One Final Idea
At one point in my career, I was involved in a project that was completely doomed from the beginning. Three executives, one of whom was non-technical and another a new hire, without any specific knowledge of the work involved, took a guess at the delivery date for a major project. After the date was set in stone, they brought in the technical team to do the work.
And, of course, they were wrong. Wildly wrong. A three-month project for 10 people turned out to be a nine-month project with a staff that ramped up to 40, which was only possible because the people we brought in knew the system well and could be productive.
To get those people, we had to take them off other projects, so not only was the big project late—the entire project portfolio for the year was late.
Down from the mountain came the announcement—the big boss wanted to know why the big project was late. The big boss wanted to know who was responsible.
I was called into a meeting and asked "Why was the project late?"
I was doomed. After taking a deep breath and counting mentally to five, I took pains to say in my most congenial, non-confrontational voice, "Why did you think it was going to be done on time?" Suddenly, the environment changed to something besides blame: Honesty.
The rest of the after-action review process was unclear to me. I don’t know what happened or who said what to whom. In fact, I know only two things:
- No one was ever fired.
- No one ever asked me a single follow-up question.
Risk is par for the course on high-technology projects; without risk, there’s no reward. Doomed-ness, on the other hand, is temporary, and best avoided when possible.