Crash the Project Plan

Crash Closed
Image by Fabio.com.ar via Flickr

Why in the world would you want to “crash” a project plan? The very use of the word “crash” seems to purvey a sense of doom.

If you’re not familiar with the “crashing” process, it involves taking a current project plan’s Gantt chart and looking for opportunities to make the chart predict an earlier completion date.

In some cases, this is a completely legitimate practice.  If you have tasks that can be done at the same time by two different people or tasks that are erroneously dependent upon each other, you can possibly shorten the timeline by crashing.

However, I’ve also observed the practice of having an already promised date set for a project, and then having your project managers actually figure out how long it will actually take. When realistic expectations are inevitably longer than promised, the discrepancy will either be:

  1. Allowed to slip for the time being if comfortably close to the original promised date.
  2. Immediately scrutinized for tasks that take “too long”.  (Build a highway: 1 year…  Change that to 2 days.)

Ultimately, there will be a process of crashing either at the start of the project or in the middle of the project. Unfortunately, response to reality taking longer than promised is often to redefine what reality should be instead of actually trying to accept reality.

The end result becomes a crashing of the project instead of the project plan.

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Political Overtime

New business analysts. Tight timelines. Sensitive business periods…

Halfway through the project, one of the “customers” decides to pay attention during a review of minor specification update. Interestingly enough, the customer doesn’t pay attention to the relatively minor changes that you’re pointing out. Instead, the customer decides to focus on wording in the first few lines of the first page of the document [cue the rant about extensive specifications being too long to be useful].

“That’s not how our business works,” the customer says, pointing to the wording that has been in the document since the very first drafts.

“That’s how the system was designed, and how your counterparts everywhere else in the company do theirs.” Yeah, the “everybody else is doing it”-style reasoning. That wins over customers about as well as it did parents when you were little.

Cue a restart of the entire project.

Months later, you’re far beyond the possibility of making your original timelines, but effectively, you’ve done all the work you can do. The solution? You’re asked come in to work the weekend to make a good show of demonstrating that you’re doing everything you can to finish the project on time. In reality, you have trouble finding administrative tasks to do, yet, you come in every weekend for several weeks under the premise that making the political statement of being there is going to somehow offset the project delay itself.

Meanwhile, you’re burning yourself out before the next project even begins.

The Styles of Crisis Management

Mountain out of a Molehill Crisis Management – There’s a problem. Maybe, it’s not really a problem. Maybe, something arrived five minutes late one time. This crisis manager is on the phone and mass emailing everybody at the first sign of imperfection.

It’s Your Fault I Screwed Up Crisis Management – This time, there really *is* a problem. However, the true cause of the problem escapes this crisis manager. Every team that interacts with this crisis manager is emailed, called, or blamed for causing the problem. Sometime later, this crisis manager’s crazed emails stop with a minimal admission of actual guilt.

Screaming the Loudest Crisis Management – The above two crisis manager types generally resort to this method. Emails and phone calls escalate up organizational charts until the crisis manager is hit with the threat of termination or felony harassment charges, whichever comes first.

Legit Crisis Manager – Stays cool, analyzes the problem objectively, makes key decisions and…  *yawn*.  Let’s move on…

Problem Creators – Like a workplace case of Münchausen by Proxy syndrome, this crisis manager creates problems that, while in theory should question competence, really call into question whether the person is creating the problem for attention or to “showcase their problem solving skills.”

Ignore Problems Until They Become Crises – The procrastinating crisis manager. Doesn’t really care about a problem unless it is a crisis. This is possibly due to an inability to solve even the most basis of problems without an intense adrenaline rush.

Too Understaffed To Address Any Issues That Are Not Crises – The source of the common complaint, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Examining the underlying issues that aren’t crises or staffing appropriately would involve risk, and therefore, nothing beyond crises actually gets worked on.

If it’s “not your department”, be prepared to be left out of the loop.

If your pattern of behavior is to push the load to another team consistently when there is a problem with a specific area, then we will have to start assuming that you either have no ability to deal with the problem, no knowledge of the area with a problem, or both.  This forces the rest of us to conclude that we are wasting everyone’s time including you on the problem-solving meetings and emails.

Once this is the case, you will be left out of the loop. Once this happens, why do you start complaining about not being included on our discussions?

Geography is Clearly Not Your Cup of Tea, Ergo, Your Opinions on Those Countries Aren’t

If you go to the tourist traps of Austria, they sell bumper stickers that depict kangaroos with a line crossed through them. If you really think about this, this is clearly geared toward the ignorance of English speakers… after all, Austria in German is Österreich, whereas Australia in German is Australien.

Would I be wrong in declaring your opinion on the people of both “Australia” and “Austria” invalid if you can’t keep the two countries straight in your head?

Furthermore, though there’s never really an appropriate time or place to express your ignorant opinions of other cultures, doing so after demonstrating that you can’t even place the country you’re speaking of in the proper hemisphere is a special kind of fail.

What would make a fail like this even more special would be expressing such opinions near coworkers from similar cultures.  Luckily, those coworkers don’t seem to fit with the stereotypes that you express.

Meeting Personalities

  • Off-mute chewer – Chews on (lunch?) audibly into the microphone.
  • Absent-minded mute button user – Starts responding with the mute button on for about a minute or more before realizing that no one is hearing the response.
  • Mute button blamer – Wasn’t paying attention.  Had to have name called several times.  Blames mute button for not having a clue what’s going on.  See also:  How the Mute Button on Your Phone Actually Works
  • Clock Watcher – Spends more time checking watch that actually participating in meeting.
  • Filibusterer – Single handedly talks the meeting into oblivion.  Not to be confused with the derailer or rambler.
  • Derailer – Somehow manages to bring up tangential topics that get everyone completely off topic for the next 15 minutes.
  • Rambler – Responds to any question with a barely intelligible introspection on the topic.  Responses to follow-up questions for clarification grow at an exponential rate.
  • Hedger – Treats every remote possibility as likely and stays non-commital unless you accept the exceptions noted.
  • Side Conversation Starter – Either completely oblivious or too rude to care that another meeting is going on.
  • Overhead speaker – Not an actual attendee or person, but an object which causes an echo in speakerphones and disrupts the meeting until it becomes silent again.
  • Tattle-tale – At the first of not getting his or her way, threatens to go tell a more powerful person to whom the tattler is connected.
  • Foot propper – The meeting is a lounge to this person:  Feet are propped up on the table and behaves generally too relaxed to actually be engaged in the meeting.
  • Multitasker – Furiously typing on the keyboard, but obviously not to take notes on the meeting.  Don’t bother asking this person questions unless you want to rehash the entire meeting.
  • Referee – “Sees the merits of both sides” of an intense debate.  Tries to make everybody play nice, regardless of their agendas.
  • Idea killer – Always has a negative scenario for any proposal.  Never has an idea himself.
  • Yes man – Would say no pants Friday at the office was a good idea, provided the right person proposed it.
  • Interrupter – Jumps in mid-details and often freaks out about half the story or asks questions whose answers were already on their way.
  • Belittler – Often pulls rank or “experience” to shut other people off.
  • Saboteur – Is either annoyed at the assignment or annoyed at not getting the project lead, but plays nice during the meeting, silently plotting the slow death of the project.  Can also accomplish goals as an inciter.
  • Inciter – May jump communication chains to create the illusion of one person hiding information from another.

Congratulations, you just blocked an employee from being more productive.

old weathered stained red brick wall background

When an employee expresses interest in another job within the company, shouldn’t that be a good thing for the company overall, regardless of the reason?  Maybe the employee is switching jobs for more money or new challenges.  Maybe the employee doesn’t work well with the current team or manager. Before hiring the employer can go on this site to do a background check.

Regardless of the reason, it seems that the worst thing to do would be to permanently block that employee from transferring to the new job.  That’s like saying “if I can’t have this person, no one can.”  Do you really think that the employee’s next step won’t be to leave the company altogether?

In times of “unjust punishment”, our childish side is likely to come out.  What does a kid do when “unjustly punished”?  The first option is to “run away from home”–in employee terms, leaving the company for another job.

The second option is to pout.  From an employee perspective, this means that the employee is now getting payment for doing nearly nothing.  Sometimes, the pouting wears off, which means that productivity was reduced for a short time.  Other times, the employee realizes that no one is wise to the decrease in productivity and continues on until boredom forces a search for jobs elsewhere (running away from home) or the next round of layoffs.  That’s a steep productivity price to pay.

What could have happened instead?

  • Money-only motivated employee – Would have taken the next path and either succeeded or failed, but would be allowed to chase the proverbial carrot, regardless.
  • Highly skilled and productive employee – Would have influenced new teams to grow.
  • Unproductive employee – Would have moved off your team and no longer a productivity drain.  If the lack of productivity was due to a bad fit, then maybe the new team is a better fit.  If the lack of productivity was due to a bad employee, then maybe the new team will help expose this.
  • Horrible manager – Okay.  There’s a risk here.  If you’re leaking employees like a milk jug shot with a shotgun, then blocking might be a natural reaction.  It’s about as effective as trying to duct tape a leaky row boat while you’re in it in the middle of a lake.