Hi, James Clements here again. Now, I’m doing a series on Project Management A-Ha moments, those points in my project management career when I had a realization and changed the way I perceived projects and the way I do projects and really this is about having fundamental mind shifts and improvements in my project management game rather than just little incremental changes over time.
The two that I want to talk about today is that ‘more is not always more.’ The realization that when you put more resources into something you’re going to get some improvements but if you think that solving problems is about throwing money, time and resources at something, it’s okay to a point, but it’s not always going to be the answer. And you really, really need to realize that. And I’ll talk about it more shortly.
The other thing is around decision making, and we all like to see the leader that can make a snap decision that looks so intelligent because he made a fantastic call quickly but, you as the project manager you don’t have to do that and you should not feel pressured into doing that. And I’ll talk about that decision making process shortly.
So back to the ‘more is not always more’. Let’s say we’re on a project and we’ve got 20-30 guys working on a project and we have a bunch of code or a bunch of product to put out the door. And the more resources you put into something, you’ll find that the teams and team sizes – the way they’re structured initially, really have a sweet spot. And it’s your job as the project manager to find that sweet spot. And once you go past that sweet spot and you start to increase the number of resources, you’ll find that there’s a drop in productivity and efficiency and so forth. So, just throwing resources at a problem is not going to be the answer. What you need to do is understand that and then when you get to that point where the productivity drop and the efficiency drop is going to be unacceptable from a financial or schedule point of view, that’s when you need to get into potentially a restructure situation.
So, you’ve got a small project team, and you increase the number of people working under that project team and your control of those people starts to decline because you haven’t got enough leaders and supervisors and managers in the project team, then it’s time for a restructure. And obviously, you need to look at the financial and schedule and possibility of bringing in more people. And you need to make sure that the benefits you’re going to get for putting in more resources and restructuring is going to actually be worthwhile.
And I’ve actually been in projects where strategic decisions been made to not increase resources, to not try and speed up schedules because we would have such an efficiency and productivity drop and there was no way of recovering that additional funds from the client that we would take a decision to actually be late and take a hit financially or take a hit with a client because there was no benefit to it. So, it’s going to be a balance between maybe talking to the client and say it look like I can speed up this project but there’s going to be a financial impact and can you fund it. So, that’s the kind of conversations you need to have. It’s a bit like, let’s say if you’ve got a city car and you drove around town all day and then you want to go racing with it, there’s a decision you need to make. That car is not a racing car, I need to go and buy myself a Formula One car or something like that.
Now, I want to tell you a story about this very situation. I was brought over to Perth; I think it’s about 15 or more years ago. And I walked in to a project and I had the opportunity to sit beside the project manager who was in charge at the time and I knew full well that he was not long for this world because the project was clearly getting on poorly and I sat down with him and asked him to show me the budget and show me the schedule and his project management plan and so forth – of which he had none of, he was literally flying from the seat of his pants.
So this project was late, it had a very large fabrication component to the project. Welding was failing. It was something like an 80% weld failure rate, which is absolutely and totally unacceptable, they were using the wrong welding procedures the wrong welding machines. Everything about this project was bad. It was over budget and they were just throwing people at this project, and they had something like 400 boilermakers and welders, fitters and so forth on it. The design was running late so you have all these people on there, they didn’t have enough drawings to work work against. The procurement was late as the result of the design running late. So, you have all these factors that were working together to just make everything going on the shop floor just absolutely inefficient. And so, I hung around this project for 2 to 3 weeks, talked to a lot of people and then came to the realization that this was not going to be a matter of just tweaking a few things here and there but that it needed some real drastic intervention into the project.
So I put it to the Senior Management of the company that we need to actually stop. When you go into a project that is late and it’s over budget and you say, “Look guys my recommendation is we stop production for two weeks, we get the design caught up, we get the procurement caught up. We’ve got too many people that don’t know what they’re doing on this project and we need to down man. We need to understand what our forecast to completion is from a financial prospective. And we need to sort out this horrendous welding problem we’ve got along on the project”.
So I put up that scenario to the Senior Management and that was accepted, so we stopped production for two weeks. And that was probably two of the most nervous weeks of my project management career as I could feel the pressure coming from every direction to restart. We restructure the project team – we brought in some people that were better at understanding what they were doing. We let the design and the procurement catch up. Then we started slow. We put 50 people back on, a week later we put another 50 people on. And we just started with some control, feeding the people with the right information, feeding the people with the right materials, equipment. We sorted out our welding problems and off we went. And from that point on, we never ever went back up to the 400 people, I think we went to about 250, 300 people. And we came up with a really strict completion date to the management of which we achieved.
So, that’s a really, really good example of an out of control project where everything is being poured into it to try to pull it back. They were burning money at such an horrendous rate that it was unsustainable, and really this is a story about ‘more is not always more.’ So actually in that case less was very, very much more.
So, that leads us to the next A-Ha moment, the one about you don’t have to decide today. And that previous story I told you is a very good example. If I had made a snap decision in the first week of being within that organization, I probably would have made the wrong decision. There was a lot of pressure for me to come in and make some changes but I held off for as long as I could but you get to a point where you can’t hang off forever. And you feel very much pressured into making decision and as I said some people really respect people that can make quick snap decisions. But when there’s a decision with quite a bit of gravity around it, you really need to take your time to collect all the information and get it right. And it takes a lot of guts to sit on that kind of decision of importance.
So the message here is when you have to make a decision, when you have to make a fundamentally important decision, don’t make a snap decision, don’t try and look like a hero. Wait until you’ve got all of the right information. Wait until you’re sure that the decision you’re going to make is the correct one. But word of warning, you cannot wait too long and you must make a judgment call on when is the right time to make the decision.
I’ve always worked on the 80-20 rule where when I think I’m 80% right and there’s 20% I don’t know but there’s so much external pressure and other factors going on that requires me to make that decision – then I’ll go with it. I’ll talk to a lot of people, get some views and make a decision. The best decision I can make at the time but certainly making an informed decision.
Another word of warning, I’ve seen many, many people who will not make a decision. And also making no decision is much worse than holding on and waiting to make a decision and I’ve seen very many people that really go through that their whole life. And lots of leaders will not make decisions because what will happen in reality is the people working under them will start to make those decisions for them. And these people are kind of Teflon kids who work through their life without making a decision, and what I mean with Teflon is that nothing sticks to them because they don’t have to make a decision and when something goes wrong and say that was not my decision but these people are project team wreckers and they will certainly cause team de-motivation and dissatisfaction within a project team if they’re passing that decision making requirement down into their team.
So, you need to find the balance between making snap decisions, waiting to make an informed decision at the right time and never giving in to that situation of never making a decision.
Okay, so there’s more two project management A-Ha moments for this week. More is not always more. And you don’t have to decide today. I hope these A-Ha moments are helping you out in your own project management career and I’ll talk to you soon.