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Volume 11, Issue 25;   June 22, 2011: The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration

The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration

by

Last updated: March 19, 2019

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

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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.

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