Monday, January 03, 2011

Sometimes we Need to Create Some Urgency (and How to Deal With Impossible Deadlines)

What does preparing for a vacation have anything to do with project management? Read on and you'll see...

Some friends of ours had plans to drive to Florida from here in New Jersey on the Monday after Christmas. Christmas came on Saturday this year and a blizzard snow storm was predicted for the day after Christmas (on Sunday).

On Christmas day, my friend and I exchanged some Christmas greetings via text messages. He mentioned that maybe they would have to leave earlier for their trip to get past the impending storm.

Later Christmas day I texted him, after hearing the forecast, and said that he may have to seriously consider leaving early. Just after midnight, they texted me and said they were leaving right then.

Well, they had some slow going as they ran right into the snow storm through the night, but they made it through safely and passed into the warmer south where it was rain. I talked to them on the phone and mentioned it must have been a flurry (no pun intended) of activity at his house late on Christmas day as they had to pack so quickly and get driving. He said that not only did they need to pack, but they also had to prepare for the coming blizzard. They took down the nativity and Christmas lights because of the predicted high winds. All the children were busy working so they could leave.

I mentioned how my dad would use the days just prior to vacations to get us children working. He'd say we could go if some project got done. I remember how he once got us all excited about the battle recreations that would be held at Gettysburg PA around Independence day. We were so excited about it as the time drew near. Then came the back porch project. Dad said we needed to get the old concrete patio broken up before we could go to Gettysburg. Well, that was all the motivation we needed! My brother and I would go straight to the sledgehammers every day after school to get that old porch all broken up before Independence day came around. We worked long and hard in anticipation of the mock battles we would soon see. Every pound of the sledgehammer probably brought anticipation of hearing a cannon blast or a musket firing. We got the project done on time and went on a memorable vacation!

Back to my friend driving to Florida and him relating how fast and hard they worked to leave early before the storm came... Since we both work in project environments, he mentioned how sometimes a sense of urgency needs to be provided when things are stalled. He related a story of how one of the "higher ups" at his place added a sense of urgency to get a project out of its stalled state. I started wondering if this isn't the reason why executives sometimes set the unrealistic deadlines that us project managers find so frustrating, especially when they are artificial deadlines not based on any real need.

It was a good point my friend was making, sometimes as project managers we do need to set deadlines to create a sense of urgency. I'm reminded of a quote I've heard before: if it weren't for deadlines, nothing would get done around here.

I have a colleague that lead a team that just completed a major deadline after having gone through a few years of impossible business deadlines. The team morale is one of total burn out and has been for quite some time. At this point, they are so numb that many of them can't believe they actually completed something that went into production! You would think they are going through the K├╝bler-Ross model of the 5 stages of grief!

here are a few good articles if you're going through some impossible or tight deadlines

I hope some of this helps you in the projects you manage whether it be at work or at home.
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