Being good and done
About ten years ago, I had an engineer working for me who had come out of the aerospace industry. He was careful, complete, and thoughtful, but missed every deadline ever given to him. Fred (not his real name, of course) had developed an amazing ability to turn even the simplest project into a never-ending stream of revisions, changes, and upgrades.
About ten years ago, I had an engineer working for me who had come out of the aerospace industry. He was careful, complete, and thoughtful, but missed every deadline ever given to him. Fred (not his real name, of course) had developed an amazing ability to turn even the simplest project into a never-ending stream of revisions, changes, and upgrades. He was the quintessential continuous engineer, working long hours, but not accomplishing very much. Constantly under stress, he eventually resigned, citing health issues.
Scope and schedule
Like any good engineer, Fred could see in a nearly-complete project a better way to do it—so he’d go back to the beginning and rework the entire project. Or, he’d run into an issue with a design, and instead of developing a work-around, he’d pitch the design and start over. He never seemed to understand the value of scope and schedule.
Successful project execution, interestingly, is defined as delivering the defined scope within schedule. Please note there isn’t any reference to delivering perfection—yet many engineers burn precious hours tweaking a design to make it just a little better and miss the deadline!
Another variation on tweaking is when the job is up and running (effectively delivered) yet the engineer feels compelled to “improve” it simply because there’s time left in the schedule. Those are burned hours, folks—hours that could have been spent getting a new job underway.
Avoid these pitfalls
Here are suggestions to avoid these pitfalls:
Understand the requirements of the project clearly. While scoping the project, repeat, in your own words, what the client is asking for. This feedback loop ensures you and the client understand what’s needed. Often you think you understand what’s needed, but by repeating the requirements, you find that the client wanted something else altogether.
Verbalize the scope to team members or peers. Believe it or not, if you can’t explain the project in short, simple, clearly understood sentences to another person, there’s a good chance you’re unclear on what needs to be done. Taking the time to think through an explanation will allow the project to coalesce in your mind. It has to!
Commit to an end date. One of Fred’s biggest shortcomings was he’d never commit to completing a project. When pressed, he’d respond by saying he would try to meet the schedule, never agreeing to, and thus never meeting the date. By committing to an end date, you 'own’ it and are compelled to meet the deadline.
Know when to stop
Here’s a little bit of engineering heresy: a successful project does not have to be perfect. It just needs to meet the scope requirements! The 80/20 rule applies here, as oftentimes engineers spend 80% of their time perfecting an incomplete project instead of focusing on delivering a 'good’ project within the schedule. Don’t get mired in minutia. You have a schedule to meet! Continually ask the questions: Does this meet the criteria? Is this good enough? If it is: STOP! The task is complete.
Now some of you may think this approach shortchanges the client because the solution may be less than perfect. Not true! I’ve yet to encounter a client who was happy with a schedule overrun on the 'perfect’ project. Nor have I met a client who refused to accept a project delivered on schedule which met the criteria. If anything, schedule overruns due to the relentless pursuit of perfection increase the client’s expectation of the deliverable. Something taking this long has to be good, right? No! It is far better to be good and done!
Chuck Sherman is managing director and division vice president of the Detroit office of The Benham Companies LLC. He has more than 20 years of industry-related experience and is particularly passionate about all thing automotive. Contact him at Chuck.Sherman@benham.com .