Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Who Feels the Pain

I was recently in a project review meeting and the project manager mentioned all the extra work the team was putting in to meet the upcoming deadline. One of my managers had the sense to ask, "Are you worried about burn-out?" The PM was using the staff's personal time and energy to address the problems in the project. The staff was taking on the pain of addressing the problem. It was good leaderly behavior to speak up in the meeting, especially with concern for the team members.

It is sometimes appropriate for a team to roll up their sleeves and take on the burden of bringing a project in on time. But, there are other ways to address problems in a project. The big four solutions are: Spend more money, re-plan the project (often by slipping the schedule), work extra hours, and reduce features.

Each of the big four solutions causes pain. It is important to keep in mind, though, where the pain is felt. I find that some PMs are too quick to put the pain of addressing problems onto the backs of the people doing the work. Often this turns out to be the easiest place for them to solve the problem.

When PMs add more resources, they put the pain onto the company not just the employees. Since the company reaps the main benefit, it seems like a natural place to put the pain, but companies put tremendous pressure on PMs to avoid this solution. Instead, the PM could rework the plan or slip the schedule. This puts the pain onto the PM themselves. Usually, PMs take the minor steps to rework plans, but dodge the harder work or avoid the stigma of delivering late. Finally, PMs can reduce the feature set. This puts the pain squarely on the customer's back. Clearly, this is the least attractive of the big four, but there is usually some sloppiness in the requirements process that allows room for this.

How We Fix ProblemsWho Feels the Pain
Spend More Money--The Company
Re-plan the Project--The Project Manager
Work More Hours--The Employees
Reduce Features--The Customers

There is no answer to problem solving that applies to every situation. The easy answer, though, of putting the pain on the employees shouldn't be your default answer just because it feels so easy. Staff burn-out can cost the company money in turn-over and can costs the customer in quality. I'd also be hard pressed to find many examples where working extra hours over an extended period actually delivered the project earlier.

1 comment:

Max Leibman said...

Wow. Great points. I would submit that this is even more broadly applicable than you make it sound--it's not just an important idea for project management, but for management in general. I've worked everywhere from grocery stores to brokerages, and these four basic dimensions of pain always apply (and, sadly, almost every company responds to every situation by piling more complexity and higher expectations on the workforce).