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- Outdated, inadequate, or shared equipment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
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- 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!
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About Point Lookout
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More articles on Project Management:
- Seeing Through the Fog
- When projects founder, we're often shocked — we thought everything was moving along smoothly.
Sometimes, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that we had — or could have had — enough
information to determine that trouble was ahead. Somehow it was obscured by fog. How can we get better
at seeing through the fog?
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- Managing Risk Revision
- Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen.
But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch
resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.
- Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: I
- Risk management usually entails coping with losses if they do occur. Here's Part I of a concise summary
of the options for managing risk.
- The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we
tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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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.