 2012; "The Perils of Political Praise," Point Lookout for May 19, 2010; "More Indicators of Scopemonging," Point Lookout for August 29, 2007; "Scopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional," Point Lookout for August 22, 2007; "Some Causes of Scope Creep," Point Lookout for September 4, 2002; and "The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Strategy," Point Lookout for June 29, 2011.

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre 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!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenETHrbuFsIUdYBbhzner@ChacalbWeQMKevOXLiXgoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

DeadlockDealing with Deadlock
At times it seems that nothing works. Whenever we try to get moving, we encounter obstacles. If we try to go around them, we find more obstacles. How do we get stuck? And how can we get unstuck?
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnnoyance to Asset
Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another, are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated. Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from a liability to a valuable asset.
Vortex cores about an F18 fighter jetGuidelines for Sharing "Resources"
Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
Signers of the 1938 Munich AgreementHow to Reject Expert Opinion: Part I
When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
Then-Capt. Elwood R. Quesada who became commanding general of the 9th Fighter Command in operation OverlordCommunication Refactoring in Organizations
Inadequate communication between units of large organizations is one factor that maintains the dysfunction of "silo" structures in large organizations, limiting their ability to act coherently. Communication refactoring can help large organizations to see themselves as wholes.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeComing April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2016And on April 12: How to Listen to Someone Who's Dead Wrong
Sometimes we must listen attentively to someone with whom we strongly disagree. The urge to interrupt can be overpowering. How can we maintain enough self-control to really listen? Available here and by RSS on April 12.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenLpxVuNNeqvPPnTWVner@ChacbjRxSFyeVDFaVxDQoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.