Get out of sync with what everyone else is doing. When our project is not succeeding and we keep doing what was done in the past, we are going to get the same results. The path to improvement often means using disruption as a project management tool.
Half the time I was changing an organization my bosses hated me while it was going on. Many folks talk a good story about kicking the organization up to the next level of performance. When it comes to actually doing the things that need to be done, they often retreat back into the safety of the way things had been done in the past (which may still be pretty painful — but familiar). Happily, all my disenchanted bosses liked the final results and even asked me to stay on or to join them in another organization.
Here are some examples of out of sync and disruptive activities that proceeded significant improvements. Some of these will be obvious. Keep in mind that each is in a context of what was needed at the time. These worked because they were appropriate based upon the current conditions in the organization.
1. Work Around The Clock When No One Else Does
This is pretty straight forward. I found it especially effective as a difference maker in government organizations for bringing about a new way of doing business. I’ve also frequently been in companies where just about everyone worked long hours and weekends. Often in these organizations, routinely long hours are not efficiently used hours. In this environment, working smarter during those long hours becomes the key difference.
2. Report Project Status With Brutal Honesty
Monthly we reported on the status of our development project to the corporate VP of software development. When everyone else was reporting their components being only a week or two behind schedule, I was reporting our component was triple digit days behind schedule. We could not all be right. The corporate VP came to rely upon my updates to know where the overall project schedule really stood (we ended up nine months late). (See also Brutally Honest Project Management Tools.)
3. Work Only Two Hours A Day On The Project
I was sick. Really sick. I came in at six in the morning and by eight in the morning I simply could not function anymore. In those two hours I would do what work I could, read my e-mail and any notes left on my desk. I would send out e-mail replies and leave sticky notes on people’s desks with actions I needed or with answers folks requested. This went on for a week. This was one of the most productive weeks in my career. Sometimes the best thing to do is to restrict the time, money, or resources available when things are not going well.
4. Ignore The Highest Priority Of The Project
Senior management wanted to constantly know the status of the defects that stopped us from shipping our products. We had dozens of project managers frantically and competitively working the management of those issues. If you were the first to report a breakthrough to senior management, you got great recognition for being on top of the critical issues. I ignored the critical issues. Instead I showed senior management the overall trend of all the defects, the arrival rate of new defects, and the overall rate at which we were fixing the defects. It showed we would not ship for months when the goal was to ship in a week. It showed that all the meetings and project managers used to speed up the repair of defects were making no difference in the repair rate. We finally shipped a few months later. The stated highest priority (“staying on top of the defects”) was not the activity that was making the difference between success and failure.
5. Say The Project Will Take Longer Than Requested
We always shipped our products three to four months late. Always. As a project manager we got the biggest rewards for putting together a plan, usually by twisting lots of arms, that showed we can ship by the requested market window. If we were late it was no big deal because other folks would inevitably not be able to make their promised schedule and besides we were always late. Heretically, I said we would need three months longer than requested. I showed recently shipped product completed schedules and how long things were taking. I showed product defect curves and how long those curves were taking to complete. I was told to never bring up such things again! An emergency arose. We would lose significant resources from our product development staff. My “longer” plan was adopted as it was ready to go. No one who had to commit to the new schedule objected to it (unlike the original schedule). We shipped on time for the first time in memory. It took no more time to produce this product than it did any previous product. It was personally risky, but the right thing for the company, advocating a realistic schedule.
If what we are doing is not personally risky and not making us sweat, then we are probably not making a difference in the organization. Not everyone needs to be making a difference. The majority of our folks just need to do a great job everyday. But if we as project managers need to or want to improve our organization or projects, and we are not going against the grain and disrupting the organization, then we are probably not on a path to successful improvement.
What personally risky changes have you ever made that then helped your project to succeed?