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

The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: 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 Titanic: 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? rbrenwAbjxdgVKwOjJlMpner@ChacpIDCJaKIigrIvvwuoCanyon.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:

A cheeseburger with friesMy Boss Is Driving Me Nuts
When things go badly, many of us experience stress, and we might indulge various appetites in harmful ways. Some of us say things like "My boss is driving me nuts," or "She made me so angry." These explanations are rarely legitimate.
Two F-22A raptors line up for refuelingSymbolic Self-Completion and Projects
The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.
The cockpit of an A340 Airbus airlinerThe Limits of Status Reports: II
We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.
An A-10 Thunderbolt II over Afghanistan in 2011Down in the Weeds: I
When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can we do about it?
Heart with mindHeart with Mind
We say people have "heart" when they continue to pursue a goal despite obstacles that would discourage almost everyone. We say that people are stubborn when they continue to pursue a goal that we regard as unachievable. What are our choices when achieving the goal is difficult?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmaGoUqxZqUmajbqSner@ChacPyjkcIcKPNJwkJgZoCanyon.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

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

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 a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

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.