Sunday, November 17, 2013

Keep your eye on the prize (and what is that again?)

I had a conversation with a staff member the other day.  They were providing me an update on their project via email, and the note was very long... and full of technical details.  As I read and reread the note, I had to ask myself... were they clear on our objectives?  What I really needed to know was... what does this mean to my project... a slight delay... a postponement... or a catastrophic failure?

In order to understand this a little better... let's say your roof needs replaced.  You have two options... you could hire contractor A for a flat $4,000 in labor to replace your roof.... or contractor B, who charges $50/hour.  If you select contractor B, and he does the job in 40 hours, and saves you $2000, and the roof leaks... are you happy?  How about if he takes 120 hours, and bills you $6,000?  That's sounds like a pretty dumb question.  What about if contractor B takes 80 hours... and you end up the same $4000 dollars?  Then you'd probably think it was fair, if the job was well done.

That's pretty strait forward.  Let's say contractor A sub-contracts this to a local roofer.  The roofer works really hard, and it takes him 160 hours... and you get a good job.  Now, he had to work 60 hours a week, and missed three of his kids baseball games... and his anniversary... all because he had a deadline.  If the deadline was two weeks... are you going to feel bad, or really even care what the impact is to his personal life?   Maybe he decided to add a few extra touches, and hand nail the roof vs. using an air-roofing hammer.

It's not so cut and dried, is it?  Your value comes from the fact you feel that $4000 is the right price for a quality roofing job.  That's the service you're contracting.  You wouldn't think your roof was better if Contractor A's person missed all of their personal events, because it was their choice.  They could have used an air roofer, or negotiated a more realistic finish date if they preferred not to use one.  Their decision to be a martyr doesn't really garner any compassion from you... because... unfortunately, it didn't make your roof get done in less time than estimated... or add any value directly to you.

You are judging them on their ability to deliver a quality roof in two weeks for $4,000 or less.

Project management is the same.  You aren't judged on minute details, hours of work, personal sacrifice, providing volumes of data - (e.g. the contractor coming down to let you know every time he finishes a bundle of shingles).  Although, if he found he needed to replace some of the wood at an additional expense... wouldn't you want to know up front, or at least as soon as he identified the issue?

What do customers want, and how will you be evaluated are important parts of project management.  They usually include:
  1. Accurate, succinct periodic updates on the project progress using terms of "what this means to my customer".
  2. Proactive communications for potential risks, or identification of opportunities.
  3. An accurate achievable schedule, with periodic updates.
  4. Good faith estimates when there is scope creep, and realistic negotiations to accommodate this.
  5. Flexibility with schedules - if it makes sense to change scope, do it in good faith.  How would you feel if the contractor chose to cover up the bad wood because he didn't want to spend the additional time, and you had to do a major portion of the roof over.  Had he been forthright, the additional costs and effort may be minimal... and you may have been willing to give him more time to complete the expanded scope.
  6. Honest communications.
  7. Ability to account for resource usage on their project.  You want to know that if you paid for a resource, he's not working on his friends house... he's really working on yours.
  8. Knowing that they are getting an honest days' work for an honest days' pay.
The last comment may sound like common sense... I can tell you that I have encountered numerous people through the years that have a double standard.  They wouldn't accept their contractor to bill them while they are not working on their project... yet they do the same.  They find ways to pilfer time by extending lunches, coming in later, leaving early.  Ironically, you'll usually find that they aren't your best workers... they're usually marginal.  That's why they don't recognize that their lack of dedication impacts their output... because they may not be producing that much in the first place.  As I've said in other posts... watch the output... it's your best gauge of productivity.  If someone isn't dedicated... they probably don't give 100% the rest of the day.  Now this may seem like clock watching... it's not.  You may find that one of your most productive employees is occasionally late, or needs to leave early... or take longer lunches.  What you'll find in that case, most likely, is that he puts in other hours and more than makes up for this lost "clock" time with more productive time.  He's also 100% focused on the prize.

So, I may have rambled a bit... the bottom line... is know how how you're being judged, and then communicate it to fairly judge your staff, and the criteria that all are being judged by... and then deliver results accordingly.  Time isn't a fair predictor of productivity... output is much more equitable.  That's the bottom line when it comes to effort.  If your airline mechanic is a nice guy, works lots of hours and tries really hard... yet doesn't have your confidence, do you really want fly in the plane?  Oh... and be sure that you judge yourself by the same criteria you judge others... or better yet, don't judge... objectively evaluate performance.   Judgement often includes a bias, that's one thing we already have enough of in our world today.

So, go... plan, organize, lead, direct, control... and most importantly... deliver!